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Historic Kimball pipe organ undergoing restoration

Historic Kimball pipe organ undergoing restoration

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CLERMONT --- Careful now, don't let them get out of order or get lost. And make sure those tubes don't touch.

One by one, 1,554 tubes from the 1896 Kimball pipe organ at the Union Sunday School in Clermont were disassembled this week by hand and then packed away. The organ is at the beginning of a six-month restoration process. Left behind are large pink and blue tubes encircling the a hulking timber frame.

It's been nearly three decades since the last tuneup, and the aging instrument was well past due.

"Just about every one who would perform would have an issue," said Nadine West, site manager for the Montauk Historical Site. "We would have a sound that wouldn't stop or a note that would stick."

West also oversees the Sunday school building, both of which are owned by the State Historical Society of Iowa.

Even with most of the pieces gone, the organ's skeleton is still a presence inside the converted Presbyterian church. The instrument is 22 feet wide, 19 feet high and 9 feet, 6 inches deep.

The organ was purchased for $3,000 by former Gov. William Larrabee from the Kimball Organ Co., based in Chicago, in 1896 for his daughter Anna. It's been housed at the Union Sunday School since then. The organ --- the largest functioning Kimball organ in the country --- is used annually for a series of concerts, the last of which finished in September.

"It was just a marvelous gift of music," said Arline Davisson, president of the Clermont Historical Society. "When you have professors of music from all over the state wanting to play it, I think that speaks highly of our organ."

The concerts regularly attracted crowds of up to 300 people from around the state and region. The events --- and the instrument --- are a rallying point for the community.

"The organ is very historic and Clermont is a very historic town," West said. "They value their old buildings and they value their old things."

The town has banded together to help raise funds for the project, which costs $100,000. The majority was paid by a grant from Save America's Treasures, a partnership between the National Parks Service and the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

The last restoration effort was in 1979 and 1980.

Dobson Pipe Organ Builders of Lake City was called in to tackle the task of bringing the massive machine back into playing condition. Surprisingly, the organ is doing well for its age.

"It was built very well," said Dean Heim, an organ builder with Dobson.

Working inside the organ meant tight quarters for Heim and his co-worker Jim Streufert, but it's better than some of their other projects, Heim said.

"We've restored organs before when we've been 20 feet up on a balcony," he said.

The majority of the pipes and pieces will be taken back to the Dobson shop in Lake City, where they'll be cleaned, calibrated and repaired, if necessary.

As the pieces were packed, each box was catalogued to make sure everything gets back into the proper position. Those pipes too long to pack up will stay in Clermont for repair there, Heim said.

A spring concert is planned to welcome back the reconditioned organ, Davisson said.

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