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*'Nichol' calliope for sale, $105,000*

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    *'Nichol' calliope for sale, $105,000*

    Steamboating colleagues:
    The winter issue of 'PowerShips,' former titled SSHSA's venerable 'Steamboat Bill' carries on their classified pages the following ad with full color photo.

    * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

    "AVAILABLE--Rare, original Nichol steam calliope. Served aboard the Mississippi sternwheeler WASHINGTON. Played first by Leslie Swanson in 1928, and continued aboard the WASHINGTON until she was decommissioned.

    This instrument is a rare and unique antique and is available with a 15 HP Bryan propane boiler, 50 gallon propane bottle, pressure regulator, flexible piping, books [5" X 8" paper back] by Swanson about calliopes and several hundred calliope recordings. $105,000, buyer collects. CONTACT MURPHY: FAX 305-666-0501. Book & CD avilable, $50, pp."

    * * * * * * * *

    I apologize if a previous mention of this instrument appeared on I didn't have time to scroll through the postings to narrow it down. Are there any takers on the above offer? Well, what do I know?

    R. Dale Flick
    Coal Haven Landing, Ohio River, Cincinnati.

    WASHINGTON'S calliope

    Matt Dow had posted back in December that he had found an ad in Sea History -so it obviously hasn't been a hot seller. Isn't this the one that was on a European boat for a while? How do you set a price for a calliope? How much of this one is still original?


      *RE: WASHINGTON's calliope*
      Hi, Judy & Steamboating colleagues:
      Thanks for 'heads up' on Matt Dow's December posting. I'm dumb as mud on the history of calliopes other than what the real pros on this site share. I also 'wondered' how you'd set a price on such an instrument? Obviously there's not a swelling clamor from the public for a calliope every day. At times such ads send up a tentative balloon to test the air for any bids. I've an old B/W photo of the WASHINGTON preparing to leave on an excursion with the said calliope belching steam but would have to dig through a ton of 'dusty boxes' here.

      The recent winter issue of 'PowerShips' also features a lenghty article by West Coast contributor, Peter Eisele, titled 'Cruise West Folds' with photo and ins-and-outs of the company's financial plight. Sad, very sad. A squib RE: the DELTA KING operation in Sacramento gives the DK 'Boatel' rave reviews. Mention of the $9 million restoration with, "...doubling the size of the boat's cabins by combining two to create one." The DELTA QUEEN 'Boatel' operation in Chattanooga given brief mention. Well, what do I know?

      R. Dale Flick
      Coal Haven Landing, Ohio River, Cincinnati.



        The WASHINGTON calliope is pretty unscathed as historic things go. As a matter of fact, it is one of two survivors as steamboat steam calliopes go (Capt. Gabe's AVALON calliope is the other). The valves, keyboard, manifold, whistles...all are original. There are 4 whistles added to it to fill in the gaps between it's 28-note build and its 32-note existence. David Morecraft built the additional whistles and spanned the sides of the manifold with a little header for the additional whistles to fit on. To keep her historically accurate the additional whistles are sitting on mechanical valves just like the originals are. A person could remove them and make it 100% original. This is the singular addition to this historic calliope. This one had one feature which made it rather had all 32-keys but only 28-notes. The unused keys were propped up with a little block of wood (a reminder they were decorative) and one could jam a finger on them really easy (as Leslie Swanson mentions in his book "Steam Calliopes"). One thing I do have issue with in the advertisement is the part about Leslie Swanson being the first Calliopist aboard the WASHINGTON. This simply is not true. He was one of many who played aboard her. He did work the season of 1928 as Pianist in the band and Calliopist on her. Clarence "Heavy" Elder (the boats Purser) was the most notable Calliopist aboard and spelled Mr. Swanson many times during his season on her. Most articles I have read on the boat list Mr. Elder as her Calliopist. I am not trying to detract from Mr. Swanson's presence on the boat, nor his great book. He was a really talented man and I was fortunate to have known him and corresponded with him many times before his passing.

        As for the price...I don't know how one could validate a price on such a thing. This one has been for sale many times over many years and still in the same collection. Many things of historical nature have hefty price tags. But with a calliope, I just don't see how that could be the same...for the audience to buy (much less listen) such a thing is so small. Most of us (that is the ones who would buy) are so poor we could scantly afford to look at the thing.

        The few modern buyers who are looking at new instruments balk at the price of the thing because of the machining and foundry cost. Not to mention everyone wants solenoid valves and they add considerable cost to the thing. A new instrument is something in the $20,000-50,000 range.

        This historic instrument is coming in at more than double that figure. Yet, is much harder to play (few know HOW, much less have the dexterity to actually perform on such an equipped instrument), requires a little more maintenance (and few know HOW to do this kind of work), and is currently in pieces in storage. The few people who seek out calliopes seem to be happy with the Tangley Calliaphone ultra portable, player calliope animal. So I don't see a sale for this great piece of history anytime soon. It's too bad...cause it is about as good as you are ever gonna find in the world today. Like the dodo bird, she is a relic of another time and seems to be quite the endangered species. I can name all of the surviving original tracker calliopes on one hand now. She is one of the three playable ones. There is the AVALON instrument, the America Circus Wagon instrument, and this one. All are Nichol calliopes...what a coincidence!

        There is the Texas Railroad Museum's Showboat GOLDENROD calliope. The earliest Nichol of them all from the looks of things. I have never seen it in person so I can't really comment on it too much. I do know the keyboard doesn't look too original...neither do some of the whistles. Till I see it in person, I am leaving it out of the original unscathed category for now. There is a lot suspect about it as far as I am Dale says..."What do I know?"

        This instrument for sale which we are talking about must have traveled around a lot after the WASHINGTON days and I know nothing of it from this time frame. I first heard of it in the mid-80's. It was in the collection of Dr. William Murphy who had David Morecraft rebuild it for a circus show in Florida. I don't believe the show ever materialized Dr. Murphy had a Dutch tugboat he converted to an excursion boat (the SUCCES) and he put the calliope on her instead. In 1991 he contacted Dave about electrifying her...because people found it so hard to play and putting a modern player unit on the old calliope was tantamount to impossible. Dave stepped up to the plate and let him know he would be ruining a piece of history to do he talked him into buying a new build calliope with the features he wanted for the SUCCES. This new calliope debuted at the 1992 Tall Stacks festival with Capt. Clarke C. "Doc" Hawley at the keyboard aboard Capt. Oscar Nelson Jones' first steam barge. The new calliope soon went to Holland and the original Nichol calliope came back to Florida where it is for sale today, the rest is history.

        A few years ago someone mentioned to me they had a CD of the WASHINGTON calliope played on SUCCES. It seems it was available online somewhere. I never saw or heard it. Maybe someday it will come my way.

        Here's a video of the Good Doctor playing the replacement calliope at Tall Stacks 1992. YouTube - Steam CaLLiope at Tall Stacks 1992 "Capt. Doc Hawley"

        Heres one of the SUCCES calliope aboard her in her native home. YouTube - Sail 2010 Stoomorgel.mpg

        For more information on the SUCCES...check out her webpage. Partyschip Succes; zeer exclusief luxe stoom-salonschip anno 1897.



          Travis, what about the Sparks at the Circus Hall of Fame in Peru? It's not on steam now, but wouldn't it work?



            The IUPUI Nichol and the Ohio River Museum Nichol were kinda left out, too. The IUPUI and the ORM were left out because one hasn't played in years and is highly modified (The IUPUI) and the ORM is in deplorable shape and couldn't play with out considerable work done to it. The Sparks Bros was left out because I was focusing on steamboat calliopes and forgot the old show calliopes. Of course, there is the Twin Jester wagon in Sarasota, too...supposedly a 36-note Nichol. I haven't seen it either....I hear it isn't in playable shape. I am glad you brought one of the instruments I forgot up...made me remember the others!

            Again, the fact remains, they are all Nichols....the best there were!



              Being an expert on the subject, what do you think these playable historic calliopes are really worth? Then, what would the nonpalyable ones be worth, not counting the cost of restoration? Just curious. The instrument only, no boilers or wagons or stuff that might come with it.


                I am by no means an expert, but I would guess the value of such a rare instrument really depends on if you have someone looking for one. This discussion has come up several times when trying to place a value on steam engines out of a sternwheeler. In reality, they're only worth their weight in scrap metal. However, should the extremely rare event occur that a person need a set, they would be VERY valuable to THAT person, especially when considering the cost and possibility of having new ones made. So can a value really be placed on such a thing? I'm sure a lawyer or insurance company could come up with something!


                  *RE: 'New' valves for calliopes*
                  Hi, Lexie, Phillip & Steamboating colleagues:
                  Travis leads the pack on expert knowledge RE: calliopes old and new that could serve as an academic university thesis--and I say that with respect.

                  There would be no problem today in replacing valves for calliopes. There is a leading engineering company in Cincinnati involved in the design, casting of valves for high pressure delivery of steam, water, hydraulics, pharmaceutical liquids, nuclear liquid waste for industry, military and other branches of the U.S. Government [I hedge at this moment with the name as I'm not clear on their public information]. Lee Woodruf, S&D Board of Governors member, is an executive with this concern in their manufacturing division. All of their valves are top designs with rigorous testing/inspection procedures before installation. You can imagine the stringent regulations on valves designed not only for VERY high pressure steam, but for such nasty things as liquid plutonium.

                  The current steam valve serving the calliope on the late Nelson Jones' steam barge is a product of this company. Lee and I snapped photos of it several years ago with the pictures appearing in the company literature. The moral is you can find it, buy it, build it--if you've got the cash. Well, what do I know?

                  R. Dale Flick
                  Coal Haven Landing, Ohio River, Cincinnati.


                    I would think any good machine shop could replicate any part of an old style calliope. It would not be cheap, unless you happened to own said machine shop. The tolerances are probably laughable on old valves and such. As I've been told about old steam engines, oil 'em and they'll go forever. I'm trying to figure out the $105,000 for that Nichol. Allow about $5,000 for the boiler, $2000 for the whistles, and that leaves $98,000 for everything else. One could buy a very nice boat, car, whatever, with what's left. Even adding in the historic value and provenance, I would have trouble coming up with that kind of value. If I put it in the category of antique musical instruments like band organs, of which I do know something, I would put $20,000 to $25,000 as a reasonably fair appraisal. It is a down market for that sort of thing so less would not be giving it away. The owner should be tickled pink to get that much. (Frankly, I would rather have the band organ.) If the calliope is a bunch of parts in a box, less, or way less, than $5000, depending on what's left. That's my spin.


                      *RE: Steam valve inspection/certification*
                      Hi, Lexie & Steamboating colleagues:
                      Excellent points you make in the above posting. Again, I admit to total ignorance in such instruments with you real experts here providing great insights.

                      I only gave the company in Cincinnati as one example and you're right about any good machine shop. Cap'n Walnut, Travis etc. could answer this in more detail. I don't know about other states, but Ohio now has strict inspection/certification for steam powered farm/thrashing equipment etc. we see at steam shows or state fairs. One disastrous accident in Columbus some years ago resulted in a threashing boiler exploding with fatal results and injury. I 'think' a similar incident happened at a Michigan steam fair also. Lots of grousing about regulations, legalities, government etc.--until they're on the bad end of a disaster. Who out there on the web knows about the requirements for such certification and checking for safety? Seems to me the calliope valve on the steam barge the late Nelson Jones has was checked, pressure tested and approved--but by whom?

                      R. Dale Flick
                      Coal Haven Landing, Ohio River, Cincinnati.


                        Depends on the state you're in. I would think Nelson Jones barge would come under the Coast Guard. Texas had/has practically nothing, but the insurance company wanted us to get the boiler inspected, and we got the state to do that. The inspector was very easy to deal with, probably because we had just bought a brand new code boiler. He told us that there were probably 5000 uninspected boilers in Texas!

                        We avoided the Coast Guard like the plague, but the new owners of the Graceful Ghost have had to deal with the CG, so it is now CG Kosher.

                        Those old steam tractors are really neat, but after that accident, many have been cooled down forever. I don't know what Colorado has, but it is pretty strict on steam locomotives.

                        And then there is the test-it-yourself option, which anyone with a boiler should do.