« Continue Browsing

e-mail article Print     e-mail article E-mail

Sherri Richards, Published July 29 2010

Man in tune with organ business

Lance Johnson’s performance skills on the organ are on display every week at the Fargo Theatre. What’s not seen, at least by most of the public, is his technical knowledge of the instrument.

Johnson, of Dilworth, started Johnson Organ Co. in 1954 at the age of 16. The company manufactures pipe organs for churches, services them and builds band organs – mechanical pipe organs that play music rolls like a player piano.

Recently, Johnson, 72, moved his shop from its longtime home on Fargo’s NP Avenue to 831 N. Highway 75, Moorhead.

That’s how Chuck Chadwick, business liaison for the Greater Moorhead Development Corp., met Johnson.

“I was just really excited,” Chadwick said. “Who would know that in Fargo-Moorhead we have a company like this?”

Johnson Organ Co. tunes and repairs about 140 organs in an area that spans from Bismarck east to Brainerd, Minn., and Grand Forks south to Marshall, Minn. Johnson said there are a few other organ companies in the area, including in Wolverton and Wadena, Minn.

Lance’s son, Mike, goes on the service calls. Mike Johnson said many people are surprised to find out he’s from here.

“In many cases they don’t know I’m coming out of Fargo. They just know I’m there to work on the organ,” he said.

People also don’t realize how labor-intensive constructing or maintaining an organ is, Mike Johnson said.

“A lot of people, when they see a pipe organ, they’ll see the console or they might see some pipes up front and they think that is the entire organ,” he said. “They’re shocked at how much more there is behind it all.”

A recent project to add on to an organ took nine months, Lance Johnson said. Since 1967, the company has built close to a hundred organs, he said.

After a 2007 tornado destroyed Ebenezer Free Lutheran Church in Northwood, N.D., Johnson Organ Co. repaired its organ, and this spring, installed it in the new church.

Johnson calls the Fargo Theatre’s Mighty Wurlitzer, which he helped restore, the “proudest achievement of my career.”

“Lance is here almost ever Saturday morning, tuning and futzing and doing things with the Wurlitzer,” said Margie Bailly, theater director.

Johnson performs every weekend, as well as during the theater’s annual silent movie night and noon-hour holiday concerts.

“I can say with all sincerity that the organ is the heartbeat of the theater,” Bailly said. “He and the Wurlitzer are definitely institutions, big time.”

Johnson Organ Co.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Sherri Richards at (701) 241-5556