The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

July 20, 2013

Joe Hadsall: Moving piano home a moving experience

By Joe Hadsall
Globe Features Editor

JOPLIN, Mo. — Replacing things lost in the tornado is a tricky act -- nothing can really be replaced, after all. I may have a new chair and desk in my office, as well as a new office, but they aren't exactly what I used to have. The history just isn't there yet.

I don't even remember the brand name of the piano we used to have at the former Geek Central, located near the seemingly redundantly named Gabby Street Boulevard. It was a miniature upright with a full keyboard and plenty of history. We bought it from a family in Carthage that wanted more room in their house for a quilting venture.

So many kids had learned to play on that piano, and we were thrilled to get it into our house. With the help of enterprise editor Scott Meeker and movie columnist Benji Tunnell, we maneuvered it from the Carthage home, into the back of my pickup, to Joplin. It tipped over in the bed of the truck on the way -- that petrified me.

Seeing the piano destroyed by the tornado, its wood damaged on the outside and its inside filled with debris, was a gut punch.

As we relocated to the new Geek Central, we replaced the general ideas of things but never tried to replace the piano. Our new living room filled up fast with furniture and books because The Lovely Paula and I love bargains. So I never thought we'd get the chance to own any kind of piano, much less an instrument with history.

Thanks to a weekend moving trip, we now have one.

Royal instrument

We have a Crown upright piano, an "orchestral grand." Time has taken its toll: Two of the keys don't work, several of the ivory pads on the keys are missing, and it could use some tuning.

Thanks to some research by TLP, we have discovered the piano was made in 1902 and sold for anywhere from $600 to $1,000. Manufactured by the Geo. P. Bent Piano Company in Chicago, the company was considered one of the most famous pianomakers. Its factory took up an entire city block -- called the "Bent Block" by locals. Production of pianos halted in 1929.

I discovered one of the company's innovations the first night after we got it home: The piano has a fourth pedal that can be moved into a locked position. Pressing it down lowers a series of metal-laced ribbons in front of the hammers, which produces a metallic sound.

That is what the company called a "practice clavier," and was one of two main features of the Crown. The other was an "orchestral attachment" that allowed the piano to impersonate a variety of other instruments, from guitar to bag pipes, according to an old ad.

If we were to restore this, it could be valued at as much as $14,000, but we'd have to spend around $10,000 with a  restoration specialist. I have a mind to restore and fix it up so it works a little better. But resale? Thanks to the history behind this specific instrument, there's no way we are selling it.

Family history

Donna, my stepkids' grandmother, is in the process of moving from a Springfield house into an apartment. She owned the piano after the kids' great-great-aunt. In other words, this instrument has been in their family for at least four generations.

The family also hand-carved a bench and matching cabinet featuring a large griffin.

Last weekend we rented a truck and moved it 80 miles west. I was surprised how easily it got loaded -- I'm glad we shelled out for a truck with a loading ramp.

Donna said she has original ownership documents somewhere, and we can't wait to see them. Because, as TLP said when asking piano experts, we are not owners of this piano. We are caretakers of it, and will pass it down to the kids, for their kids, and on and on.

That's what's most overwhelming to me. This instrument is definitely a historical curiosity, thanks to its brand name and construction. But for it to also be a family heirloom makes me fall instantly in love with it. It's not the same piano that we used to have. The moving of it went so much more smoothly than the last one, and the keys don't feel the same. But that doesn't matter. It's a piano with family history.

So there's a lot about piano construction and mechanics in my future. My pursuits will probably tick off Crown purists, who know much more about the specifics of this instrument than me.

But again, that doesn't matter. It belongs to Hadsall-High-Nugent now, and it's not going anywhere else for a long time. I'm not the best player, but we're gonna shake the walls of this new-to-us house with some chords.