I have always been fascinated by mechanical toys and music boxes. As a woodworking enthusiast I’m interested in building wooden mechanical wonders. I haven’t been able to find plans for vintage machines and often it’s hard to thoroughly examine the mechanisms of items in museums. While poking around the internet I stumbled across Yankee Doodle street organs and kits designed by Anatoly ZAYA-RUZO and was filled with joy. After patiently saving $385 I made the purchase.
When ordering I was given the option to pay an additional $70 for pre-assembly of tracker bar and pipe housing. I will tell you now, if you’re impatient or inexperienced and you intend to purchase this kit, pay the $70 and save yourself some aggravation. The kit consists of laser cut plywood. Assembly requires placing sections of dowel through tiny holes in the parts to align them. The tracker bar has six of these layers, the pipe housing has ten layers. This in itself is a daunting task, but the dowels don’t really aid in keeping things aligned and square.
To worsen the matter, although the parts are computer designed and cut, the internal air channels don’t line up correctly even if the dowels are perfect. So beware! The tracker bar is what reads the notes from the paper reels and directs air to the pipe housing where the sound is created. These parts must be aligned perfectly and airtight or the music will not play as intended.
The kit included a well designed book which includes interesting history about barrel organs and instructions to assemble the kit. However there is a sheet of paper inserted under the front cover notifying the reader the instructions are for an obsolete version of the kit. Don’t despair, there is an included DVD with a .doc file with written instructions and .mp4 video. The .doc of the instructions begins with an important warning. “This project is not so easy!” and cautions the reader to “understand why the part you are making exists… Spend enough time reading Book, Notes, and watching the movies until you fully understand how the organ works…”
Truer words were never said. The video clips start out great, the host speaks and describes what’s happening. By clip #6 of 35 the host stops speaking completely as the assembly continues often pointing at things and pantomiming as though we know what’s happening. By clip #15 the assembly is not visible in the locked down camera shot, allowing only brief glimpses of assembly. The clips were not all recorded at the same time or even using the same version of the kit so things are suddenly different. Particularity the bellows, the design of the parts are not from the same model in some of the clips. Another thing to mention is most of the measurements use the metric system. Prepare to convert milometers to inches.
The included printed pattern for the bellows material is not correct, Clip #18 begins with a demonstration on how to enlarge it. Be aware of this before tracing and cutting the bellows material. I believe the pattern for the receiver material does not need to be enlarged but that’s not mentioned in the video or instructions.
There are several instances where very similar, slightly different parts are required and no information in the clips or instructions are provided. Some sleuthing is required to determine which part is used for what. When attaching the tracker bar to the cabinet the pre-drilled holes do night align correctly. This is even apparent in the assembly video because his screws were not completely inserted and crooked – exactly like mine.
Unfortunately several parts that were missing from my kit including four mushroom threaded inserts for cabinet assembly, four threaded inserts for the bellows and I only received nine feet of vinyl tubing – where ten feet is required. This was actually a good thing because the included vinyl tubing was of the incorrect outside diameter. I purchased the correct tubing at the hardware store.
The tuning pins for the pipes consist of pre-cut lengths of dowels and bits of leather which serve as gaskets (as in the video above). The book for the original kit show more elegantly designed pins with rubber gaskets. I’m assuming the original tuning pins were too expensive to manufacture. I quickly changed out the included tuning pins with my own (video below).
All things considered Anatoly ZAYA-RUZO did an outstanding job designing this kit. He is very friendly and promptly responded to each email I sent him. I would not have been able to make a street organ without this kit. I learned many interesting things and woodworking techniques in the process. The intention of this blog post is not to diminish the quality of this product, it’s a fascinating machine. The design of the unit provides easy disassembly for repair, adjustment and maintenance.
My intent is to reinforce this project requires a great deal of patience, tinkering and woodworking ability to do the job correctly. This is not something to be rushed. Mine was built over the course of five weekends. As with many old fashioned mechanisms, I believe this machine requires gentle care and ongoing maintenance for optimal performance.
I’ll also mention the friendly folks at Pipes of Pan make fantastic paper rolls for this street organ. I’ve had great experience with them.