50 Years Ago


A look in the rearview mirror to fifty years ago illustrates 1961 as a turn-around year for the Eau Claire Boys Drum and Bugle Corp. What Walt Brown started in 1953 as a Scout Band, had now just completed its first year as the Eau Claire Boys, capped off by the first Drum and Bugle Corp Pageant held in Eau Claire, the 1960 Drums on the Chippewa. The Corp was now entering the stage of becoming a Midwest Corp. The publicity and marketing orchestrated by Mr. Brown brought much hope and anticipation to the ’61 season. Winter rehearsals were longer and more frequent. The repertoire was doubled from the prior season to include such greats as ‘Patricia’,’ Basin Street Blues’ (featuring a soloist), and my favorite of that year – the great Diane Washington number ‘September in the Rain’. Springtime brought great excitement to our new corps year with much to prove (having finished just 3rd on January 22nd of 61 at the Winona Winter Carnival), and a whole lot more to show with new music and an ever-increasing membership. A repeat of Drums on the Chippewa was inevitable. The parade schedule was filling up and Mr. Brown was true to his ways; if they invited us, they were going to get a show. Whether it was a concert after a parade, or an exhibition, the Eau Claire Boys were now becoming the all-out crowd pleaser. Practice took on a whole new meaning. That extraordinary success of the Pageant the previous fall had folks talking. Mr. Brown was a showman and entertainer and ready. New boys showed up at practice wanting to join and it wouldn’t be long before his son Mike was in the junior-junior corps business. Eventually ‘500 Miles’ would become what many refer to as our theme song. Musically we hadn’t gone there yet. That song would be in the repertoire in years to come. But 500 miles would be a drop in the bucket when it comes to the mileage that summer travel would bring. The first Pageant catapulting us into 1961 provided us the means to CREATE, LEARN and a full schedule to EXHIBIT! Beginning the summer with training at Camp Manitou, a field drill was practiced, along with basic marching skills for beginners. Historian Wayne Duesterbeck recollects that this may have been a “first of its kind” corps camp. And to add, a fine taste of “boot camp” for a lot of young men. Stewart Bus Lines was contracted for the travel year. Corps uniform changes included new black Stetson hats and white shirts. Steadily, new horns were added along with new pearl Ludwig drums. The archives for corps attendance at field competitions are sketchy and this part of the history is problematic. This dilemma has been noted by many other corps historians for that year. The parade season included travel to central Minnesota to cities such as Cambridge and St. Peter, north of the border to Houghton, Michigan and throughout many areas of Wisconsin. A taste of what some of the welcoming cities were celebrating include: the Cumberland Rutabaga Festival, the Hayward Musky Festival, and the Boyceville Pickle Festival. While Mr. Brown commiserated with townsfolk and parade officials, we were given “free time” to enjoy the local events. It is estimated that we appeared in some thirty parades that year. Our greatest pride was hosting the 2nd Drums on the Chippewa Pageant. Larry Duerkop Contributing: Mary Ann Schlosser (Durand Silver Sabres), Larry Hamler, Wayne Duesterbeck