Life Along the Loop: Man turns family heirlooms into pianos that play themselves

‘Ragtime Southwest' at Loop 1604 near FM 78 more than a decade

SAN ANTONIO, TX – As his retirement from the U. S. Air Force approached in late 1995, John Talbot made one promise to himself that was unnegotiable.

"I'm standing there one morning shaving and I told my wife, 'Yeah baby, when I retire,’ I said, ‘I'm going to quit shaving."

Now, with a bushy mustache hanging down past his chin -- reminiscent of the cartoon character “Yosemite Sam”-- Talbot spends most of his days just beyond the confines of Randolph Air Force Base.  He owns a shop called “Ragtime Southwest,” located along Loop 1604 near F-M 78.

It’s part workshop and part wonder, a business in which he makes player pianos out of family heirlooms.

“It's a shame to see some of these people getting rid of their history. They've been in the family for 50, 100 years,” he said.

A music lover, Talbot began tinkering with the instruments in his spare time more than a decade ago. Now, he has turned the piano pastime into a fulltime second career.

“It’s fascinating to see how air and a little hole and a pneumatic that runs off of air squeezes and makes a piano play," Talbot said.

After years of performing this type of musical magic in other locations, including his home, he opened up shop on the outskirts of the air force base in 2005.  Since then, it has become a warehouse full of nostalgia.  Talbot collects, buys, restores and sells everything from old Coke dispensers to old cars.

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