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Water-damaged Kilgore pipe organ repairs to take 3 months, should last a century

Published: Jul. 21, 2021 at 2:49 PM CDT|Updated: Jul. 21, 2021 at 7:00 PM CDT
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KILGORE, Texas (KLTV) - In these days of electronic and digital instruments, a pipe organ may seem like a dusty old thing whose day has passed. However, there are quite a few in use in East Texas churches to this day. We visited an East Texas church where repairs are underway to make a ninety-year-old organ sound new again.

Michael Emery of Steven L Emery Inc. talks with subcontractor Bill Klimas with the Reuter Organ Company about some extra work that was organized because of a water damaged wall in the First Presbyterian Church of Kilgore.

“Everything had to be removed because there’s going to be plaster flying all over the place. And even though these things are big and heavy they are also kind of vulnerable to impact damage and dust so we wanted to make sure everything is out of there,” Klimas said.

“There” is one of the division chambers that house many organ pipes, and “everything” is the non-moving woodwork that supports the pipes, which normally is left in place.

“From here it’s restoring the whole thing and putting it all back in,” Emery said.

That seems simple enough. First though, the chamber’s walls have to be repaired, then the support system reinstalled, and of course replacing the leather.

“Underneath all these pipes there are pipe pouches that are made of leather. The leather will deteriorate after about forty or fifty years, and that’s about right. And the leather we put on these days we expect to last at least fifty years,” Emery said.

But wait, there’s more!

“And then there’s reservoirs, there’s chests, there’s swell engines that open; the shades, and there’s all sorts of other components that are part of this,” Emery said.

Apart, it looks very disorganized. Generally the organ and he who repairs it have a long term relationship.

“Steve, my brother has been intricately involved in this organ for many years; decades probably,” Emery said.

And about a half decade ago they reworked this room: the Choir Division.

“So I guess you wouldn’t want to be in here when someone was playing,” I said.

“It would be a little loud,” Emery said.

Well that’s about three hundred pipes restored, and around 27 hundred to go. And by the way, the pipes you see from the sanctuary are nothing but a pipe dream. They don’t make sound; just for looks.

Emery says every job has unforeseen problems, but estimates the organ will be ready to play again in about three months, and may not need another overhaul for as much as a century.

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