During my growing up years, we worshiped at the Presbyterian Church in Dexter, where my Aunt Nadine (Neal) Shepherd was the pianist, organist (a pump organ), and choir director. Because so many choir members were from farm families, several months during the year, the choir became smaller.
We Neal cousins went to the Dexter school, just a couple of blocks from the church. Dexter had such a wonderful music teacher, Ruth Sellers, so in no time at all we could read music. Several of us also took piano lessons. Aunt Nadine recruited us for a youth choir, which eventually became the main choir.
When I was a junior in high school, Aunt Nadine was pregnant and needed substitutes at the organ and piano. I’d played piano for Sunday School, but the organ was a pump organ. That means that while you’re playing the keyboard, you also need to pump the bellows that made it play!
The keys operate reeds, so when you press the key, air from the bellows flows up the reed and makes a sound. You can change the sound by using the stops, which are pull knobs that add extra features. The expression “pull out all the stops” refers to using all the knobs of an organ at the same time.
The Dexter church eventually traded the pump organ for a Hammond electronic organ, which I enjoyed playing, but if I’d had the money at the time, I would still own that old pump organ. I enjoyed playing it and had figured out how to repair the bellows when needed it.
A Depression-Era Pump Organ
While working on Leora’s Dexter Stories: The Scarcity Years of the Great Depression, I became acquainted with Mary Wilt, a neighbor of the Wilsons back then. She knew that Leora Wilson could play the piano and that the Wilson girls played in the Dexter band, so she said they could have her pump organ since she didn’t play it anymore.
The surprise was that the Wilson family was so strapped for life’s necessities, there was hardly money for extras. They had even needed to burn furniture so they could heat part of the house they rented.
Dale needed a project for manual training. He transformed wood from that old organ into a radio table.