Meet the mad scientist making modern Nickelodeons

Ceres man makes a living out of modernizing the Nickelodeon

Before iPods, compact disks and tape players, there was the music Nickelodeon.

This is much different from the television network Nickelodeon. It's actually a coin operated self-playing instrument that was popularized in the 1800's.

The Nickelodeon was replaced by the vinyl record, but entrepreneur Ken Caulkins has made a living out of modernizing the old-time music machine.

“It’s the actual instrument playing. That’s the way music is meant to be played, on an instrument," said Caulkins.

He owns Ragtime Automated Music in Ceres and his Nickelodeons have been shipped all over the world.

Caulkins got his start in 1971 repairing old player pianos, which are the ones that use a roll of paper with tiny holes in it.

“The first one I fixed I didn’t know what I was doing so I had to go to the library to get the manual," said Caulkins.

Six years later, he started building the music machine maker, and once he put an ad in a magazine, his business took off.

“The ad said, custom made Nickelodeons for sale. $4,800. 50 percent down. 50 percent on delivery. I got over a quarter of one million dollars in the mail," said Caulkins.

The orders came in so fast that he had to hire 50 new employees just to keep up with the demand.

Over the years, Caulkins Nickelodeons have evolved with many of his machines having six different instruments playing at one time. He used air powered pneumatic levers to play the guitars and pound the tambourine.

“We make all our own parts because we have to. No one else makes them," he said.

The whole system is controlled by a computer Midi system but the actual sound comes from the instruments. You can even put the Nickelodeons in Karaoke mode.

All them are custom made and you may even recognize some of Caulkins clients who have purchased it.

"Peter Jackson, director of Lord of the Rings, Dale Earnhart Jr. Richard Donnar director of Superman," said Caulkins.

The music machine maker has also done projects for several different royal families but one of his most challenging jobs was in Mumba, India.

“It was a really large installation in Bollywood," he said.

The recording industry has come a long way since the original Nickelodeons but Caulkins has found a way to keep the old music player alive. His job may seem a little crazy but he hopes that his work will inspire others who march to the beat of a different drum.

"Without perseverance you are just crazy.," said Caulkins.

© 2017 KXTV-TV


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