Warrensburg artisans build and repair
| Joe Nielsen of the
Qumby Pipe Organs company of Warrensburg installs flue pipes in
swell division as Brad McGuffey hands them to him. In total, there
are 1,958 pipes in the organ, which the company recently restored
and installed in a church in Quincy, Ill.
Forty-six years ago,
on a tour of the First United Methodist Church’s
pipe organ in Stillwater, Okla., Michael Quimby stared in awe.
sound always had intrigued the 9-year-old choirboy, but his fascination
turned to the internal parts. His blue eyes scanned a maze of mechanisms
and hundreds of pipes. Something sparked inside him.
He wanted to build
and play pipe organs like this one.
As it turns out,
this event changed his life forever. Michael
sought out books on the instruments and uncovered some of their mysteries.
He learned air enters a wooden or metal pipe, which shapes it into a
note. Since each pipe makes only one tone, many pipes are necessary.
One pipe organ can have a few dozen pipes to tens of thousands. The
instruments often are found in churches and can cost several hundred
to millions of dollars. Today, the blond hair of Michael’s childhood
has turned gray, but pipe organs continue to fascinate the president
and tonal director of Quimby Pipe Organs, Inc., in Warrensburg.
Pipe Organs staff carries a wooden pipe into St. John’s
Episcopal Church in Quincy, Ill. The company travels all over
the United States installing, renovating and rebuilding pipe
passion has helped the company develop a well-respected reputation
since he established it in 1970. The firm is president of the Associated
Pipe Organ Builders of America, an elite group of 26 firms where
membership is only by invitation.
Known as a craftsmen
company, Quimby Pipe Organs renovates, restores and creates instruments
to clients’ unique
specifications. Restoring the pipe organ for the largest gothic cathedral
in the world, The Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine in New
York City, is one of the company’s eight current
For Michael, the
work that takes place in four buildings in Johnson County, including
one powered by West Central Electric Cooperative, really isn’t
“It’s always play,” he says. “It’s
never boring; it’s always exciting.”
Pipe organ originality
Besides its reputation
for quality, Quimby Pipe Organs is known for the sound of its new organs,
As head “voicer,” Eric
Johnson is responsible for implementing that sound. Manipulating metal
and wood, he takes the pipes the company makes or repairs in the shop
and gives them their resonance.
But the right tone
is both technical and emotional. When Eric tunes pipes that sound like
trumpets, for example, his state of mind affects the tone.
of Quimby Pipe Organs lays out pipes in one of the company's Warrensburg-area
workshops. Each organ is assembled in Warrensburg before being
disassembled, packed up and shipped to its final location.
on what side of the bed I got up on, they could be either dark and
moody or bright and cheerful,” he says.
Dr. Jim Coleberd
is familiar with the Quimby sound. The company’s instruments
seemed to follow the retired physician and organist throughout his
life. The firm installed pipe organs in his hometown of Liberty; the
first college he attended, William Jewell College; his church in Clinton
and finally his new home in Hannibal.
Like all new instruments,
Quimby Pipe Organs custom-built Jim’s residential
pipe organ. With a reinforced floor and 18-foot high ceiling in the
living room, Jim’s house was designed to accommodate a pipe
organ, and he handed over the blueprints to the company. After several
design plans, Jim agreed on one that exposed the instrument’s
485 pipes. The November 2005 installation took only three days and
went off without a hitch. “When they started
installing, it just fit their specifications perfect,” says
He considers the
pipe organ the king of instruments. Its ability to mimic an orchestral
array of sounds makes it the king, he says. Organists can integrate
the sound of flutes, string or reed instruments and trumpets into one
getting one tone when you play a clarinet or a piano,” Jim
says. “In a pipe organ, depending on the size of the instrument,
I can get up to 120 tones all together.”
Pipe Organs staff installs the facade pipes of the 1863 E. and
G.G. Hook pipe organ the company rebuilt for St. John’s
Episcopal Church in Quincy, Ill. .
With such tonal power
at his fingertips, Jim wanted a company that could produce a
quality instrument with great color. “You want an instrument that
responds to what you want it to do, and Quimby has captured that,” he
Restoring artistic masterpieces
For Michael, camaraderie
among the company’s 17-member staff
is the key to running a successful business. He says his employees are
the most important aspect of the firm. “It takes all of us to create
an artistic masterpiece,” he says.
And like a father,
proud of the staff’s dedication. “They
are self-motivated,” he says. “I coordinate and make it all happen,
but I do not hover around. They have the freedom to express their creativity.”
Kirby Eber often witnesses that creative expression at St. John’s
Episcopal Church in Quincy, Ill. Several times a week he watches Quimby
employees install the instrument the company refurbished for the church.
Kirby knows plenty
about this organ, which the premier pipe organ manufacturer E. and
G.G. Hook made in 1863, and how it found its way to St. John’s.
In the late ’90s,
the church received a gift of $150,000 to repair its pipe organ. Several
reputable Midwestern firms were contacted, and all said the pipe organ
wasn’t worth rebuilding and offered
new models. Only Michael asked if the church would consider replacing
its instrument with a historic one. “That was the tide that
turned the table to Quimby,” Kirby
says. “It’s his willingness to find an alternate solution.”
replace the instrument, Quimby Pipe Organs bought the E. and G.G.
Hook pipe organ from the Organ Clearing House in Massachusetts. The
East Coast company disassembled the instrument in Maine and delivered
it to Warrensburg.
|Organist Kirby Eber tests out St. John’s pipe organ while
Jeff Thomas, an electrician rewiring the church, listens. Eber is
organist for both St. John’s and Vermont Street Methodist Church,
where Thomas is a member.
All was going as
planned until disaster struck the Quincy church in August of 2002.
“Unfortunately, or perhaps now looking in retrospect, fortunately, the
church burned down,” Kirby says of the fire caused by lightning.
After the insurance
settlement, St. John’s had $750,000 to
spend on its pipe organ and other projects. Additional improvements
were added to the instrument’s
Quimby Pipe Organs
stored the organ until January 2006. Then, under the direction of project
manager Brad McGuffey, the company began reconstructing the instrument
using only a photocopy of a picture and existing physical clues. Bringing
back the integrity of the instrument’s original builders is the
goal, which Kirby believes is possible.
With the pipe organ’s
dedication set for Oct. 15, Kirby’s wait
is nearly over. He feels Quimby Pipe Organs was the right
company for the job.
“I could not
ask for anyone to be more understanding and accommodating than they
have been,” he
A fellow organist,
Michael also will be at the dedication. It’s all just
part of the job — one he’s pursued with passion
since the age of 9.
For more information about Quimby Pipe Organs, Inc., call (660) 747-3066
or visit www.quimbypipeorgans.com.