Guard History: The Champagne Breakfast vs. The Beer ‘N Steer

The following is a short article I wrote for the latest edition of the Guardsmen, the official newsletter of the Fort Henry Guard Club.

At the heart of the Guard is the not-so-subtle rivalry between the Drums and the Squad.  While friendly in nature, the divisions between the two units have deep roots, and upon joining one or the other you immediately inherit decades of tradition…and broad stereotypes.

It was something we all played up to some degree.  Members of the Drums didn’t seem to mind being cast as sensitive, enlightened artistic types, while some in the Squad appeared to take pride in being the complete opposite – not quite Neanderthals, but definitely closer to that side of the evolutionary chart.

Perhaps one of the clearest illustrations of this divide is the Champagne Breakfast vs. the Beer ‘N Steer.  Built around camaraderie, food, and an appreciation for alcohol, these long-standing annual events were among the most highly anticipated mornings each summer.

As one might expect, the Drums’ Champagne Breakfast was an elegant affair.  In the early hours before work, men in blazers and women in dresses gathered for an elaborate spread of quiche, pastries, canapés and fluted glasses filled with orange juice and champagne.  With classical music playing in the background, conversation would range from Dostoyevsky’s influence on Chekhov and Sartre to Chopin’s early piano work.

It’s my understanding that the Beer ‘N Steer, on the other hand, was a more hedonistic celebration.  While I was never actually lucky enough to attend one, it’s easy to picture members of the Squad enjoying hunks of rare red meat, washed down by pints of Canadian to a soundtrack of Rage Against the Machine and Jane’s Addiction.

Of course, all good things must come to an end eventually.  By the late 1990s, drinking before work was viewed by management more as a potential liability than a novelty, and the ill-fated decision to sneak the keg into the locker room after one memorable Beer ‘N Steer was the final nail in the coffin for both events.  They joined other Guard traditions, including Zulu and ditching, that failed to make it through the 90s unscathed.

FHG 1691

There’s A Deagan In My Attic

The search for vintage percussion instruments often leads to funny places.  An antique store in Wisconsin selling a Century of Progress marimba.  An old Ludwig Black Beauty found buried in newspapers and sheets in the back of a garage.  An estate sale in Guelph that includes a 1930 Deagan marimba that used to belong to a long-forgotten virtuoso.

My brother sent me a link to Kijiji ad from Kitchener for a “1919 Degan Xlophone” (sic).  It was almost a collector’s cliché – a dust-covered vintage instrument, apparently stored in an actual attic.  It definitely got my attention.

Deagan Xylophone 1Deagan Xylophone 2

Although it’s hard to tell for sure, I think it’s a Deagan xylophone, model 262 – the rounded bars are a good indication, and the range of the instrument makes sense.  And if that’s the case, it’s a pretty desirable instrument.  Made in the 1920s with the name Artist Special, these instruments are coveted by some of the world’s top mallet players.  For example, Bob Becker bought his first 262 back in 1972, and I believe he owns at least four of them in various sizes.

Deagan Xylophone 4Here’s a Deagan model 262 with considerably less dust and grime.

Deagan Xylophone 3

And here’s another one that’s been completely restored.  Looks very pretty, and can be yours for only $4,700 USD.

Of course, I was hoping that the gentleman selling this old treasure had no idea what he had and might be willing to part with it for a bargain price.  Such are the dreams of the vintage collector – always on the lookout for naive sellers and lucky finds.

Alas, that was not the case this time around, as apparently the seller had it appraised at some point for $3,000 – perhaps a fair price for the right person, but definitely too much for me.  So now I’m just left to wonder how he came to own such a nice xylophone, and why it’s in an attic gathering dust instead of being played regularly by someone who can appreciate it.  Hopefully it finds a good home soon.

1968 Ludwig Acrolite

One of the surprising things I learned as I started to read about collecting vintage drums is how much people like the plain old Ludwig Acrolite.  That staple of high school music programs and community bands seems to be considered a must-have in any collection.

The reasons they’re so desirable are pretty straight forward – they sound really good, and they’re really cheap.  Ludwig has sold thousands of them over the past 50 years, and they are easy to find on eBay, garage sales, flea markets, etc.

Ludwig first started selling the Acrolite in 1962 (dimpled shell that some consider a prototype) and 1963 (smooth shell).  Those early catalogues referred to it as a student drum and played up the revolutionary light-weight aluminum (Ludalloy) shell, eight lugs, triple-flanged hoops.  It was during that period that Ludwig also stopped using brass shells for the Supraphonic line and went with chrome over aluminum instead (of course, a few chrome over brass drums showed up in subsequent years as I mentioned in my last post.)

Acrolite CatalogueSo as a first step in buying vintage drums, I decided to look for a 1960s Acrolite.  I much prefer the shiny anodized shell of that period to the dull powder-coated versions that came later, and I’m a sucker for the baseball bat style muffler, the P-83 strainer, keystone badge, etc.

It didn’t take long to find one on eBay, and I lucked out on a beautiful Acrolite from a seller in Nova Scotia.  Made in November 1968, it also came with a molded plastic case and vintage snare stand.  I’m pretty sure everything about it is original, including the Weather Master heads and the snare wires.  At only $200, it was an easy decision.

IMG_1968Photo from the eBay listing. I liked the red backdrop and elegant use of the stone.

IMG_1973The vintage Ludwig drum case.

IMG_1971Aside from a few small scratches, it looks practically brand new. Not bad for a 46 year-old drum.

1971 SS V2

1971 Ludwig Super Sensitive Chrome Over Brass

In recent months, I’ve been bitten by the vintage drum bug. I suppose all drummers are naturally collectors – there’s always another cymbal, drum or toy to add to your arsenal. And while I certainly don’t need another drum at this point, the hunt for rarities and curiosities, the chance to own a small piece of history, is proving to be pretty irresistible.

I got pretty lucky the other day with my latest acquisition. The local drum shop (which is a fantastic place) has a steady stream of used and consignment drums for sale, and a very nice 1971 Ludwig Super Sensitive (SS) popped up on the store’s Facebook page last week. It’s essentially the same drum as the Supraphonic, which many consider the most-recorded snare drum in history. Ludwig sold thousands of these snares, and you see them for sale all over the place.

1971 SSI stopped by the store after work to check it out, and the drum looked practically brand new. The chrome on the shell didn’t have any of the usual pitting or flaking that you often see with older SSs and Supraphonics. I’ve seen a lot of these drums on eBay over the past few months, but none of them looked this good.

I didn’t buy it immediately (because I’m an idiot), but after an evening of obsessing about it, I returned the next day to pick it up. It’s a classic drum that should be in every drummer’s collection, so I figured I might as well buy it now as it was unlikely I’d come across one in better condition anytime soon.

This is where things get interesting. I took the drum back to my office and looked it over more closely. In particular, I looked behind the muffler knob, and was stunned by what I saw:

Muffler KnobIt turns out that little “B” is pretty important. It indicates that instead of being aluminum, the shell is actually made of brass. What I thought was a fairly common SS is actually a significantly more rare Chrome Over Brass (COB) SS.

1971 SS V2A bit of sleuthing online sheds some light on its history. In the early 1970s, Ludwig made a small number of Supraphonics and SSs out of spare brass shells that were left over from the 1960s. They look exactly like their aluminum counterparts, with a couple of exceptions:

  • Small “B” or “BR” stamped on the shell – usually behind the muffler knob
  • The bottom part of the B/O badge is cut down to fit the shell, which had been made to fit the older 1960s badge (important to note that not all drums with the cut down badge are COB)

BO BadgeThese brass-shelled versions don’t appear in the Ludwig catalogs in the early 1970s. Some say they were special orders for Ludwig endorsers who wanted the sound of a brass shell instead of aluminum. I’ve also read that a few were made solely for L.A.’s Professional Drum Shop. In fact, a quick search of the Pro Drums page on Facebook turned this up:

Hollywood Pro Drum“Behind Maurie are the famous Brass Ludwig chrome snare drums that Bob made Bill Ludwig make us after bitching about not making the brass shells since 64’…only 100 made in 5 and 6.5 x 14 ..they have a “B” under the tone control with the blue and olive badges…still see a few every now and then….. circa 1972”

A few more facts about this drum:

  • It weighs 9.0 pounds – definitely heavier than the aluminum version
  • The label inside indicates a date of November 16, 1971 – one day earlier than another Supraphonic COB someone wrote about earlier this year in this post
  • The model number on the label is 416 – same as the brass-shelled Black Beauty. The aluminum SS is LM410

LabelNot a bad start to my hobby as a collector.  Hopefully the next drum I pick up will be equally as interesting…but I doubt it.

Deagan Century of Progress Marimba No. ?? & No. ??

About a year ago, I impulsively purchased a Deagan Century of Progress marimba.  It’s one of the 3.5 octave models that Deagan made back in 1933 – a total of 75 were made for the 100-piece Century of Progress marimba orchestra.  For those keeping track, mine was made for Harold August Maves, and is serial number 78.

Since that time, I’ve been looking on-line pretty regularly for other CoP marimbas to show up on eBay.  In January, a 3.5 octave model popped up at an antique store in Wisconsin.  Bidding started at $0.99 and rose gradually over the week until nearly tripling in the final hour to end up at $1,799.  Little information was given about how it ended up there (estate sale?), but it looked like it was in pretty good condition.  Unfortunately, the front brass plate is missing, so no idea who the original owner was or what serial number it is. 

ImageThe brass, frame and keys look to be in great condition.  Painful to see the incidentals set up like that, though.

ImageThen just a couple of weeks ago, a 4.5 octave CoP marimba appeared on eBay.  While Deagan made 75 of the 3.5 octave models, only 25 of the 4.5 octave versions were made, so I was pretty excited to see one for sale.  The seller provided some interesting details about the instrument:

I got it and the massive original packing cases (see photos) from an original member of the orchestra back in the 1960s when I was a student of Jim Salmon at the University of Michigan. His name was Carl Bailey, an undertaker in Huntington, Indiana. He, his sister, his parents, and I believe some cousins or aunts and uncles were all in the group.

He had 2 World’s Fairs, 2 King Georges, a couple of 1920s xylorimbas all set up in the basement of the funeral home when I walked in. Truly a once-in-a-lifetime moment! I tried them all, and picked the best instrument of the 4 marimbas.

That’s a pretty great story – it would have been incredible to see those great instruments all gathered together in the basement of a funeral home.  As with the previous marimba, the front brass plate is missing – the original owner’s mother asked if she could keep it as a reminder – so again, no way of knowing which serial number it is.  Given the rarity of the instrument, the price tag was significantly higher – serious collectors only need apply.

ImageThose brass resonators must weigh a ton.


ImageThe original cases look pretty solid.

Incidentally, I searched online for Carl Bailey, and sure enough he owned the Bailey Funeral Home in Huntington, Indiana.  The mortuary was opened by Carl’s dad Frank back in 1910 (Steve Weiss’s list of CoP instruments includes a Frank Bailey, who owned serial number 44).  Carl took over the business in 1952 when his father passed away.  In an funny twist, the mortuary was purchased in 1990 – by a guy named Christopher Love.