Like most of the state’s most colourful tales, the story of Texas’ Massive Bertha and a decades-long rivalry over the largest drums in faculty soccer started with the bravado of a rich oilman.
In 1954, Longhorn Band benefactor Col. D. Harold “Dry Gap” Byrd, a person who had earned an unlucky nickname for drilling wells that produced nothing earlier than ultimately making a fortune within the East Texas oilfield, directed UT band director Moton Crockett to acquire the most important drum he might discover.
Like Byrd, Crockett began out on his personal expedition earlier than placing it large. Actually large. His discovery of one of many largest drums on the earth languishing in an Indiana warehouse and his subsequent acquisition rekindled one of many nice off-field rivalries in sports activities historical past between Purdue and Texas.
Purdue had the World’s Largest Drum. Texas had Massive Bertha. Each claimed to be the largest, with Purdue claiming its dimensions had been a “commerce secret,” willfully and considerably fancifully obscuring the true dimensions to maintain the thriller alive.
However on Oct. 15, Texas declared an emphatic victory when the Longhorn Band launched Massive Bertha II, a worthy successor to their 100-year-old gargantuan bass drum. Bertha II — an excellent Larger Bertha — was unveiled to the world throughout a centennial celebration for its predecessor, introduced at a hefty 9 ½ ft tall and 55 inches broad.
The Longhorns issued a press launch headlined: “Massive Bertha II, Largest Bass Drum within the World, Debuted at Texas-Iowa State Recreation.” Texas’ drum was bigger than the World’s Largest Drum. It was bigger than Missouri’s Massive Mo, launched in 2012 (which, by the way, was the Rodney Dangerfield of drums, dwarfing each of them at 9 ft tall and 54 inches broad, however by no means actually claiming a spot within the debate).
Clearly, Bertha II is a booming supply of delight for Longhorn Band director Cliff Croomes, himself a former snare drummer within the Texas band.
“Completely,” Croomes stated. “Once we say the whole lot’s larger in Texas, we imply it. Texas had the tallest drum and Purdue had the widest drum. There was a declare to be made on each side. And that has now been settled with Massive Bertha II being each taller and wider than both of these drums.”
Bertha II’s shock debut was a blow to a rivalry a century within the making, reverberating since 1921, when Purdue’s band director, Paul Spotts Emrick, enlisted the Leedy Manufacturing Firm in Indianapolis, Indiana, to construct a drum of “unattainable proportions” in accordance with newspaper reviews. The outcome was a behemoth generally known as the World’s Largest Drum, about 8 ft tall and 48 inches broad, at a value of $800. The drum made its debut when Purdue visited the College of Chicago for a Massive Ten sport pitting the Boilermakers in opposition to legendary coach Amos Alonzo Stagg and the Maroons.
However as is the case in faculty soccer, there’s at all times a booster trying to do one thing larger and higher for his or her college’s bragging rights. A Chicago alum, Carl D. Greenleaf, who was the president of a rival Indiana music firm, C.G. Conn, Ltd., had a son named Leland who performed within the college band. He launched into a plan to construct a much bigger drum for the Maroon Marching Band. In 1922, Massive Bertha was born, named for a famed German howitzer from World Battle I. Very like at Purdue, it grew to become an enormous attraction at soccer video games and parades.
So how did Texas enter the combo? It entails a saga that started with Chicago dropping soccer and leaving the Massive Ten in 1939, the drum being mothballed in storage within the stadium that ultimately grew to become the house of the Manhattan Undertaking experiments by Italian physicist Enrico Fermi, the architect of the atomic bomb, resulting in considerations the drum might’ve been radioactive.
“There is not any proof that the drum was any extra contaminated than the rest that was saved in that stadium,” stated J.P. Kirksey, Texas’ Bertha historian, who famous that it will definitely handed a Geiger take a look at.
The drum was in the end deserted again at C.G. Conn earlier than Texas rescued it.
As Texas celebrated its new showpiece, the drum debate went from regional to nationwide. Followers of each colleges have bantered forwards and backwards for years, together with a deliberate 1961 fraternity meetup to resolve as soon as and for all whose drum was larger. The Boilermaker contingent arrived in time with their drum whereas the Longhorns didn’t, permitting Purdue to say a legendary title. In the meantime in 2012, Missouri launched Massive Mo, and Texas band officers even declare to not know a lot about its dimensions.
Purdue, whose drum is so large that they weren’t able to fit it through the visitors’ tunnel for a sport in opposition to Notre Dame final 12 months (and weren’t allowed to make use of the house tunnel to carry it in, elevating the Boilermakers’ hackles), did not have interaction on Texas’ new claims. However they did have one message for the brand new Larger Bertha, retaining the spirit of petty rivalries alive.
“Inform them our good pals at Notre Dame would like to see it,” stated Aaron Yoder, spokesman for the Purdue “All-American” Marching Band.
FIRST, WE SHOULD be aware, that there are bigger drums that might additionally not slot in both tunnel at Notre Dame. The Guinness Ebook of World Data provides that nod to a “conventional Korean CheonGo drum” in Simcheon-Meon, South Korea that’s 18 ft, 2 inches in diameter, 19 ft, 6 inches tall and weighs 7 tons. A scientific research, in the meantime, says the most important drum within the universe is definitely the magnetic field that surrounds the Earth, calling it a “difficult musical instrument.”
However this debate is about bass drums. Not area magnets or big Korean bongos. Thus, Purdue will not be altering the title of their drum anytime quickly. It is all a part of the enjoyable. The Boilermakers have lengthy tried to deflect and obscure the precise dimensions of the drum, solely giving out measurements when it is mounted, saying it’s over 10 ft tall on its trailer.
“Purdue will not inform anybody the dimensions of the drum,” stated Neil Boumpani of Boumpani Music Co. in Georgia, who constructed Missouri’s Massive Mo in addition to a six-foot drum for the Harvard band. “They simply hold claiming the largest drum on the earth they usually’re stuffed with it — now, particularly.”
Hayleigh Columbo is aware of the reality. In 2013, as a 23-year-old newspaper reporter in Indiana, a metropolis editor named Dave Smith indulged her curiosity concerning the thriller of the dimensions of the Purdue drum, setting her off on a quest to seek out out why nobody would inform her its dimension.
“Why are you saying it is the World’s Largest Drum if you happen to do not wish to be requested about it?” Columbo stated. “It says it on the drum.”
She wrote a narrative that ran within the Indianapolis Star with the headline, “Purdue’s ‘World’s Largest Drum’ declare a large exaggeration.” It was meant to be a lighthearted “investigation” to uncover the reality, however Purdue denied her Freedom of Info request for the drum’s dimensions, claiming they had been exempt from information that include “commerce secrets and techniques.” After utilizing a number of uncommon strategies and sources to calculate the dimensions, Smith dispatched her to the Tippecanoe County Public Library, the place she discovered a 1921 newspaper with an article on the entrance web page the day after the drum was unveiled, with it spelling out proper there that it was “Seven ft three inches in diameter and three ft 9 inches broad.”
She was delighted she had gotten to the underside of the case. The readers weren’t.
“We had been like, ‘Oh, that is so intelligent. Individuals are gonna take this in good enjoyable,’ she stated. “And that’s not … folks had been so offended by it. Somebody made a parody Twitter account of me saying, ‘I take pleasure in lengthy walks on the seaside and slandering universities.’ It received actually intense.”
Purdue followers had been taking part in protection since 1922, when Bertha I used to be inbuilt Chicago as a problem to their title. It was powerful to go a lot larger, as a result of Greenleaf bumped into the identical problem as Leedy did when attempting to construct a much bigger drum: The “heads,” or the fabric on the floor of the drum, had been produced from cow hides on the time, and thus you needed to discover a cow massive sufficient.
“Our buying division made a visit to the Union inventory yards of Chicago,” one of many firm’s officers informed an Illinois newspaper within the Twenties, saying the drum value $1,100. “[We] spent three days on the inventory yards wanting over the cattle for these hides, and because the bass drum had two heads, it was vital to seek out two simply alike. … The pores and skin which was used for the top of this drum measured, when trimmed prepared for mounting, 102 inches.”
And but, the rivalry solely lasted for 17 years earlier than Chicago bailed out of main faculty soccer and despatched the drum packing.
That’s, till Crockett got down to fulfill Byrd’s imaginative and prescient of a showpiece for the band, and heard speak of a really massive deserted drum in Elkhart, Indiana. He visited Greenleaf in C.G. Conn’s warehouse later that 12 months — 32 years after Greenleaf had constructed it — and labored out a blockbuster deal.
“He informed me he needed the most important college within the largest state to have the most important drum on the earth,” Crockett wrote in an essay revealed in a centennial booklet by J.P. Kirksey, a former member of the Longhorn Band and Bertha’s unofficial historian. “He stated he could not give it to me. However he might promote it to me — for $1.00. I used to be joyful to pay him the greenback and he wrote out a receipt and gave it to me.”
Crockett rented a U-Haul trailer, lined the drum in a tarp and towed it behind a borrowed 1954 Ford Fairlane all the way in which again to Austin, a three-day December highway journey. The following summer season, Crockett restored Bertha, eradicating the unpleasant maroon lettering and changing it with the Texas seal painted on the unique heads.
Bertha grew to become a fixture at Texas, serving the Longhorns from 1955-2022. She was utilized in John F. Kennedy’s inaugural parade, noticed three AP nationwide championships in 1963, 1969 and 2005 and is taken into account as a lot a Texas icon as Bevo or the UT Tower.
She was generally known as “The Sweetheart of the Longhorn Band,” and regardless of its wood body and the wear and tear and tear of being wheeled round, spun on its trailer, and with generations of scholars wailing on it, she held up for a century. It even survived the unique leather-based heads being slashed after a last-second 7-3 win over Arkansas in 1962 and an accident on I-35 between Austin and Dallas when the automobile towing Bertha in a trailer was concerned in a rollover crash. She emerged unscathed, however future journey was severely restricted.
Bertha was eternally linked with Crockett, who directed the Longhorn Band from 1950 to 1955 and the Longhorn Alumni Band from 1983-1994. He liked the drum a lot, he arrange an endowment for care and upkeep and sorted her the remainder of his life, till his loss of life in 2019.
“Mr. Crockett paid $19,000 in 2007, despatched the drum to Remo Drum Firm in California and had it utterly restored,” Kirksey stated. “I imply, the whole lot on it was redone. Plenty of the wooden was changed as a result of it failed and was rotting. Moton’s remark to me was, ‘I wish to get her prepared for one more 100 years.'”
IN 2017, TEXAS reached out to Ramy Antoun, a longtime drummer who had moved to the Austin space from California and was constructing drums at a studio subsequent to his home. As somebody who performed drums — he had simply completed 4 years of touring with Seal — and studied the evolution of drum manufacturing, together with when the Purdue and Chicago drums had been constructed, he was thrilled to get to work on a chunk of historical past.
However he was fearful about what he noticed, significantly the outside wooden development, saying there was “ovaling” of the drum as a result of straps pushing it down to carry it on the trailer, inflicting the wooden to flex. Whereas the renovations had given Bertha new life, Antoun was nonetheless involved any crack within the outer shell might trigger it to break down inward, and was almost definitely to occur in entrance of 100,000 folks throughout a sport.
“I simply actually stored praying that that drum would survive, that nothing might go mistaken on the sphere,” Antoun stated. “It might occur any day. In the event you hit it laborious, if you happen to spun it bizarre. And it might occur on the sphere. So I informed them you would possibly wish to take a look at possibly a brand new choice.”
Antoun began dreaming large of one other Bertha. However drums this large do not come low cost. Nobody will say what the alternative value of Bertha II was, however donors noticed their “Sweetheart” as a worthwhile trigger. The Bertha Centennial Fund was launched to ship her off in fashion.
“Anyone who’s 100 years outdated deserves to retire,” Croomes stated.
In January of this 12 months, Antoun received the official go-ahead to start constructing Bertha II. He had fallen in love with Texas in his 5 years within the hills outdoors Austin. Antoun’s home and the A&F Drums studio the place he constructed Bertha II are situated close to Willie Nelson’s ranch, Luck, and are constructed on plots of land that had been previously owned by Nelson. As well as, Antoun has performed drums on a number of of Nelson’s studio recordings.
Which may’ve been sufficient to qualify him as an full-fledged Texan. However now, by constructing the Longhorn Band its new signature showpiece, that is not unsure.
“I simply felt like we actually received adopted by Texas,” Antoun stated. “We will not let Texas down. We will not let Bertha down. We have got to do that in a manner that this drum will final one other 100-plus years.”
Boumpani, who previously was the Duke band director for a few years earlier than creating his personal firm, says drums this dimension are extraordinarily troublesome to construct. Ten years in the past, when he received the decision to construct Massive Mo, the one bass drum on the earth that approaches the dimensions of Bertha II, he thought it will take him six weeks. He had the shell fabricated from fiberglass, which was an costly delivery nightmare to maintain it from getting bent out of form. He ended up working all of it out, however there was a whole lot of trial and error, ultimately assembly locals who might assist him fabricate their very own supplies, and received the shell painted at an auto physique store.
“It took me shut to 6 months,” Boumpani stated. “Every little thing that might go mistaken went mistaken.”
Antoun stated within the 5 years since he began engaged on Bertha, he’d already begun imagining and experimenting with how he’d construct a brand new one, which allowed him to hit the bottom working alongside together with his good friend Eric Spille of Kentex Metals, a fabrication store only a bit down the road from him. Collectively, they studied a video about how Leedy constructed Purdue’s drum in 1921.
“They discuss their crew of engineers that received collectively. This proper right here is our crew” Spille stated, laughing and gesturing to himself and Antoun. “It is like, ‘Maintain my beer. Let’s engineer.'”
First, they developed a proprietary aluminum just like the supplies used on airplanes and rockets for Bertha’s outer shell.
“We selected a quarter-inch aluminum,” Spille stated. “In the event you had been to put a sheet out it might be 4 ft broad by 30 ft lengthy. Then wrap it right into a circle and that is inevitably the way it grew to become Bertha II’s shell.”
Then Spille constructed a particularly low-profile trailer that carries the drum, full with handles as broad because the drum that seem like the horns of a Longhorn steer, and a gearbox designed to seem like the UT Tower that enables the drum to be rotated on its aspect to forestall incidents like Purdue’s at Notre Dame.
“Perhaps Purdue will name and ask us to construct a trolley for his or her drum so it may go sideways,” Antoun joked.
Fortunately, the carriage was low sufficient that Texas did not have to rework the so-called “Bertha door” within the college’s band corridor.
“We have got a door that is 12 ft tall that was constructed for Massive Bertha to suit by means of,” Croomes stated. “Massive Bertha is 10 ft. Massive Bertha II, is true at 12 ft [on the trailer]. So we had been involved that it wasn’t going to slot in the door. However it clears the door by possibly an inch.”
Boumpani and Antoun each used heads made by Remo, a California firm began by drummer Remo Belli, described in his 2016 New York Instances obit as “a precocious musician who was credited with creating the primary commercially profitable artificial drumheads — saving the hides of numerous animals.” The evolution within the supplies meant that they might go even larger than the unique drum makers did 100 years in the past.
Boumpani stated it was a problem to get Remo to make a head as massive as Massive Mo’s, at 108 inches, which was the most important that they had ever made. Antoun, who was signed to the corporate as an artist, needed to do his personal cajoling to get them to go even larger.
“I informed them, ‘It is time to make historical past,’ Antoun stated. “‘We have now a possibility to create one other 100-year-old legacy. You wish to be part of this. I am telling you, as a good friend, as a enterprise I consider in and because the solely folks on the earth that may do it.’ And so they figured it out, man.”
At 114 by 55 inches, it is the most important drum head the corporate has ever created, a no-doubt signifier it is the largest bass drum on the earth.
For Spille, who’s initially from Kentucky however has been in Texas for greater than 20 years, it was an opportunity for his personal love letter to the Lone Star State.
“One of many thrilling issues for me is my spouse of 24 years graduated from UT,” Spille stated. “So up till this level, I actually wasn’t that cool, however now I am a bit of cooler in her ebook. “[Bertha I] was Chicago’s drum. This wasn’t 100% meant for Texas,” he added. “This drum was constructed right here in Texas, with Texas connections, constructed for Texas.”
ASIDE FROM BEING the largest, Bertha II strikes one other declare: It could play the bottom be aware ever performed on a drum. And with a brand new wi-fi microphone inside it linked to the stadium audio system (one other first), it will shake issues up.
“The larger the diameter, the decrease the be aware. That is drums,” stated Antoun. “If that is the largest bass drum on the earth, then it will be the bottom be aware. I do not know what sort of subwoofers they’ve in that stadium. However it has the flexibility to interrupt home windows. All people’s gonna be feeling like there’s an earthquake in there. It will rumble.”
Holden Logan, a Longhorn Band member at Texas who’s the part chief for “Bertha Crew,” would be the man doing the rumbling for the TCU sport this weekend when he swings away for Bertha II’s first look in pregame festivities and through the nationwide anthem.
“It is simply such a cool honor to be on this place when it is the 100-year anniversary of a drum that has a lot historical past with the varsity,” Logan stated. “I am solely going to get two house video games together with her however I am hoping that she’ll make some new recollections identical to the outdated Bertha has loads of recollections of her personal.”
Bertha I has moved to a everlasting house on show within the college’s Athletics Corridor of Fame underneath the north finish zone at Darrell Okay Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium.
Kirksey, who performed within the Longhorn Band within the Nineteen Sixties and was good pals with Crockett, the person who purchased, delivered and maintained Massive Bertha I for therefore a few years, is a bit wistful concerning the outdated drum being a museum piece.
“I’m glad that Mr. Crockett just isn’t alive at present simply because that was his child and he wish to have seen that drum used eternally and that is why he paid the cash 15 years in the past,” Kirksey stated. “However that is all historical past now. I am OK together with her retirement.”
Even when he nonetheless wish to settle one outdated rating.
“[The original] Bertha clearly nonetheless is the largest drum ever constructed utilizing leather-based heads,” Kirksey stated. “I do not assume there’s any doubt about that amongst anyone anyplace besides Purdue with their foibles and fakery.”
Croomes is worked up for the brand new period, together with that followers can as soon as once more see the unique Bertha on show.
“We’re extraordinarily joyful to have each women within the household,” he stated.
So far as the previous champ, Boumpani heard the information final week from a reporter that Massive Mo had been eclipsed. As a member of such a small fraternity, he wasn’t upset a lot as he was excited to know all the main points and dimensions, and was impressed that it was usual from metallic.
However, after his personal expertise efficiently studying to construct large drums on the fly — together with hand-delivering Harvard’s new drum simply 45 minutes earlier than their celebratory live performance to unveil it — Boumpani hopes the drum wars by no means finish.
“Perhaps someone will need me to make a much bigger one now,” he stated. “Inform ’em I am keen to take the problem.”
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