Archive for Thursday, September 23, 1999


September 23, 1999


As it wraps up the biggest job in its history, Reuter Organ Co. continues to look for more space -- by expanding downtown or elsewhere in Lawrence or finding a new home altogether.

Inside an old limestone building in downtown Lawrence, craftsmen and craftswomen at Reuter Pipe Organ Co. have cut, carved and torched since April to create a $1.4 million work of art.

Now it's hitting the road.

Four full tractor-trailers are trucking the load to Seattle, where University Presbyterian Church awaits installation of its new Opus 2196 organ, an instrument with the dynamic and tonal versatility of an entire orchestra.

With one pedal keyboard, two industrial-strength air blowers, four manual keyboards, 150 knobs and 5,420 pipes weighing a total of 22 tons, the instrument registers as the largest single project ever completed at Reuter, which has produced more than 2,000 pipe organs since 1919 in downtown Lawrence.

Although the Reuter in Lawrence's First United Methodist Church is larger, it was enlarged in stages since 1938. The Seattle-bound instrument, which took six months to build, was a single job.

"It's a massive project," said Don Gauthier, a pipe maker and plant manager for Reuter. "It has trials and tribulations, but when you get done -- and you've got something that's going to last literally for hundreds of years and a make a lot of people very happy -- it's a wonderful feeling."

High-pitched market

For Reuter, already the country's second-largest maker of pipe organs, the project is a sign of growth in a growing industry that will produce $80 million in sales this year. Industry sales have increased 11 percent in the past year and 30 percent since 1995, according to the Associated Pipe Organ Builders of America.

A strong economy is playing a big role, as is the public's backlash against rapidly developing technologies and products, said Steven Dieck, APOBA president. Churches are expanding, universities are upgrading and private individuals are longing for music played on instruments with roots that stretch back centuries.

"There's an interest in supporting things that are real and very good," said Dieck, who is president of C.B. Fisk Inc., a pipe organ company in Gloucester, Mass. "In this throw-away society, it's nice to know there's something being built that's not being considered disposable, something to be bought and tossed in five years."

Fine tuning required

Reuter's new 93-rank organ -- with room for 11 more, plus another 671 pipes -- will be welcomed into one of the nation's largest Presbyterian congregations, where as many as 1,400 people attend each of five Sunday services.

A 10-member Reuter team will supervise up to six weeks of installation, then tune the instrument and prepare it for worship services, a process that should extend into next year.

Dedication is scheduled for March, when pipes as small as the end of a pencil and as tall as a two-story building will produce a tonal array that tests the bounds of human hearing -- from the low rumble of thunder to the piercing whistle of a television set.

"It is like a 150-piece orchestra," said Albert Neutel Sr., Reuter president. "It'll play the most authentic Baroque to the transcriptions of the early 20th century. You name it, and it'll play it. If you're capable, it'll play it."

Company looks to expand

With 45 employees, Reuter builds its organs at a two-building, five-level complex covering 43,000 square feet south of the Lawrence Riverfront Plaza.

Neutel said he was looking into expansion possibilities at the current site.

He's also checking out sites in a business park near Lawrence Paper Co., and hearing from other towns interested in landing the family-owned business, which has an estimated $3.5 million in annual sales.

The desired space: 60,000 square feet, all on one level, Neutel said. Company officials are busy "massaging" numbers to find a workable plan.

No timeline has been set but Neutel made one detail clear: Wherever the company ends up should expect to be Reuter's home for another 80 years

"We've got some options on some land, to keep our options open," Neutel said. "Whether we stay or move is a decision we'll have to make before too long, but we are still here and we expect to be here for a long time to come."

-- Mark Fagan's phone message number is 832-7188. His e-mail address is

OPUS 2196

A $1.4 million pipe organ built by Lawrence's Reuter Organ Co. is on its way to a Seattle church. It took nearly six months to build, and installation and fine tuning will last into next year. Among its specifications:

Weight: 22 tons.

Power: Compressed air, with two blowers producing force equal to 6,000 bathroom exhaust fans.

Pipes: 5,420, made from copper, zinc, tin, lead and wood.

Wood: Red oak (case, console), walnut (interior keyboards), yellow poplar (frame, wind chests), Russian baltic birch (wind chests, wood pipes), maple (pedal keys), rosewood (draw knobs), ebony (sharps keys) and basswood (manual keys, topped with cow bone).

Range: 9 1/2 octaves -- from low C, which resembles thunder, to the high G harmonic pitch of high C, which approaches the whistle of a TV set.

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