Carts for Small Organs

by Wallace Venable

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Carts for Small Organs
The traditional cart for street mechanical instruments is essentially a version of the hand cart used for moving freight. It has 2 large wheels to allow it to move easily over rough surfaces and street railway lines. It has handles which allow the operator to move it with arms at full length.

The cart shown below was built in London, and is carrying an American-made street barrel piano with me in the shafts at a rally at the DeBence Museum in Franklin, PA. Note that it has a box behind the instrument in which miscellaneous items may be stored, and on top of which the rain canvas may be carried. I think the piano weighs about 150 pounds (60-70 kilos). It is nearly evenly balanced. I can easily single-hand it over kerbs, etc.

The late 20th Century German cart for crank organs (below left) has 4 wheels and is non-folding. It takes up considerable space in a car. The wheel arrangement requires a parking brake for convenient cranking, and the 4 wheels require skidding when turning sharp corners.  If purchased from a major organ builder today the delivered cost in the US may be $1000 or more.  It might be possible to adapt a pram (American baby carriage) to construct a similar design.

It is possible to build folding versions of the "German cart." I don't remember where I found the photo of the Smith Busker organ and cart (below right) but the construction looks straight forward to me. It has no built-in storage, but the bottom shelf can easily be configured to hold a modest sized straw picnic hamper, or a plastic or wood container. This one looks excellent for indoors, but a bit light for rally use.


When I completed my John Smith Senior 20 I decided I wanted a carrying case for it, and that the case should convert to a cart. My initial design and construction are described on this web page.

It was originally built as a haul-about box which converted to a stand after arrival on site. I decided later that I could modify it to become a cart when I unloaded the car, and it became a fully functional 2-wheel cart. The photo below shows how I repositioned the handle, It now allows me to carry a supply of rolls and other paraphernalia in the box for the trip from the parking lot to the performance site. I also added an umbrella holder.

In its current configuration the handle is really a bit too high. I have to bend my arms to lift it for travel. It would also benefit from some means to prevent the organ from slipping about. It works well enough, however, that I have used it this way for several years.

My wife bought an OSI Strasse Orgel, a 20-note organ playing proprietary MIDI files. We started out using a "dock cart" (a folding device sold for use in transporting supplies to a boat) to which I added a chipboard top. It worked, but was far from ideal. About a year ago an "open" MIDI interface became available for the organ. I took advantage of the ability to use 32 MIDI channels to add 3 percussion notes and a 9 note glockenspiel to the 20 pipe notes.

I felt an improved cart was then needed.  The two pictures below show the expanded organ and my improved cart. I retained only the folding plastic box from the dock cart and the top. I replaced the smaller wheels with new large (13.5 inch) lawn mower wheels and made a new set of handles and legs. A pair of stops and ratcheting cargo strap hold the organ in place. The handles are removable, and the wheels and axle are removed as well before folding the box.  The current version works very well.

Both the Smith and OSI organs with their carts fit in the back of a small Honda car. We recently tested the whole outfit with a 400+ mile, 5-day trip to a COAA rally.

I would like to replace the yellow plastic box with a wooden one finished to match the organ. My tentative plan is to build a box along the lines of the one Paul Senger built about a decade ago for his Smith Busker. The drawings below are my sketches of his general arrangement.

Paul's design is for 4 wheels. It uses a folding frame consisting of two side frames and four end frames. The frames are made from standard timber (lumber) sizes and joined with 12 stock hinges. The sides extend below the ends to accommodate the axle holes and battens. I have not shown handles, which may be permanently attached or removable. The small holes are for two steel axles. For transportation the handles, wheels and axles may be removed first. Then the top and bottom are removed. The ends then fold between the sides.

The cross-section sketch on the left below shows the frame and axles without the top and bottom. The bottom rests on battens attached to the sides. The bottom holds the ends out. The sketch on the right shows top and bottom in place. The top has four battens attached to position it.  When I build my version, it will have 2 wheels and 2 legs, like our current carts. My general plan is to use panels, rather than frames for the sides and ends. I will put an access hatch in the back "side."

Some General Considerations

An organ cart's dimensions must be chosen for the individual organ and organ grinder, and perhaps vehicle, combination.

It must, of course, be strong enough for the organ's weight, and wide enough for stability. "Small crank organs" may vary in size from about 12x8x10 inches (30x20x15 cm) to about 24x8x10 inches (60x40x30 cm) and from about 7 pounds (3 kilograms) to possibly over 100 pounds (45 kilograms).

Additional top space may be desirable to accommodate a family of monkeys or other animated displays and a cup or hat when busking.

It should have largish wheels to facilitate traversing cobblestones, kerbs and grass between the parking area and the pitch (site) on which it will be played.

It should have storage for rolls or books (as appropriate) as well as a rain cover for the organ and raincoat for the grinder. At times it will be nice to also have space for a sandwich and either water or a vacuum bottle of tea or coffee. It may also be desirable to provide for the display of signs and/or CDs for sale.

The cart height should put the crankshaft axis at elbow height.

The handles should be at a height which allow the operator to move it with arms at full length.

And if you are an amateur organ builder, it should reflect your personality.

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