By Gabe Licht
DELANO, MN As chairman and CEO of State Bank of Delano, Steve Gilmer knows a thing or two about investments.
One of his investments is more of a collection and has nothing to do with banking, except that it has spilled into the bank lobby over the years.
That collection is made up of more than 20 jukeboxes with model years spanning from 1937 to 1952.
His collection began 35 years ago.
“I saw an old jukebox at a restaurant in 1980, and I decided I wanted one,” Gilmer said. “So, I put an ad in the Minneapolis paper: ‘Jukebox wanted $100 reward.’ After I placed the ad, I received calls from other collectors who wanted to know, ‘How’s it going? Did you find it?’ because they were interested in buying it from me. I got three that way, just advertising in the paper, because this was way before the Internet got going.”
Gilmer traveled to Superior, WI, to purchase a jukebox and flew to Tulsa, OK, to look into another. He ended up buying two jukeboxes there, including an unassembled machine that had to be driven to Minnesota as parts in boxes for Gilmer to put together himself.
“I do quite a bit of the assembly, but I hire somebody else to do the rechroming, to replate the cases with nickel,” Gilmer said.
He has gotten help with mechanical work and wood refinishing, as well.
Gilmer has become familiar with the two companies that sell replacement parts for his jukeboxes.
“I have to buy several replacement parts whn plastic pieces are missing or broken,” Gilmer said.
Many of Gilmer’s jukeboxes are Wurlitzers, with some manufactured by Filben, Seeburg, and Rock-ola.
In most cases, Gilmer fills the machines with his own records, featuring rock n’ roll from the ‘50s and ‘60s.
Many of his jukeboxes play 78 rpm records, while others play 45 rpm records, and one has been retrofitted to play CDs.
One of his favorite jukeboxes is a 1941 Wurlitzer Peacock. Polarizing discs allow the peacock and its surroundings to change colors.
Another, a 1946 Filben Maestro, resembles a diesel locomotion engine.
A Victory model, made during World War II, was made with wood and glass, because metal and plastic were being reserved for weaponry.
“My oldest jukebox is from 1937, and I’ve been in the proces of restoring it for five years,” Gilmer said.
Why collect jukeboxes?
“Jukeboxes are easier to see and display than cars,” Gilmer said. “I can’t fit a car in the bank or my house. These are more fun because people can play music.”
Gilmer plays the jukeboxes in his home when family and friends visit, but he doesn’t play the machines in the bank often.
“I don’t like to turn them on because the kids come in and start punching the buttons or slamming the coin slots, potentially damaging the equipment,” Gilmer said. “I had to do a lot of tinkering to get them in working condition again.”
A total of six jukeboxes are located at the bank, with three in the lobby, one in his office, and two in the basement. Gilmer also has a pinball machine in the basement featuring Fonzie from “Happy Days,” with the image of one of his jukeboxes in the background.
Gilmer is proud to show off a portion of his collection.
“People are welcome to come in and see them at the bank,” Gilmer said.