Blue Rapids man’s passion for phonographs is on display

By Kristina Jackson

Floyd Sutton had a collector’s instinct from the time he was a boy, keeping model trains and carnival game prizes for decades after he stopped playing with them.

However, his most extensive and prized collection involved antique record players. He started gathering them more than 40 years ago, ranging from a piece with a small cardboard horn to several large, colorfully painted floral ones, and continued until his death earlier this year.

The collection, which his wife, Martha, estimates to be close to 100 pieces, is on display at the Blue Rapids Museum until Sept. 29. The exhibit also includes his numerous clocks, toys and trains.

Martha recalls how her husband filled their house with his collection.

“Every room had a phonograph,” she said. “We couldn’t use the basement because it was full.”

Sutton said her husband found his prizes at auctions, which he attended throughout Kansas, Missouri and Nebraska. He even became familiar with auctioneers who would let him know if they saw a record player for sale.

Floyd did not listen to music, despite surrounding himself with record players. His wife said he’d play half a record to make sure the player was in working order, but that was all.

“It stressed him to sit through songs at church,” Sutton said.

Floyd was more interested in the inner workings of the machines. He worked as a mechanic in Blue Rapids and owned a repair shop there. Sutton said her husband would take apart the broken motors in the phonographs and replace parts.

“He wasn’t interested in anything that didn’t need to be fixed,” Sutton said.

He took great pride in finding the perfect part for each player. He contacted shops as far away as California to find the original parts.

“He didn’t like using what called ‘knockoffs’,” Sutton said.

Floyd’s fascination with phonographs went beyond the simple repair. He also collected postcards and covers of the Saturday Evening Post that featured them, as well as catalogs with information on how to display them properly.

“He’d be very angry if he saw one that wasn’t displayed right,” Sutton said.

Martha recalls when he brought home a phonograph with a horn covered in silk that he had bought for $1,000 at auction.

“It was the ugliest thing I’d ever seen,” she said. “And when he brought that home and told me he paid $1,000 for it, that’s when I almost said, ‘This needs to stop.”

Since his wife never shared her husband’s love of record players, it’s no surprise that when the exhibit closes, Floyd’s collection will be sold. Sutton said it will be a relief to be rid of them.

“It wasn’t my thing. I don’t want any of them.”

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