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3/7 Barton Composite | Bud's Roller Rink

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History of the Bud's Roller Rink Barton Organ

The original Bud's Roller Rink Barton organ was built in 1925 by the Bartola Musical Instrument Company ("Barton") for a theater in Mitchell, South Dakota. Following the advent of sound in motion pictures and the begin of the decline of the theatre organ genre, this particular organ was sold in 1930 to WDAY radio station in Fargo, North Dakota.

The organ itself was one of very few 3-rank organs built by Barton. It consisted of a 4' Vox Humana, 37 pipes; a 4' Viol d'Orchestre, 61 pipes; and an 8' large-scaled Tibia Clausa, 73 pipes. The percussions included a small toy counter and xylophone.

At WDAY, the organ was installed in a low ceiling, cramped chamber which was never meant for an organ. It had one tremulant and was voiced on 10" of wind. It was played by Hildegarde (Usselman) Kraus and Ruth Berge. It was used for radio request programs, filler material, and accompaniment for singers. The organ was not well received by the organists because it was extremely loud and ponderous.

In 1932, WDAY moved into an office tower call the Black Building which provided more space. In 1953, WDAY moved again to the American Life Insurance building as they opened the first TV station in the region. At that time, they decided not to bring the Barton organ along but elected instead to purchase a 3-manual, 8-rank Kimball from a theater in Bala, PA. Once they had moved in, the TV studio did not allow for an organ so it was sold to a church in Enderlin, North Dakota.

The Barton organ was sold to a Lutheran Church in Mayville, North Dakota. The congregation complained about its loud, dull tone and to soften it and nailed carpet in front of the tone opening. A few years later in 1957, they traded the organ in for a new Baldwin 5-A and the music store simply gave the Barton organ to the organ salesman, Don Geiken (a charter member and first vice president of RRTOS). Don started the first public TV station in 1961. Don's plans were to install the Barton in his basement but his wife wanted no part in it. For about four years, he stored it in his garage.

In 1958, Lance Johnson, a 20-year-old organist and theatre organ enthusiast from Fergus Falls, Minnesota, visited the J. M. Wylie Piano Company which sold the Baldwin to play their floor models. It was there that Don Geiken casually mentioned to Lance that he had a theatre pipe organ in his garage and wanted to get rid of it. Lance bought it that same day for $100. Lance then installed the organ in his parents' residence in Fergus Falls. Neighbors could hear the organ down the street because the Tibias were so loud.

A short time later, Lance bought a 16' Tuba Profunda of very large scale and installed it in the organ without the 16' octave as there was no space. He also built all new percussions in his shop which consisted of a toy counter, an action for the xylophone (which he later found in Mayville) and then purchased a set of old rusty orchestra bells from a music store in Fargo for which he built an action. Later he bought a 16' octave of Bourdon pipes to extend the Tibia down to 16', although the scale was much smaller. The Viol d'Orchestre was in very bad shape and was therefore thrown away. It was replaced with a church organ Salicional which was less than successful.

In 1960, the organ was installed in the Edgetown Roller Rink. A short three months later, the owners of the rink ordered that the organ be removed as it had lost its appeal with skaters, who began to prefer rock and roll music. The organ was bought back to the Johnson residence in Fergus Falls.

In 1963, Bud and Julius Granfor built a new roller rink in Moorhead, Minnesota. The Granfors and Lance Johnson negotiated a rent-to-own plan for a total of $2,000 and that Lance would play for skating two nights a week. Vicky Schmidt and M. Alice Harden were also hired to play. The organ was extremely successful and skaters would call to see if the organ was to be played before they would come to skate. In 1965, Rev. Harvey Gustafson came to serve a new parish (St. Matthew Lutheran) in Fargo  and was hired to also play two nights a week. He had a unique bounce to his music and skaters loved it. He eventually became known as the "Roller Rink Preacher" and left the area during 1967.

During this period, the organ was enlarged as follows: Console enlarged to three Holtkamp, tracker-touch manuals. The case was redecorated using the Barton style which was copied from the cover of an issue of Theatre Organ journal, the official magazine of the American Theatre Organ Society.

The manuals (keyboards) were connected to Reisner manual slides in which the great had a double set. The stop keys and tabs were also Reisner. At that time, the plastic used for stop keys was very brittle and several were broken. The SAMS were wired to two pull-out drawers for the combination action. The console was placed on a cable lift. A piano was installed with electric action next to the console. A Möller harp was purchased from Valley City State University and hung out on the rink ceiling. The toy counter had a second snare drum added and was cantilevered in front of the tone opening. A second set of shutters was installed to enlarge the tone opening. The organ continued to be very successful.

ALso added was a 4' English Post Horn ordered from Möller which costed $375. Along with that was a Möller Doppelflöte and Vox Humana. The Salicional was removed and a pair of Viole d'Orchestres from a church Holtkamp organ was installed. A second reservoir (Schwimmer style) was installed so the Tibia would have its own tremulant. The organ was now up to 7 ranks. The sound was so powerful that the large set of shutters were never used. The rink was built with no sound absorbing treatment so it had about a 3-second reverb.

One of the favorite skates of the session was the Grand March. A more accomplished skater would lead the skates through a complicated maneuver and the organ, with its compliment of drums, would provide drum solos in the military style. Another popular one was the "Moonlight Skate" where couples would waltz in the dark with nothing but a mirrored ball for light.

In 1965, the Red River Theatre Organ Society was organized at Bud's Roller Rink and immediately began using the organ for chapter meetings, functions, concerts, workshops, etc. At that time, it was the only functioning theatre pipe organ in Fargo-Moorhead.

As time went on, musical tastes began to change and fewer and fewer skaters wanted the organ. At the same time, Fargo opened up a large roller rink called Skateland which was twice as big and had a maple floor. In 1973, Lance resigned from his organist position at the rink and in 1975, the organ was advertised for sale. Steve Stevenson of Wichita Falls, TX, purchased the organ for $10,000 in April, 1978. The organ was dismantled, loaded on a rental truck, and was never seen again by the RRTOS members.

Though RRTOS's affiliation with this instrument was short-lived, it is still recognized as having been of the utmost of importance in helping revive the theatre organ in the Fargo-Moorhead.

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