Henry: The years BC (Before Classic)
This is the first unsolicited article submitted to Classic Vox; we thought it would be interesting to our readers. If any one else wishes to submit an article, by all means, do! We won't promise to publish every one, but if we think it is of broad interest, we will. ... editor (Catherine Ingram)
by John Coenraads
Henry grew up a farm boy, getting up early each morning to help milk the cows, before catching the bus for school. He wasn't much enamored with either end of a cow however, so his heart wasn't in it, but he was already demonstrating technical creativity. I remember Henry finding a gear box once, which he than used as the basis for building a self-unloading feed wagon. Henry's real interest was electronics; I recall him building a small grey box containing a power supply, frequency generator and a binary digital display that used incandescent bulbs. He also mounted various electronic parts on bits of plywood, using nails as terminals, which could be connected to build a variety of circuits. He then presented this to his brother who also ended up an electrical engineer.
Henry boarded with us when he studied electrical engineering at Queen's. He got hold of an oscilloscope kit (all tubes) which I assembled for him, but he wanted a triggered sweep scope, so he designed a nifty little circuit board to turn it into one. He advertised this board in the back of Popular Science, or some such magazine, and for a while actually had a little business going in his parent's basement building and shipping these circuits. This was the beginning of entrepreneurial Henry.
I must take the responsibility for getting Henry involved with electronic organs. I had always wanted a home organ and one day I dragged home a non-working Minshall organ. I well remember the rows of 36 vacuum tubes (12AX7s if my memory is correct) providing a fine source of auxiliary heating in the winter. The top octave was generated by 12 electronic oscillators and lower pitches were obtained by successive division by two. Although clever in its simplicity, it had one major flaw: being a divider organ, octavely related notes were of course phase locked. Henry took one look at all of this and proceeded to design and build the equivalent circuitry using transistors. Once installed it all worked beautifully and I had a nice little two manual and 25 note pedal practice organ. Eventually these boards ended up in a small church in Southern Ontario which had a defunct Minshall and thus Henry made his first organ sale.
It also got him a job with the Conn organ dealer in Toronto, his comment, “Anyone who can get a Minshall organ running must know what he is doing.” This is how Henry ended up installing and maintaining electronic organs in Toronto. In this job, Henry quickly learned what the state of the art was in the electronic organ business and he felt he could do better. The first problem he tackled was the problem of phase locked oscillators. Of course, Allen had solved this problem long ago by using multiple independent oscillators. To keep these from drifting, Allen employed heavy and expensive coils. Henry figured he could get away with multiple, simple, inexpensive oscillators even though they tended to drift out of tune. His solution, which I think was brilliant, was to design a digital circuit (which he patented) that continually monitored and tweaked the frequencies of the oscillators. I remember hand-building dozens of these little oscillators on plug-in circuit boards which he installed in a small spinet organ. There was a small knob whereby the “tightness” of the tuning could be adjusted from perfect to “wild and wooly.” It astounded me how slightly detuning the instrument brought the sound to life. His next project was to implement this technology in a full-sized church instrument for which he used a Hallman console. This ended up being installed in Victoria Park United Church and was still used up until a few years ago when the church closed. I well remember the night it was inaugurated. It sounded as good as the organs Conn, Rodgers and Allen were producing at the time: an amazing achievement for one guy working out of his apartment. This was Henry's second organ sale.
I will also take full responsibility for Henry's becoming involved in pipe organ switching systems. When he installed a Conn organ in a church in Aylmer, Ontario, he alerted me to the fact that they were discarding an eight rank pipe organ. This organ had been rebuilt only ten years previously, with new, independent unit chests, making it ideal for a home organ. The pneumatically operated ganged switches were having problems, but Henry said, “No problem.” We left the complete switching system behind and brought the rest of the organ home to Kingston. Installed in the basement of our house, Henry proceeded to design what must have been one of the very first multiplexed switching systems for a pipe organ. I built all the circuitry on Veroboard including a small multiplexer that scanned the keyboards in octaves and then, depending on the stops drawn, transmitted the data to driver boards which used two 74174 Hex D flip-flops per octave for “remembering” the data between scans. It was compact, required only 24 wires between organ and console and operated reliably for many years. I recall that we went crazy with the unification and duplexing making every rank of pipes available on every keyboard at all pitch levels, including mutations. Why? Because we could. Later, when Henry's brother was boarding with us, we proceeded to add a combination action and a computer interface that connected the organ to a Processor Technology Sol 20 microcomputer system, which I had built from a kit bought at the “First Canadian Computer Store” in Toronto. Even with only 32 kilobytes of memory, by using some clever programming, it was capable of storing and playing a complete Bach toccata.
One installation I became involved with was “Canada's largest theatre pipe organ,” the Kimball which the Kingston Theatre Organ Society bought in Youngstown, Ohio and installed in the Church of the Redeemer in Kingston. Here it served double duty as theatre organ and a very respectable church organ. My job was to wire up the console and it spent a summer in our house while I installed one of Henry's switching systems. Three manuals and pedal, all but one with double touch, and 256 stop tabs made this a rather large job. Henry brought me a large roll of green wire and it was used to wire up the complete console, no colour coding. I distinctly remember that we used a marine battery operating on a trickle charger to operate the 256 stop tabs while also supplying the backup power for the combination action memory which was volatile. Again it all worked reliably for many years.
From these simple roots, Classic Organ Works grew and flourished. I am in awe of what Henry has accomplished. Working with him taught me almost everything I know about electronic organs and pipe organ switching systems. Now that I am retired in Victoria, this knowledge has come in very handy when installing switching systems and helping maintain pipe organs in the city of Victoria. It has been, and continues to be, an amazing ride.
That box Henry built is still sitting on our test bench here at Classic.
The Classic Organ Company Ltd was created on Feb. 23rd, 1976, and will soon celebrate its 40th anniversary.