William Harris

William (Bill) Harris was born in Des Lacs, N.D.,  Aug. 16, 1932.  He was a pilot for 72 years (received his pilot's license at age 16), a writer and publisher, a salesman, a carpenter, a railroad worker, a talker, a warehouse of knowledge, and a seeker, collector and restorer of historical treasures that might otherwise have been lost. 
He was the first son of Max and Sophie (Strand) Harris.  Bill attended school in Des Lacs until he moved with his grandparents to Baudette, Minn., in the fall of 1941 after the crops were harvested.
He loved living in Minnesota with his grandparents who had bought a streetcar from the city of Duluth and made it into their home. They lived mere yards from the Rainy River which gave “Billy” the opportunity to fish.  His grandmother would tell him to go down and catch a fish for supper.  He lived with his grandparents in the streetcar until his grandfather passed when Bill was 11 years old. There has always been a question who was taking care of whom after Grandpa Fred passed—was Grandma taking care of Billy or Billy taking care of Grandma?
They moved from the streetcar in Baudette  to Bemidji, Minn. After living there for about a year or more, the two moved back to Des Lacs where Bill's father lived.  Grandma and Billy rented a small house in town where they were until she passed in 1947.  Bill then lived with his stepmom and his father for about a year.  He struck out on his own with a 1938 Chevrolet coupe with less than reliable tires and he headed to Minnesota, where he cut pulp wood along with the seasoned men; worked for a steel company in Fargo, N.D., and eventually headed back home to Des Lacs.
Bill joined the Air Force in 1950 and after basic training was stationed at Hamilton Air Force Base in San Francisco. He left North Dakota during the winter months and found himself in beautiful California.  Couldn't ask for anything better.
Bill and his first wife, Joanne had five children.  One daughter and four sons.  He was preceded in death by his only daughter, Brenda and son, Timothy. He had two brothers, Donald (Kathy) Sanford, NC and an older brother, Robert (Jean) who passed in 2013, New Town, N.D.  He had a sister Cindy (John) who live in Detroit Lakes, Minn., and many nieces and nephews. Bill is survived by his wife of 41 years, Rosanna, Custer, S.D.; sons Fred (Vicky), Lee and William Jr. all of Seattle, Wash., and a number of grandchildren including Walter and Marvin (Fred and Vicky’s boys).
While living in North Dakota Bill was a telegrapher with the Great Northern Railroad for eleven years.  He bought and sold agricultural steam tractors.  He built one of the finest Winchester rifle collections in the area which he sold to help set up his gun shop in Minot, N.D.  Along with selling guns, he published a daily sheet called the Noon News. He delivered it daily to a variety of restaurants in the Minot area. One son, Fred, although quite young, learned how to run the printing press which was in the basement of their home.
After a major flood in 1969 and a divorce, Bill moved to Denver, Colo.  He was actually on his way to Phoenix, Ariz. but his funds were dwindling.  Besides he liked to snow ski, hike and fish. Colorado—perfect place for those pursuits.  There was a heavenly reason he remained in Denver as well because he met his wife, Rosanna. They were married in December of 1979 and were seldom apart working together 24/7 for nearly 42 years.  
People have asked what Bill’s occupation was.  He published several magazines and a variety of books. He bought vintage slot machines and restored them to sell to collectors for their homes. He built hand carved statues that housed a vintage machine as part of the “man’s” wooden body. He applied for and received the first Manufacturer/Distributor Gaming license in the state of Colorado in 1991.   He continued his love of music buying nicklelodeon pianos and orchestrions. While growing his business in the vintage slot machine market, he and Rosanna found it necessary to sell all of the pianos.  After the Seeburg G (his pride and joy) was sold to premier restorer, Arthur Reblitz in Colorado Springs, Colo., Bill commented that he would never have another Seeburg G. He not only did acquire another Seeburg G, but became the second owner of a pristine machine in Oakland, Calif. Of the five pianos in the collection, the G was the highpoint.
In the later 1970s Bill started making trips to England to attend what has become known as the Great Dorset Steam Fair. One of the highlights of this annual event are the book/roll operated organs which are on display and playing throughout the five day show time. He loved the organs but a 100-key Mortier was the one that attracted him the most.  He told Rosanna when they first attended the event together in 1981, that one day he would like to own an organ just like that Mortier.  Both of them knew that it wouldn’t come about soon as they were trying to grow their slot machine and publishing business and didn’t have any place for a 17-foot-tall organ.
Fast forward to 1996 and a move to Custer, S.D., to be in the Hills that Bill loved and near to his dear friend Chuck Cochran. 
First Bill designed a log home (from his experience in the building trades) and had a young Mark Hartman build the dream home of both him and Rosanna. It was a good start, but still there was the desire for the Mortier organ. In 1998, Bill had a large metal building built with a clear inside 18 foot ceiling. Now there was a place for an organ or two, maybe even three. He went on the serious lookout for the Mortier and found not one, but two. They were purchased in Cincinnati, Ohio, having been imported to the United States in the 1960s from Belgium. The organ collecting and restoring started shortly after the building was finished. The collection grew to 12 pieces, which originated in Europe and the five piano orchestrions from Chicago, Ill.
Bill listened to his organs playing while he laid in bed on May 6, 2021. Rosanna talked with him about each of the organs and the many wonderful places they had been because of his and her love of the marvelous machines.  He passed quietly from the bonds of earth just after 1 p.m. and joined his loved ones in the House of the Lord.
There will not be a formal service. Instead the family will hold a celebration of Bill’s life at the home, 11876 Deer Ridge Road on Sunday, May 23 beginning at noon.  Following Bill’s wishes which were that he “wanted people to be happy, enjoying the music and wanted plenty of beer and brats.”  Other refreshments will also be served.
The family asks that guests for Bill’s Celebration of Life please RSVP at info@royalbell.com or text 605-891-1431.  


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