Can it be Controlled?
Fire Marshal Lewis of Brooklyn agrees in his report that the fire which destroyed the handsome Brooklyn Tabernacle had its origin from an electric wire in the organ. This recalls the fact the Tabernacle is not the only church destroyed by this agency. Recently a Roman Catholic Church in Morrisania, and just a little before the Tremont Temple in Boston, were burned out, the origin of the fire in each instance being traced to the organ.
Although electricity has scarcely yet taken its place as a function in music, or a power in the distribution of harmony, it serves useful mechanical purposes in connection with instrumental music. The Tabernacle fire seems to have resolved its origin down to the “ resistance box ” of the organ, as it is called. That box regulates the wind that blows the organ bellows. Here its usefulness ceases, and it has as much to do with the concord of sweet sounds that the organist draws out of the keys as an onyx pillar or a telegraph pole.
With a view of discovering the uses to which electricity is put in modern church organs, and the dangers which accompany its use, I visited the organ works of Jardine & Sons, in Iiast Thirty-ninth street. The great Tabernacle organ was built by the Jardines, who have also constructed most of the large organs in and about New York. -Mr. Edward C. Jardine explained the ways in which electricity is ordinarily employed in church organs as follows:
“ Electric wires may run through an organ for the purpose of pumping air into the bellows, of supplying light to the organist and repairer, or of opening and closing the pipes, when the organ itself is at some distance from the keyboard.
The greatest danger, I think, arises from the overheating of the rheostat or resistance box, which in my opinion caused the Tabernacle fire. ‘This rheostat governs the amount of wind supplied by the pumping engine to the bellows It is filled with coils of German silver wire, which offer great resistance to the electric current. Each coil connects with the adjoining ones through plugs, which are arranged in a half circle along the face of the box. The current reaches the plugs and thence the coils through an index arm, which is connected with the dynamo, street circuit or other source of power. The index is also mounted upon a pulley wheel, upon which runs a rope, one end of which is attached to the bellows, while a heavy weight at the other end keeps the rope taut.
“ As the bellows fills with air and rises the rope is run over the pulley, and the index arm slowly traverses around the half circle of plugs. Every time it reaches a new plug another coil is added to the circuit and the resistance is correspondingly increased. As the bellows becomes nearly full the last one is reached and the resistance is now so great that the weakened current no longer drives the pumping engine and the bellows slowly exhausts, while the index arm traverses back along the line of plugs.
“ But all this energy is changed by the resistance of the German silver coils into heat, and the coils and metal box in which they are inclosed, not infrequently become red hot. The box is usually packed in asbestos or some other uninflammable substance, but then there are sparks and similar electrical manifestations, where there is so much resistance, which sometimes, in spite of all precautions, start a conflagration which may prove disastrous.”
“ Are such accidents of freqiient occurrence ?” 1 asked.
“No; they are very uncommon. I hardly remember any other great fires which could be traced to the electric pumping apparatus; with a better knowledge of electricity they may be avoided altogether.”
“You spake of this as the chief danger. What other source of danger are there?”
“Well, it is, of course, essential, wherever wires pass through an organ for any purpose, to see that the insulation is in perfect repair. Otherwise it is very easy for a live wire to communicate fire to the little wooden tube in which it is conducted through the organ. Too much attention cannot be paid to the insulation.”
“Is there any danger when electricity is used to convey power from the keyboard to the pipes of the organ?”
“Very little, if any. In our organ in St. George’s Church the keyboard is at the other end of the church from the pipes and we conduct the power to the organ over electric wires. But the current used for that purpose is a very weak one. I never heard of any accident resulting from its use and I very much doubt whether it is strong enough to set fire to any wood work near it.”