The following is an article by Bernie Marston about his experience making rotary valves for Olds.

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Some F. E. Olds and Son history

I supplied the F. E. Olds Company through my Marston Mechanical Specialties Co. with rotary valves for their french horns from 1949 until 1967. How I happened to get into the valve business is detailed in another story. For this I will stay with the part that involves Olds.

In early 1948 I was employed as Senior Mechanical Engineer in charge of the prototype machine shop at the company where I had worked during WW-II before a stint in the Merchant Marine. It was a good well-paying job and I hated to leave it so it was a big decision to go into business for myself. I had only my home workshop equipment: a lathe, drill press, welding/brazing equipment, etc. Fortunately for several years I had worked in production engineering designing tools, jigs and fixtures as well as in machine shop time where I had become competent in the operation of all types of machine tools. I had built some rudimentary tooling to make a few rotary valves and had to expand this as I increased production. I bought a couple of inexpensive small metal lathes from Sears, Roebuck and was able to adapt them to my specific needs.

About a year after I started making valves for an east coast band instrument manufacturer I began to have a problem with them over payment of my invoices for valves. They were claiming that shipments were lost or not received, leaving me with the time-consuming option of making claims on the shipping insurance. It was at this point that a series of circumstances coincided to secure my valve business for many years. The F. E. Olds Co., then located in west Los Angeles was at that time the only large band instrument manufacturer on the west coast. After suspending band instrument manufacture during WW-II to devote their equipment to war-related manufacturing, Olds had resumed its manufacture of trumpets, cornets and trombones, the most popular and profitable brass instruments. About 1948 the Olds long-time distributor, Chicago Musical Instruments, had bought Olds. To run their new acquisition CMI coaxed out of retirement F. A. Reynolds, known as “Mr. Band Instruments”. Reynolds had successfully run the manufacturing facilities of the F. N. White company for many years, and had later formed, run and sold the F. A. Reynolds Co., in Cleveland, Ohio.

CMI found out after they bought the Olds company that they had difficulty buying the less-profitable brass instruments such as baritone horns, tubas, sousaphones and french horns from other manufacturers if those people were cut out of the more lucrative trumpet, cornet and trombone sales. CMI sent F.A. Reynolds to the west coast with a directive to tool up and manufacture the full line of brass.

I was at an impasse over money with my principal customer when I took a set of valves, went to the Olds plant in west Los Angeles and asked to see Mr. Reynolds. I was warmly greeted. Olds had made an attempt to build a few French horns before the war and had the spinning mandrels to make bells on hand, so with me supplying valves they could start building horns almost immediately, postponing many months of tooling design and many thousands of dollars in equipment purchases. That also left them free to concentrate on tooling up to produce the “big” brass; baritones, sousaphones, etc. I left with an order for several hundred sets of valves and an agreement to pay on delivery. Reynolds cautioned me that eventually they would tool up for the valves and I would lose their business. It took them twenty years.

In my small shop in Arcadia, California with two employees I was soon producing sixty 3-valve sets per week for the Ambassador single french horns. I also produced many valves for the Olds double french horn which was similar to the Conn 6-D. Olds would send me a purchase order for two or three hundred sets of valves and issue a group of serial numbers to match. F.A. Reynolds was true to his word on payment. I delivered valves weekly and took home a check. I always considered F.A. to be a truly fine gentleman and I certainly appreciated his extensive knowledge of the band instrument business. He had noticed that founder F.E. Olds Rivett precision lathe built in 1913 was being used only for polishing in the shop and thought I could make better use of it so he gave it to me, along with all the attachments, many of which had never been used. I restored and used it for years and recently gave it to Robb Stewart, who has posted pictures of it on this website. By pure coincidence Robb’s shop in Arcadia is only about three blocks from the location of my shop in the 1950’s.

In 1954 Olds bought an orange grove in Fullerton and built a large modern plant on the property. They even sold oranges for awhile. It was a big project moving the plant and getting it functioning again. I kept asking if I should continue delivering sixty sets of valves per week, as I knew that two of the three french horn assemblers had decided not to move to Orange County. My recollection is that Zig Kanstul was the one assembler who came to Fullerton. Zig’s accomplishments with Olds and later as a band instrument manufacturer are well documented elsewhere. I was told to keep producing valves, but as I had feared, in 1955 Olds realized that they were not using up their valve inventory and asked me to cut production. It created a huge problem for me since I was relying on the Olds business for most of my income. I had to lay off all my help but F.A. came to my rescue with an order for double valves that tided me over.

In the early 1960’s Olds finally bought equipment and tooled up for the manufacture of rotary valves and phased out purchases from me . I was meanwhile involved in other business ventures but still produced valves for Vincent Bach bass trombones, Carl Geyer in Chicago and Richards Musical Instruments in Cleveland who had acquired the old F.A. Reynolds Company there. Richards subsequently went bankrupt and Olds bought the manufacturing rights and parts inventory for the Pottag/Chambers model double french horn from the bankruptcy auction. The entire parts inventory for the Pottag/Chambers horn was shipped to Fullerton and F.A. asked me to look the stuff over, use what I could and make valves for that model, so there I was making valves for Olds again. This lasted for some months and then I phased out the valve business for good. Olds continued to produce the Pottag/Chambers horn and also sold the Ambassador french horns under the Reynolds name. I heard that this was an attempt to keep the dealer organizations intact for both names. I became heavily involved in other lines of endeavor and was unaware of the reported decline in quality after F. A. Reynolds death or of the final demise of the company until years later.

Bernie Marston

July 2005