Some things are easier to move than others. In Mechanical Music one of the truly great surviving instruments is the Welte Wotan Orchestrion, made at the turn of the last century by the M. Welte & Son firm of Waldkirch, Germany. It is unknown how many were actually sold, but only two surviving examples are known to exist today. This instrument was originally sold by Welte's New York City agent to an amusement park located on Boblo Island (Detroit). It was discovered by Jasper Sanfilippo of Barrington Hills, Illinois in the original location but in poor condition. A "no expense spared" restoration project was completed by master restorer and craftsman John Hovancak, of Dodgeville, Wisconsin. It remained a centerpiece of the Sanfilippo collection for many years
Eventually the Wotan was sold to the Milhous Brothers of Florida and Mills Novelty was asked to arrange the move and reassembly for the Milhous Collection in Boca Raton, FL. It remained in this collection until the entire collection and building were sold at public auction a few years ago.
It was purchased by Paul and Chris Andrews of Fort Worth, Texas, and Mills Novelty was again given the task of moving it to its new home in Texas. Early this year the Andrews collection of automobiles was sold at auction along with a few of the musical instruments, but not the Welte Wotan. In fact, the Andrews were not intent on selling this wonderful machine at all!
However, a personal friend of the family fell in love with it, and eventually a deal was struck so that it could go to yet another private collector. We have been asked not to reveal the details or its present location except to say it remains in Texas. Perhaps at a later date this private collection may be open to the public. Surprise, our staff at Mills Novelty was asked to relocate it again, to its current home!
In the following photos you can see what was involved to move this mammoth instrument, without damage, and make certain that it still plays as well as it did when manufactured over a 100 years ago. The first photo shows the instrument just after we removed the large glass center section in order to begin dis-assembly. The top gallery alone weighs in at almost 1,000 pounds; All the interior parts and pipework were removed and crated. The photos show you the process as the Welte Wotan gets ready for its next journey.
The genuine 700 million year old dinosaurs were delighted (see above) to have a similar size musical instrument to play music for them when the Welte Wotan took its place in its new home. In order to accomplish this move, it was necessary to obtain local permits to close the street in the heart of a busy downtown city. The bronze entry doors needed to be temporarily removed, and the services of a professional equipment erector company transported the Wotan from the Andrews Museum. Two semi-trailers and another couple of support vehicles were needed to safely move the Wotan and all the equipment into its new home!
Very careful measurements (Wow, inches to spare!) and the help of many people were needed to get the job done. All parts of the façade and machine itself were finally located into the building. At the time of move planning, it was decided to properly tune and regulate (which had not been done in over ten years) the entire machine during reassembly. More than 40 sheets of floor protection were needed to prevent any damage to the instrument or put even one mark on the solid marble floors! Our friends and associates from Texas, Alan Bies and Steve Boehck, along with George Collar and Bob Brown spent many days and several trips to accomplish this flawless move. The results were no less than spectacular.
The blue hydraulic jacks which were made specifically for moving projects at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, proved to be just the correct equipment to reassemble the case without touching the walls or ceiling. As you can see, this instrument may well be one of the largest mechanical music machines ever made, note the three men standing inside the case! When the case was safely in place and assemble begin, there were many more smiles on peoples faces! About three days were needed to properly replace the pipework, motors, computers, and Red Welte Minon Piano.
Eventually all was ready to play a song. We have included audio/video clip for your enjoyment of the first time the Wotan played in its new home. The Wotan's computer system was updated during this move to our newest Mills Novelty Apple based digital player system (operating on wireless MIDI). This system has the capacity to operate up to 25 different orchestrions and nickelodeons located on several levels of a building via a WIFI network interface. It now plays for the entertainment of humans and dinosaurs alike. What a sound in this acoustically correct space!
Wow, a job well done, our Thanks to all that helped accomplish this major mechanical instrument move.