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The Big Drum

The Big Drum being painted with lion logo by John Williams. The lettering was done by Don Gerards.

The KHS Big Drum

The Big Drum History

If you attended Kennewick High School in the 60's or 70's, you may know that the Kennewick High Music Department is in possession of one of the largest drums in the world!

Mr. Hampton Wines, the band director at Kennewick High School from 1954 to 1961, got the idea for a big drum from the Dodge City High School Marching Band who had a big drum in Dodge City, Kansas. The Purdue University Marching Band was one of the first organizations to have a 'big' drum and was followed by the Texas Longhorn Marching Band.

The Big Drum, which measures seven feet in diameter, was purchased on May 9, 1961, for $2,500.00. With shipping and insurance the total cost was $2,675.00. Needless to say, that was a lot of money back in 1961; in fact you could purchase a new car for roughly the same amount! The KHS Marching Band and 'Stage Band', (made up of members of the marching band), called the 'Klassics', raised the money. The 'Klassics' were paid for playing at school proms all over the southeastern Washington area. They, and the rest of the band members, sold 10,000 cans of Almond Roca for 50 cents each. The combined money from these two projects financed The Big Drum. A number of local businesses and contributors also donated to the 'Drum Fund'.

Under Mr. Wine's direction, the drum was ordered through the Tri-City Music Center in Downtown Kennewick, owned by Mr. Chauncey Seeley. Evans Drum Company in Dodge City, Kansas, made the drum. The drum heads had to be made from plastic because there weren't any cattle big enough to provide skins for such large drumheads.

Kennewick High School first used the seven foot drum in the Lilac Festival Parade in May of 1961 in Spokane. Senior drummers auditioned for the chance to play The Big Drum. Two other drummers had the privilege of pulling the special cart that The Big Drum sat on.

The second public appearance of The Big Drum was in June of 1961 at the Rose Festival Parade in Portland, Oregon. Lorne Greene of the Bonanza TV series, posed in front of The KHS Big Drum before the parade. Lorne Greene was the Grand Marshal of the 1961 Portland Rose Parade, and was well known as 'Pa' (Ben Cartwright) to millions of 'Bonanza' viewers across the nation. Eleanore Burke, the girl's P.E. teacher at KHS, also remembers posing with Lorne Green in front of The Big Drum in Portland.

The original lion was painted by John Williams, Class of '61, and Don Gerards, painted the 'Kennewick Lions Marching Band' lettering. John writes, “Don Gerards and I had the near impossible task of decorating the drum virtually overnight. He did the fine lettering and I painted the lion. The paints we used were totally unfamiliar and the colors didn't mix well”.

Don Gerards was a Clarinet player in the indoor band, and a snare drum player for the marching band. Don recalls, “I got a lot of help on layout and painting from John Williams, the best artist in our class of '61. John drew all the wonderful cartoon lions in the 1961 Keewaydin, the 'Literary Lion' publication, and numerous posters seen around the halls for three years. John was a delight to work with”. Don went on to the University of Washington to major in architecture. He was involved in the redesign of Sea-Tac and many other airports.

The drum was dedicated to Mr. H.R. Wines, and a plaque was presented to him, which he still has. Without his help, this drum would not have been possible. For a number of years The drum was displayed at games, in parades and special events. The picture on the front cover of the 1962 Keewaydin depicts the KHS Marching Band with The Big Drum.

From approximately the mid 60's to mid 70's, The Big Drum went through a lot. In the mid 60's, only a few years after its purchase, the drum was vandalized and the heads were slashed. The heads were replaced and a new design was painted on the drum which lasted for a number of years.

A former KHS alumnus noted that The Big Drum was a powerful symbol of unity and school pride. At one time, during football games, several of the marching band members would form a human blockade around the drum to protect it from rival school vandals.

In the mid to late 70's The Big Drum was put away and pretty much forgotten. Later, the drum was discovered in storage, and almost sold. Protests from several individuals prevented the sale and the drum was put back in storage. In Kennewick, when the KHS Lion Marching Band marched, you could usually hear a few in the crowd shout, "Where's The Big Drum?"

Restoration Project
In 1982, the forgotten KHS Big Drum was brought out of storage. The drum had suffered abuse and inattention for a number of years, and was even a bit structurally weak. Then it was up to a 'crack team' of former KHS graduates to restore the drum so it could again be used as a symbol of Lion Pride. Their names now appear inside The Big Drum as a reminder of their efforts. By class year, they are Ed Alden '62, Den Hardtke '62, Jim Bateman '66, John Moreno '66, Pat Mokler '70 and Art Spooner '72.

It was no easy job. First they added interior wooden braces, attaching them firmly to the drum body. Then a web of spokes was designed to attach to the new wooden braces. This system was adjusted to ensure that The drum was perfectly circular, and would continue to maintain perfect continuity of shape. An additional pair of wooden braces were installed inside the drum to strengthen the points at which The Big Drum rests on its rolling drum stand. The outside drum body was then covered with a striking silver finish and all of the silver plated hardware was re-attached to the drum. As the final touch, a regal new lion head was painted on the drum heads by John Moreno.

In 1999 The Big Drum was rediscovered by a percussion student. It had been stashed away above the stage in Fuller Auditorium at the high school. This development got several people interested in the old drum, and catalyzed another restoration project. Over the next months the old silver exterior of the drum was removed leaving a thick layer of contact cement. The old cement was scraped off and the underlying surface was cleaned, stripped, and finally repainted just in time for the KHS All Class Reunion in July, 2000. In 1999, two new seven foot drum heads were ordered and were specially manufactured and shipped from Remo Drum Company. Each of these new drum heads cost $600 and replaced the existing damaged heads that had been painted by Alumnus, John Moreno. One of the Moreno heads is now displayed in the Benton County Historical Museum behind Kennewick City Hall. During the 1999 school year, a KHS art class was asked to paint the new drum heads with a brand new lion. A design was drawn up and accepted by the KHS music staff. But, unfortunately, after the first head was painted, the final result looked so lousy it could not be shown in public. It was painted over with the giant letter 'K'.

A last minute paint job was hastily added to the remaining head in order to get it ready for the drum's appearance at KHS Band Camp, on August 17th; again, suffering from a slightly amateurish paint job. This is the current state of The Big Drum now. What the heck, at least The Big Drum is back! Maybe some Alumni will finance a new set of heads in the future and we can get John Moreno to work his magic once again! We understand from the percussion students that they aren't allowed to tighten up the heads of The Big Drum for some unknown reason. Perhaps it's feared that the paint would come off of the heads if it were used as a big drum instead of an ornament.

We all hope The KHS Big Drum will again assume its roll as a familiar symbol of Lion Pride and never tossed aside again! The KHS Big Drum attended the KHS All Class Reunion held at the Benton Franklin Fair Grounds, July 8th, 2000.

Addendums To Original Big Drum Story:
I was reading the page about the Big Drum and found some information that was not true. It's said that the Big Drum was rediscovered by a percussion student in 1999, but in fact when I was in the marching band from 1994-1998 we used the drum in every parade we marched. It was on national television when we marched in the 1995 Rose Parade in Portland. It still had an older paint job, but was still pulled along behind the band. I don't know if you received this information or not, but I just thought that you should know that the drum was never lost.
Leanna Owens
Class of 1998

One of the biggest moments big boom had was when the marching band traveled to Pasadena, CA to march in the Tournament of Roses parade on new years day, 2001. big boom got some sweet international tv time. We were the only band to have such a drum in the parade, and the commentators made a special note of big boom. To my knowledge, there are only 2 other schools that have a drum like ours still in existence today.

The reason we don't play on big boom any more or tighten the drum heads is because we feel the drum is no longer stable enough to withstand the pressure of tight drum heads. the spokes the keep the circular shape could potentially break through the rim. also, there is the possibility of ruining the paint job on the heads. So, while big boom isn't played anymore, it's still the coolest drum on the west coast. Maybe someday someone will figure out a way to make big boom playable again. With amplification. :D GO LIONS!!!
Leila Velez
Class of 2004

The Big Drum makes an appearance in the Benton County Fair Parade in August 2007

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