When it came time for architects and planners of the massive new Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in Los Angeles to select an organ builder, they didn't look to Europe. They didn't look to the coasts. They settled on Dobson Pipe Organ Builders Ltd. of Lake City (pop. 2,000).

Cathedral officials chose Dobson because they wanted an "eclectic" organ that could play different styles of music from the 1500s on, the cathedral Web site says. Owner Lynn Dobson and his crew had the background in the history of organ building and the technical expertise to build such an instrument, the cathedral said. "Dobson has taken their knowledge of each period and has blended it into a new style of organ, allowing the Cathedral instrument to sound convincing in various musical styles."

Heady stuff for an Iowa farm boy who started his company on a shoestring in 1974. But it's not the first time Dobson has landed a prime project. The company also is building a pipe organ for the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts in Philadelphia.

Because of the arduous selection process, Dobson said, he was more relieved and elated when he got word that his company got the cathedral contract. But Philadelphia? "I had a party," he said.

The Dobson company builds tracker organs, which have all-mechanical action. The seven it has under contract now are in various stages of construction. They can range in price from $100,000 to several million dollars, he said.

The skills needed to build and assemble the "King of Instruments" are enormous. Dobson's 20-person crew includes draftsmen, pipemakers, cabinetmakers and pipe voicers. He does the designing himself. The tonal design of the instrument gets the same painstaking attention as the physical design.

The organ for the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels posed particular challenges because of the immense space of the nave and the sanctuary, Dobson said. The finished product was a massive 42-ton instrument with 105 stops, 6,019 pipes and a movable console with four manuals, or keyboards. The components, which Dobson shipped from Lake City to Los Angeles, filled six semitrailer trucks. An 80-foot tower of scaffolding was needed to install the organ's American black cherry casework. According to the cathedral Web site, it's the 89th-largest pipe organ in North America and the 143rd largest in the world. It took 36,000 man hours to complete, Dobson said.

The cathedral organ was Opus 75 - the company's 75th instrument. The company also has done 30 restorations and rebuilds.

Dobson, 53, grew up on a farm in nearby Lanesboro, Iowa. He was 5 when his father, an accomplished cabinetmaker and carpenter, gave him his first toolbox and tools. In high school he attended the Minneapolis School of Art summer session for gifted students on scholarship. He studied art and industrial education at Wayne (Neb.) State College.

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