Searching for that ideal hobby
by Terry Pankhurst
My working life has been in industry and armed with my engineering knowledge I have spent my life on a variety of hobbies. Over the years hobbies have come and gone, some lasting for years, some holding my interest for only a short while. I've never found myself with "nothing to do". As my retirement drew near I was on the lookout for a hobby to take me into and beyond my retirement. I had ambitions to build a quarter scale traction engine. I found I could buy pre-cast parts that needed finishing and build the machine up over several years. My wife did not share my enthusiasm. To a degree I understood her reluctance as some of my hobbies had, in the past, spilt over into our kitchen.

Some 15 years ago we visited the Great Dorset Steam Fair to look at the variety of plans and designs available for the engineering minded amateur. We didn't quite make the engineering stands because barely 100 yards through the gate, we stumbled across "The Amateur Organ Builders" marquee. What drew us in was the sound that came at us through the tent flat. For such a small boxes to produce a tremendously pleasing sound, I found quite remarkable. I had never considered the possibility of building a paper roll driven, mechanical street organ. Cleaner than a steam engine, presented challenges to build, especially as I have no musical knowledge, and if by chance it did spill over into the kitchen it wouldn't be dirty coal dust and oil, would it? My wife Margaret seemed in full agreement with the idea, visualising a clean kitchen no doubt.

How do you start building an organ? First buy the plans. A Bedfordshire man, John Smith, had all types of plans to sell. I started almost at the bottom and brought the plans for a 20 note "Senior 20" organ. There was one similar and slightly smaller but the Senior 20 sounded better when I listened to others that were on show at the steam fair. The second reason for not spending too much money was that I was still unsure I could build it with no musical knowledge. As it turned out I had nothing to fear, these days organ pipes can be tuned with a simple and cheap tuning meter.

I guess my new hobby came at the just right time because quite be chance I found I had prostrate cancer. A shock indeed. While my tests and operations was being organised I needed something to occupy my mind. Even after the operation when I found my stomach weak, I was still able to plan the building of the organ and organ pipes. The pipes required little physical effort to construct and were an ideal item to start, whilst getting myself back to full strength.

As an engineer I had trouble with John Smiths plans, they were not engineering drawings as I know them. But I quickly understood the advantages in not having all the details. I could modify and adapt the drawings and build in some of my own ideas and designs. I found as time went on that this was what every amateur builder was doing. Subsequently although the organs started the same there are never two the same when finished, each is quite unique.

After building my "senior 20" my thoughts turned to what the next step would be. Well, if I could build a 20 note organ than what's to stop me building one with 70 pipes. This proved very affordable costing only £150 to build but it took 15 months to complete. I put all my skills to use to make the best possible looking, and sounding, organ that I could. It took over all my spare time. That is what happens with a good hobby, I guess. I am pleased that my wife has got involved and together we play our organs for charity, at all sorts of events, locally and much further afield.
I've continued to move on with the hobby by building an 80 pipe Midi controlled organ. Quite a large step, in yet another direction, as my electrical knowledge is comparable to my lack musical ability. Also for some while now I have restored old Victorian street organs adding to my growing collection.

I joined the "British Organ Grinders Association" to meet like minded people and am now on the national steering committee. I'm pleased to say my health has not given me anymore trouble. Which leaves Margaret and myself free to continue this very absorbing and enjoyable hobby.

The finished organ that my wife Margaret now uses