Old audio equipment sale aids BLT plans

Published 6:00 am Monday, February 18, 2008

The Save the Haven campaign received a small boost Friday whenThomas Wilson, an antiques dealer from Clarksville, Ohio, came tothe theater to acquire some old audio equipment and left a $500check.

Wilson is a 28-year-old collector of antique projectors andtheater audio equipment.

With the help of his father Bob, flashlights and a toolbox,Wilson ascended into the damp, dark attic of The Haven to dig outvarious pieces of antique audio gear. The Simplex equipment theyretrieved was last used in the post World War II era.

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“Thomas made us an offer, and we accepted,” said Tommy Sproles,executive director of the Brookhaven Little Theatre. “The Havenwould never have been able to use that equipment. We’ve had itsitting up there where no one can enjoy it for decades – he’ll fixit up where everyone can enjoy it.”

Wilson’s hobby started when he was 18. It has taken the Wilsonsall over the U.S. and into Canada, seeking the old iron pieces ofcinema history that sit unused in the attics of community theatersacross the two countries.

At first, Wilson began collecting the memorabilia of ThomasEdison. Sticking to a projectors-only rule, he amassed more than100 film projectors since the beginning of moving pictures, some soancient that they operate via hand crank.

Wilson’s interest in audio equipment came later.

In fact, it was another projector he was seeking when Sprolesfirst contacted him on the Internet. Sproles found Wilson’scomments on the blog of another projector collector.

“I was just surfing the Web, trying to find out what these oldprojectors were worth,” Sproles said. “We knew that we wanted tokeep at least one of our projectors to fix up and display in TheHaven, but we’d already talked about selling some of theothers.”

At first, Wilson demurred. He already had the projectors TheHaven’s caretakers were trying to unload.

Months went by before he and Sproles communicated again, butwhen they did, the audio equipment was discussed. Wilson decidedthe audio pieces would make a fine contribution to his privatemuseum.

Friday, the discussion ended. Wilson and his father arrived in aheavy-duty Chevy van to collect the ancient horns, amplifiers andcabinets, along with a box’s worth of various trinkets andcomponents.

The stop in Brookhaven was but one part of the Wilsons’ journeythat will take them to Louisiana, Texas and Kansas to seek similarforgotten theater treasures from those states.

“It’s just another piece of the pie,” Wilson said. “Anything Idon’t already have, I’m interested in.”

Wilson’s interest translates into knowledge. He knows thehalf-century old equipment intimately, as one who might haveassembled it in the factory all those years ago. He handles eachpiece with care as he removes it from the theater’s darkness andhoists it into the light of Cherokee Street, explaining each knob,dial and wire.

The greatest thing about Wilson’s knowledge of the equipment isthat when he reassembles it at his private museum in Ohio, it willcome to life again.

“We’ll get ’em up and running again,” Wilson said. “I’ll restorethis stuff and get it working again.”

In fact, once completed, Wilson’s collection will feature an80-seat, old-time theater where he will screen films on theequipment of old.

To raise such equipment from the dead, Wilson depends on a smallbrotherhood of collectors like him.

He said there are only a handful – six or eight – collectors ofantique projectors and audio equipment the world over. A tradeflourishes among this small fraternity.

“A lot the times I trade with other collectors to get the partsI need to refurbish this stuff,” Wilson said. “Some of the smallerpieces I’m taking today I’ll either trade or break down forparts.”

While the collectors benefit from their trade, groups likeBrookhaven Little Theatre benefit from their activities andcontributions. The Wilsons take pride in the fact that theirbusiness will help BLT achieve its end result of renovation of TheHaven.

“It works out good for most theaters like this,” said BobWilson. “We need the equipment – they need the money. It’s good tosee ’em restored and brought back to life. We’ve been in sometheaters where the roof was falling in, some that were just plainscary.”

The Wilsons’ $500 contribution will go directly into the Savethe Haven fund.

“Really, they’re doing us a favor,” Sproles said. “This is $500that we didn’t have yesterday.”