Dick Beach celebrates the success of his restoration work on the family's 1912 Edison phonograph with his daughter, Susan Ruth. Her husband Jon is obscured behind the machine in the lobby at Atria Covell Gardens, where Beach lives. Sue Cockrell/Enterprise photo

Local News

Edison phonograph gets new life at Covell Gardens

By From page A5 | September 06, 2013

This summer, Atria Covell Gardens played host to a tale worthy of PBS’ popular “Antiques Roadshow.”

Dick Beach, a resident of the retirement home on Alvarado Avenue in North Davis, succeeded in restoring a 1912 Edison record player. Beach demonstrated the phonograph for his friends and neighbors at Covell Gardens twice in July.

The record player is a Model B and was patented from Oct. 27, 1896, to August 1905. It first came into Beach’s possession when his wife, Betty, inherited it from her grandmother. Betty Beach died in 2008 after 63 years of marriage.

When Beach moved to Covell Gardens in 2010, he did not have space for the phonograph, so he gave it to his daughter. A year ago, she said it had stopped working and asked him to see if he could fix it.

Beach determined that the antique didn’t work because the gears and other “innards” needed lubricating. However, he had no luck, even after the parts were cleaned. Beach noted that he could get the device to run when the rubber belt to drive the record player was not loaded with the drag of a record, but when records and other burdens were connected to the belt, it just couldn’t pull the load. And replacement belts for a century-old machine are difficult to come by.


The main problem, as Beach eventually discovered, was that the cylinder had no lubricant on the end of the sleeve turning it. Also, the threshold drive had accumulated quite a lot of residue. All he needed were tissues and some WD-40, and the record player worked just as well as it did when it was perfected by Thomas Alva Edison 101 years ago.

Beach is a member of a group of Covell Gardens residents who write memoirs for their friends and families. He decided to write a memoir this summer on his experience restoring the record player, and brought the machine in to show to the other members of the group. He used the player to play some music and Tekla White, who leads the memoir group, said “you could definitely hear the music coming through.”

“It was really amazing because I had never seen one that early with the spindles instead of the records,” White said. “I was just amazed to listen to this and to know that he had made it function and work.”

Beach is a retired engineer who used to design tomato processing equipment for Hunt-Wesson. After losing many of his memories to a stroke within the past two years, he has begun writing memoirs to share with his family. Fortunately, many of his past memories have since returned.

“Just to come in and work with people with the memory journals and help write (memoirs) for their families has really been a learning experience for me,” White said. “I have enjoyed working at it and we have surprises like this one where they’re telling about their past lives, so it’s a wonderful thing to do.”

Paul Phillips

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