NEW MIDWAY -- When Lanny Harchenhorn wanted to buy his wife a used piano for their second Christmas together, he ventured to a one-room piano shop next to the railroad tracks in this Frederick County community.
After settling on a used Packard, Harchenhorn had just one request: Could the piano be delivered on Christmas Eve after his wife, Margaret, had gone to bed?
Kramer's Piano Shop obliged, and in the 16 years since, piano deliveries have become a Christmas tradition for Kramer's.
Tonight, the Rev. Dean Kramer, the owner of the shop, will deliver as many as eight pianos to gift givers in Frederick and Carroll counties. He could deliver more. Kramer takes orders as late as the morning before Christmas and several customers were considering purchases yesterday.
Some years, Kramer delivers as many as 14 pianos in Maryland, West Virginia and Pennsylvania. Most deliveries are made between 2 a.m. and 6 a.m. on Christmas.
"This is probably the most exciting thing we do in our business," said Kramer, 39, who recently became pastor of an Evangelical Christian church in Winchester, Va. "I love to surprise people."
Take Susan Carter, the wife of a Hampstead builder of custom houses, who last Christmas received a Samick baby grand piano with a high-gloss cherry finish.
Carter was unaware of her gift -- delivered while the family was sleeping. Her husband, Kenneth, finally had to drag her into the living room and show it to her.
"Then I screamed," she said, laughing.
Her husband, who had built a nook in their home for the piano he hoped to buy his wife someday, said he couldn't believe he was able to surprise her.
"Something as big as a piano -- how in the world could you get that in the house and surprise anybody?" he said.
Kramer and his workers have the deliveries down to a science.
With hydraulic lifts and other equipment designed for piano moving, two people usually can slide the piano off the truck and into a house in 10 to 15 minutes.
"A lot of times, we don't even talk to each other. We just get the piano in and look for the note the customer left on where to place it," he said.
Stealth is the name of the game, and Kramer will turn off the lights on his truck, drift into a driveway and even remove his shoes to avoid waking anyone during a delivery.
Finding help is never a problem "because everybody wants to be in on the surprise," he said. Loyal employees request the assignment. Friends and relatives also ask to tag along.
Screams and shouts of joy are common responses to a piano that seems to appear from out of nowhere Christmas morning, Kramer said.
Children are especially delighted.
The element of surprise, though, can prove dangerous to the recipient. Kramer recalled one delivery in which it took five men more than an hour to maneuver a baby grand up a steep embankment into a house. Inside, the crew faced an even steeper flight of stairs to a loft.
When the customer's wife saw the piano, "I was told she nearly fainted and fell down the stairs," Kramer said.
For the most part, the deliveries are as steady as clockwork.
Kramer's worst experience came a few years after Christmas deliveries became standard practice.
His delivery truck broke down about 9 p.m. Christmas Eve after )) his second stop. With no rental trucks available and a handful of pianos stranded between Manchester and Westminster, Kramer took his chances on an employee's beat-up truck.
The battery went dead at the next stop, in Hanover, Pa.
The crew pressed on, however, returning to the store throughout the night to load pianos by hand -- the truck could only hold two at a time and had no hydraulic lift.
And someone had to follow in a van so the truck could be jump-started if the battery failed again.
"We delivered every piano that night -- though we were late for every appointment," Kramer recalled. "It was a Christmas miracle that we pulled it off."
Kramer, who doesn't conduct any Christmas services, said he doesn't mind taking time out of this most sacred of holidays to help someone else. He doesn't charge for Christmas deliveries of the pianos, which range in price from $795 to $25,000.
The surprise that he helps his customers pull off is his gift to them.
"Over the years, it's really developed into something we look forward to," he said.
Pub Date: 12/24/96