My Nebraska Vacation: Strawberry Fluff and the Thomas Color-Glo Organ from ’79

On our way home to Minnesota from Christmas vacation in Nebraska, we stopped to visit my grandma and her gentleman friend. I had never been to Mr. M’s house before and after sitting on the couch for awhile and chatting, I noticed a covered-up organ against the far wall. I politely asked if I could look at it–and my grandma enthusiastically said, “Go ahead and play it! See if you can figure it out so I can play it later.” It seems as if no one in the house had played it for years and had forgotten how it worked.

I lifted the quilted cover and spent about 20 minutes playing around on this thing, which was a Thomas Playmate Color-Glo organ, the 1979 “special edition.” At first it seemed to make a continuous humming noise until my husband figured out that all the stops, or various sound keys were down at the same time. So we lifted them all up and the noise stopped. Then it started making sense—I put down an oboe sound with a 4/4 swing rhythm and came up with something that sounded vaguely Yo-La-Tengo-ish. Then I added some foot pedals for deep bass sounds and attempted the vibrato key (which didn’t seem to be working). The note-names lit up on the keyboard (which is where I suppose the name “color-glo” comes from). Grandma pulled out some sheet music and I tried out “Memories,” with the samba beat.

At some point I realized I should stop being anti-social and continue chatting with grandma and Mr. M. But I was having too much fun. I think I could have spent the next 8 hours trying out new sounds and practicing the foot pedals (difficult!). Seriously, it was the highlight of a fabulous Christmas vacation in Nebraska (second only to seeing about 10 different kinds of fluff on the salad bar at Hy-Vee).

I used to think organ was terribly corny. I didn’t like the way it sounded in church–too heavy and depressing. But now, after I’ve actually played one and sampled the sweet sounds of this ’79 Thomas organ, I really really want one. I want to know what other sounds I can get out of it. I think it might be a nice change from practicing a straight-up acoustic instrument. Maybe someday I could play this:

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