A piano shaped elephant

Posted on August 12, 2012

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They just don’t make them like they used to. This is true. For quality, as well as sheer mass and guts. This weekend we spent part of Saturday and a good deal of Sunday struggling to figure out how and then actually executing a plan to transport a free (save for the transporting costs), probably half ton, 100+ year old upright player-piano.

I’ve responded to a good many Freecycle ads in the last few years, and most of the time I’m not the “winner,” but when I am, I usually love what I get. I didn’t hold my breath on getting an awesome piano though. Free pianos are often not just slightly, but very out of tune and unwanted (and unsold) for reasons. So when I say that I feel like we got lucky with this one, I really mean it. This is an old piano that was in the family of the lady who gifted it to us since her great-grandmother was a little girl. It has a switch inside to go between piano and harpsichord sounds, and the player piano portion still works. To be honest, I didn’t even know what “player piano” meant until we were shown – I thought it was just a phrase attached to a certain style of upright piano.

How a player piano works is still a mystery to me. Nate said he felt like he was discovering some new piece of technology, because it is so baffling that a piece of paper with holes in it can be read by the piano and cause the right keys to fall. Pumping the pedals on the floor is tough because our floors are wood and so the bench slides back as you pump – quite the quad workout! Ensuring that we didn’t just gouge our refinished wood floors was a feat, but  Jay and Nate took care of that by creating some tacky, albeit effective little wooden bumpers for the wheels that we put on top of burlap bags. This rig also ensures that if the termites we know have destroyed a few floorboards in the living room (we replaced several boards when we moved in) decide to nibble away at a few boards underneath the piano, it won’t be just the wheels resting on a single board that may result in the whole massive beautiful thing crashing through the floor – a disaster that definitely wouldn’t be covered in our lease agreement.

The quality of this video is terrible, but I had a good time anyway. I know a more modern version of the St. Louis Blues done by Peter Cincotti – just enough to make this funny and fun. Thinkin’ I’ll email this to the lady who gave us the piano since she was so happy someone would have it that would use it. We’ve been discussing having a ragtime party at the house to celebrate, and going antiquing to look for some more of the rolls for the player portion.

A tour of the piano

St. Louis Blues Charlei-style

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