Voice Victrola vacation

Older model exterior-horn Victrola.

This older-model, exterior-horn Victrola is one of many phonographs restored by the workshop.

PHOTOS: BY BILL BROWN

This is what the Voice did on it’s summer vacation. We drove a 99-year old Victrola phonograph motor to the Victrola Repair Service of St. Johnsbury, Vermont, 540 miles north of Takoma Park, a mere 40 miles south of Canada.

Co-owner Rod Lauman  took the spring-driven motor, one of a steady number he and his partner Ray Chase receive at their little workshop. The shop is around the back and up the stairs of a two-story 19th century duplex. Theirs is one of two Victrola restoration businesses in the country.

Victrola phonographs were the iPods of their day. Between 1906 and the mid-1920s millions of these and other “internal horn” phonograph models were made, revolutionizing how Americans listened to music and entertained themselves at home.

They were ingeniously made and solidly built. So many are still operating that the phonograph-needle company is still in business.

Which is a good thing, because the needles should be replaced after each playing. The records are coated with an abrasive material which wears down the needle. One playing makes a needle thinner. On a second playing it digs too far into the record, damaging the sound quality and eventually ruining it.

Phonographs are not electric. The are spring-driven, the spring is wound by hand via a big handle built into the side of the cabinet. The amplification, surprisingly loud, is mechanically produced. The “volume control” is a small set of doors in the front.

Repairs took a few days. Back in Takoma Park, the motor was soon re-installed and working as well as it did 99 years ago. The renovation, said Lauman, will last another 99 years.

Here it is in action:

 

[portfolio_slideshow pagerpos=bottom]

About the Author

Bill Brown
Bill Brown moved to Takoma Park in 1982. He has been involved in journalism in one way or another since he co-published an underground high-school newspaper in the late 1960s.