Chapter 14 Music On The Board Walk
Harry thought that riding the express trolley would be a lot of fun because it went a lot faster than the ones in town or the neighborhoods. He said so to Jimmy who agreed. Mr. Mac had made good on his proposal to take Miss Page on an outing. In fact he had asked Mrs. Day and Mrs. Killman that very night if the boys could go with him and Miss Page the next day to the Boardwalk at Jacksonville Beach. This had met with both mothers approval providing that the boys could be back before sunset.
So, on that warm clear cloudless blue April sky Saturday morning, the boys found themselves aboard an express trolley bound for adventure. Harry had been out in a fishing boat on the ocean with his Granpa, and Jimmy had been down the Saint Johns on a River Boat all the way to Green Cove Springs, but neither boy had ever been to the Boardwalk or the beach.
For most of the fourteen mile journey Jimmy, Harry, Miss Mel and Mr. Mac had the trolley car all to themselves and soon they began to sing. Miss Mel had a clear soprano voice and Mr. Mac had a pleasant baritone. Miss Mel carried the melody, Mr. Mac sang bass, and Harry and Jimmy just filled in the harmony parts. The motorman, who was a fellow who liked his music, tapped his foot along with the tunes and would even do a little shuffle now and then, much to the amusement of the quartet.
Suddenly Jimmy lifted his chin and sniffed.
“Say! Can you smell that?” of course, everyone sniffed too.
“Yes!” cried Miss Mel, “I can smell the ocean!” to which everyone cheered.
The motorman rang his bell and cried: “Next stop, corner of Beach Boulevard and Third Streets!”
By the time the trolley reached First Street they could hear and see the ocean, too. They bid good-bye to the friendly motorman, making sure to inquire as to the time for the return trip, and stepped off the trolley into a world of dazzling sun, sugar sand, and palm trees.
“These are just like the palm trees on King Avenue near the house,” Jimmy observed, “but here they're taller and greener. These seem to say: “THIS is Florida!”
“Ah, yes! This reminds me of the beaches at Rio de Janeiro!” exclaimed Mr. Mac.
Miss Mel looked at Mr. Mac and asked, “You've actually been to South America?”
With a little cringe he said, “Yes, I'll tell you all about it sometime, but not on this glorious day!”
"What shall we do first?" asked Miss Mel.
Mr. Mac replied, “Well, why don't we just walk around and see what there is to see?”
“Great!” replied the boys at once.
“Okie Dokie, let's go . . . that away!” Mr. Mac pointed up the beach and, arms linked, they began to walk that direction.
Presently Harry said to Jimmy, “Do you hear it?”
“Yep, ever since the trolley pulled away!”
Miss page questioned, “Hear what?”
Mr. Mac motioned for them all to stop so they could listen.
Miss Mel whispered, “Why it sounds like an orchestra floating on the breeze!”
“Yes, or a brass band.” offered Jimmy.
“Wait, now it sounds like an -- an organ?” said Harry.
Mr. Mac, with a faraway look in his eye, said, “I know that sound!”
Without another word he took Miss Mel's hand and began to walk quickly toward the sound. Jimmy and Harry followed. Faster and faster they walked, soon they were running pell-mell as the music grew louder, until they came to an abrupt stop.
It was a store front on the boardwalk which bore a sign above the door that read ICE-CREAM SODAS. There was also a placard in the window that said:
Happy is he with music in his ear --
Drop a Nickel!
There's a Wurlitzer Instrument here!
The four of them stood staring at the sign, listening to the music until it stopped.
Mr. Mac said, “It sounds like a big one...”
“A big what?” asked Jimmy.
“Let's go see,” said Harry grabbing Jimmy's elbow and pulling him toward the screen door of the Ice-cream Parlor.
There it was. It was a big one, all right. Harry had read about them. Jimmy even had a brochure for one, for which he had sent away when Harry had shown him the article in the Sunday paper. Miss Mel stood with her mouth open. She had seen a very small one but she had no idea that they made them this large!
What they saw was something that looked very much like a small building, about ten feet tall and almost as wide, made of silvery looking oak wood. The tallest part in the center was three panels wide, the panels resembling a bay window. There was a shorter panel on each side that slanted away and back toward the wall, the top of each having an oval window-like structure inset with golden trim draping like curtains on each side. Beneath the oval panels were short narrow doors with little shiny brass doorknobs. In the very center, about chest high to a man was an opening that housed a machine that looked like the roll player of a player piano, which it was. Above this was a mirrored alcove with a golden statue of a scantily clad cupid who seemed to be waving tree branches about his head. On the left side of the roll player was a little shiny brass plate with a slot in it.
Mr. Mac walked right up to it, put his hand in his pocket and produced a coin. He turned to the three who were yet standing stock still and said: “This is a Style 34 Wurlitzer PianOrchestra. It was built in my home town of North Tonawanda, New York and I am quite sure that my father helped to design and build it. Listen!”
He placed the coin in the slot. There was a series of clicks a quiet whir and the music began.
A piano played a syncopated introduction with little flourishes from a xylophone here and there, this ending with a cymbal crash. Everyone watched the as the printed words to the song appeared on the paper player roll as it spun out the dotted music . . .
“Won't you play a simple melody like my mother sang to me?”
The melody had begun with a clarinet accompanied by the piano and violins . . .
“One with good old fashioned harmony, Play a simple melody . ..”
The piano and xylophone played a snappy little fill and the song continued with the bass notes taking the lead. . .
“Musical demon set your honey a-dreamin' won't you play me some rag,
Just change that classical nag - to some sweet beautiful drag.
If you will play from a copy of a tune that is choppy, you'll get all my applause.
And that is simply because - I want to listen to rag!”
A snare drum played a rat-a-tat-a-tat and the song started over, this time playing the slow verse and the fast chorus together with the triangle, bass drum and cymbal keeping time. The boys stood there after the music stopped, eyes wide, mouths still agape. They looked at each other and as one said, “Wow!”
“Keith, what was that song?” Miss Mel asked breathlessly.
A man who was behind the soda fountain when they came in, was now standing right behind them.
He spoke up and said, “If you'll pardon me, Miss, the song is `Play a Simple Melody' and it's one of Mr. Irving Berlin's latest tunes. I'm glad you liked it. I did too when I first heard it, but marvelous as this machine is, the thing is stuck on that one tune and it won't play anything else! I've written to the Wurlitzer people about havin' it fixed but it'll be three months before they can get somebody here to fix it.”
Harry said, “You mean it's supposed to play more songs?”
Mr. Mac said, “It has a six roll automatic changer with several songs on each roll. It sounds like maybe a pin has jammed in the roll advance mechanism.”
Jimmy asked, “What's on the inside that's makin' all those sounds?”
“Well, of course, there's a piano,” Mr. Mac continued, one eye closed and counting off on his fingers, “thirty Clarinet pipes; forty-nine Violin pipes; thirty Piccolo pipes, thirty Viola pipes, thirty Flute pipes; and nineteen Cello pipes; along with a thirty note Xylophone, thirteen chimes, as well as a Bass drum, a Snare drum, a cymbal, a Triangle, a Tambourine, and pair of Castanets. There might be twenty-six Saxophone pipes and sixty-one Trumpet-Trombone pipes if it's the deluxe model, and from the sound of it - I'd say it is!”
“Keith that's amazing! How do you know so much about them? “Miss Mel said incredulously.
“My father had worked as a pipe maker for the Wurlitzer company since before I was born. As a boy I used to go down to the Wurlitzer factory with him and watch the craftsmen and women build these. When I did my apprenticeship, the man I was journeyman for did a lot work repairing, moving and installing this kind of instrument. My Dad used to make flue pipes for these but now he's moved to the new Unit Orchestra department.” said Mr. Mac.
The soda fountain man walked up to Mr. Mac, extended his hand and said:
“My name is Josiah Skinner. I own this establishment. How would you like to do a repair job for me today?”
Harry and Jimmy did not mind at all that most of their time at the beach had been taken up with the repair and then enjoyment of the PianOrchestra at Mr. Skinner's Ice-cream Parlor. Mr. Mac introduced the boys to the mechanical wonders inside the amazing machine, and had made short work of the job of fixing the stuck roll player. Mr. Skinner was most grateful and offered to pay Mr. Mac handsomely, which he refused saying that it was just a small job.
Mr. Skinner said, “In that case order anything and everything you like-- its on the house!”
They ate a lunch of fancy sandwiches and draft root beer followed by the biggest and best ice-cream sundaes any of them had ever had. After lunch, and with the music of the PianOrchestra still ringing in their ears, they continued their promenade up the Boardwalk.
The boys each took turns at the shooting arcade and, with a little coaching from Mr. Mac, Miss Mel turned out to be a deadeye sharpshooter, winning a stuffed bear like the ones named after President Teddy Roosevelt. They even got to ride the Merry-go-round and talked the attendant into letting them see the small hurdy-gurdy organ in the hub of the carousel.
The afternoon ended with a walk on the beach as they collected shells and talked about the nice things that had happened that day. It was a quiet and tired, but happy quartet on the trolley ride home. Miss Mel fell asleep on Mr. Mac's shoulder. So did the boys, Harry leaning against Mr. Mac's other shoulder and Jimmy leaning against Miss Mel's other shoulder.
“All in all,” thought Mr. Mac, “it has been a most pleasant day.”