Self Interview With Larry Augusta
- Version 1.0
Some Personal Memories Of The Cal Band’s Trip To The Brussels World Fair And Western Europe In 1958
by Larry Augusta
Some time in the Winter of 1957-58, Jim Berdahl received a letter from the State Department soliciting the Cal Band’s interest in representing the U.S. at the Brussels World’s Fair in the Summer of 1958. Jim has told us many times since that he sat in his office and seriously considered throwing the letter away. Fortunately, he did not. Instead, he turned it over to Senior Manager Dick Coleman. What followed was, in my opinion, one of the brightest moments in the Band’s history:
The story of the Band’s odyssey to Brussels is well documented in the scrap books that were compiled after the conclusion of the trip. Those scrapbooks are really the primary source material for any history of the trip. What follows are some personal remembrances of details, experiences and events that may not be chronicled in those pages.
Our many efforts to raise the necessary funds to make the trip - some $100,000 as I recall - is really a story in itself. It occupied a substantial amount of time for all of us in the Spring Semester of 1958. Some of it was borderline bizarre, some of it was quite frustrating, some of it successful, some a failure. I remember it all as having some element of fun to it.
Our first venture was a “playathon” in San Francisco. The idea was that we would play “Night and Day” (both the song and the time frame) until we raised the money for the trip. We arranged shifts. I believe they were two hours in duration, but they might have been longer. This schedule meant driving to San Francisco in teams at all hours of the day and night in a University car. The team that was there drove the car back, so as to be ready for the next team. We had a minimum of four people, and this often made for some weird instrumentation. Have you ever heard “Night and Day” played with a tuba, trombone and two saxes, none of which had music for the melody?
We started at Union Square. On the first or second day we were there, during the time I was playing, Pat Brown, who was then the Attorney General and was running for Governor, came by for a “photo op.” One of his aides suggested that he put some money in the hat. I was standing next to him. When he took out his wallet and thumbed through the bills to select an appropriate donation, he turned to me and said “A Democrat shouldn’t have so much money, should he? Ha ha.” The picture of Brown appeared in the Chronicle the next morning, and that was the end of Union Square. It seems that it is, or was, illegal to solicit money in Union Square. We moved to Fisherman’s Wharf for the remainder of the week.
While the playathon got us some publicity, we only raised a piddling amount of money. We also played a concert at the Greek Theater. This was sparsely attended, but as mediocre as it was, it was better than the fiasco that was to follow at the Chateau of Countess Remillard-Dandini in Hillsborough.
If memory serves me correctly, this concert was the brainchild of Chuck Hall, who was not a Cal Bandsman, but wanted to go on the trip and wanted to help with the fund raising. I believe he was associated with the Daily Cal. In any event, he was to organize the event, and handle all publicity, etc. As I was told, he said that the Countess was the social leader of Hillsborough, and no one who aspired to be part of the social set in Hillsborough would dare miss any event she held. So the trick was to get her to sponsor the event, and its success would be guaranteed. Throughout the days leading up to the event, Band Ex Comm was assured that everything was going well for the event. The day of the concert arrived. Oski Dolls were there to serve as ushers, all dressed up in long gowns and white gloves We were there in full uniform under a beautiful blue sky, and there were hundreds of chairs. Empty chairs, as it turned out. We played a great concert for about four people.
Brussels Bandsmen still laugh about the Dandini concert. It is one of those legendary events that we will always laugh about, particularly since we made it to Brussels in the end. If we hadn’t succeeded in getting there, it probably would serve as the prime example of our vain attempts to raise the money.
Fortunately, we were saved by Ralph Edwards, a great Cal alum. He arranged transportation to New York for us on Continental Trailways in exchange for advertising time on his coast to coast TV show, Truth or Consequences. The tape of the show, and all the details are well documented, and I won’t go into it here. We raised sufficient money, with Ralph Edwards’ help, so that we could fund the trip if we all put up a certain amount of our own money. I don’t remember how much of our own money we put up, but it wasn’t a great deal. Personally, the local Rotary Club in my home town helped me make up the difference.
The Bus Ride To New York
The performances at the Brussels Fair and our trek through Europe were the highlights of our month-long expedition; the low lights were the bus trips back and forth across the U.S. Actually, in retrospect, those two long bus rides were certainly among the more important factors in creating a special bond between all of us, so that today, 35 years later, we still get together and laugh and rejoice about our experience.
We needed three buses to transport our 97 member group. Bus #1 were the leaders of the group, among them Sr. Managers Dick Coleman and Hugh Barnett, Jim Berdahl, Fred Saunders, Bill Ellsworth, and Paul Bostwick (Student Director 1957). Paul and I were friends, and we commandeered the front seat right behind the door. This was one of those two level buses, so there were actually two seats ahead of the steps next to the driver.
I don’t recall who was on Bus #2. It was the quiet bus during the entire trip. Bus #3 was the notorious bus. To begin with, it was occupied by a group that had dubbed themselves “The Drinking Club.” The complete membership of this self-styled group of cool cats doesn’t come back to me, but among them were Marv Atchley, Eddie George, Fred Fischle, Kent (to save himself trouble) Price, and Bill Hollingshead. In addition to its occupants, Bus #3 had the distinction of constantly breaking down, both on the way East and the way back.
We left Berkeley around midnight in our bus caravan, and stopped at Reno for breakfast. The casinos were virtually deserted at that hour. Fred Saunders found a malfunctioning slot machine that paid our three or four jackpots in about ten minutes. Casino management declared it out of order. Our next stop, unscheduled, was in Winnemucca. This was the first time Bus #3 broke down. It was somewhat fortuitous since, believe it or not, Winnemucca was the home town of Bandsmen Jim Weiss. We were there for a number of hours, long enough for the drinking club to hook up with some local talent.
In Bus #1, Jim Berdahl occupied the back seat, next to the rest room, which was three seats wide and therefore long enough for him to stretch out to sleep. We also had a set of four seats that faced each other with a table in between, which allowed for bridge and other games. As the trip wore on and people had more and more difficulty sleeping sitting up, those seats were at a premium because they came close to being a place big enough to sleep. Paul Bostwick climbed up and stretched out in the luggage rack, which worked great, but there wasn’t enough luggage rack space to go around. We saw a lot of our country from that bus, but I can’t honestly tell you all the places we stopped or saw. I do remember that we all got pretty “gamy” from lack of bathing, and one of the highlights of the trip was a stop at the University of Pittsburgh, where we practiced and then took a shower in their gym. It was one the longer and more welcome showers I can remember taking.
Jim Berdahl had a birthday during the trip East. I’m not sure what midwest city we were in, but Bill Ellsworth went to a bakery and found a cake in the shape of a straw hat. Somebody got the idea that we should get JB’s pants in celebration of his birthday, and then give him the cake. Getting his pants was a seriously bad idea. He did not take it well -- in fact, he got pissed! We jumped him in the aisle of the bus, and he fought like mad, but we didn’t quit until we accomplished our mission. Jim was fuming, and when Ellsworth gave him the cake box, he turned it sideways and bounced it several times on his knee in getting the string off. So much for the straw hat cake.
The end of the bus ride was to be New York City. New York Alumni had made arrangements for us to perform between games of a doubleheader at Yankee Stadium. Trying to make any date at a particular time by keeping on schedule for five days and nights from Berkeley was impossible. Though we raced down the turnpike, we didn’t arrive until the eight inning of the second game, and never got to perform. Still, it was a thrill for me to be in Yankee Stadium, since I had been a life long Yankee fan, though I never had been further East than Nevada before this trip.
New York City
The drinking age in New York was 18. This provided some heretofore unexperienced opportunities for me. I was only 19 at the time, and a fuzzy cheeked babe in the woods from the boondocks of California. I was fortunate to have some older and more sophisticated types to lead me around. My first experience with life in the big city came as a group of us were standing around on a street corner deciding what we were going to do. A pimp came up and said “You guys want to meet some nice girls?” We did not take him up on his offer, but I remember actually thinking that being asked that question was an interesting first time experience. I’m not sure whether that says something about the fifties, or me, or what. My, my.
Fred Saunders, my mentor in many ways in the Band, had the idea we should go to Birdland, which we did. We heard the marvelous trumpeter Maynard Ferguson. That was a great experience. I didn’t even know that trumpets could hit notes that high.
In New York, we stayed at the big YMCA downtown. I suspect it was the Y that the Village People had in mind much later. We were told not to go to shower alone.
The Band took a trip to the United Nations. Bostwick and I didn’t make it. We overslept. Thank God. I needed it. We had a BOAC charter flight for the trip to Europe. We bused to Idylwild (now Kennedy) Airport. We stored some stuff in a warehouse there, and the people on Bus #3 found a female mannequin, who was promptly dubbed “Madge” and, while she didn’t go to Europe with us, she did take the bus trip back to Berkeley.
The Airplane Ride To Europe
To get to Europe in those days before jumbo jets (ours was a turbo prop), planes had to fly to Gander, Newfoundland, and refuel, and then continue across the Atlantic. Naturally, bad weather caused us to delay in Gander. I remember all of us lying around in the Gander Airport for hours, bored, getting irritable, trying to sleep. Finally, the weather cleared, and we were off.
We first landed in London. Naturally, we got fogged in. It was London, after all. We couldn’t even leave the airport. We got back on the plane for the short trip across the channel to Brussels.
We arrived at the Brussels airport and there were more delays. We were hyped by this time so everyone was in a great mood, though I believe it was the middle of the night. We were told that we could short cut the customs process if we all turned in our passports, which could then be processed and turned back to us the next morning. This unnerved some of us, because we had always been told never to let your passport out of your possession. We all did anyway.
The First Days In Brussels
We took a bus to our motel, the Motel Expo. It was a cheaply constructed complex of many identical units which had been built expressly for the Fair. We congregated in the lobby with our luggage and got our keys.
Each room was identical, with two beds, a toilet, and a bidet. Most of us had never seen a bidet anywhere before, let alone in a motel room, and had little idea what it was for. Some guys used it to wash their socks. I thought it was interesting that in this temporary motel, which had paper thin walls and the cheapest of everything in construction, they would have this fixture. Maybe it said something about the European lifestyle.
The complex was large, and as I have said, consisted of a number of identical units, with identical lobbies, hallways, etc. Every second unit, though, there was a bar. George Link was the glock player in the Brussels Band. One night, a group of us went to the bar for a night cap. I recall that George ordered Cognac. I thought that was pretty sophisticated. The group dwindled one by one, until only George and I were left. We were feeling no pain, and we got the idea to go around and bang on Kim Pratt’s door because he was a party-pooper. Knowing Kim’s room number, we marched through the lobby, up the hallway, turned right at the first hall and pounded on Kim’s door. It was around 1:00 am. When the occupant of the room yelled out something in French, we realized that, in our state of euphoria, we had walked into the wrong unit of the motel, the one next to ours. George Link went on to become ASUC President, President of the California Alumni Association, and a prominent lawyer in Los Angeles. Whenever I think of him, though, I always think of that gaffe that night at the Motel Expo.
The Brussels fairground was in a beautiful location on the Royal grounds. King Boudoin had agreed that the fair could be built there, with the stipulation that it be returned exactly as it was before the fair. The exception was that the symbol of the fair, the Automium, could remain. It is still there today.
The American pavilion was beautiful. It was round and airy and had a big reflection pool and fountain in front of it. It had a sort of free flowing exhibit theme depicting American life rather than American productivity or industry. I was quite proud of it. The Soviet pavilion, on the other hand, was a huge monolith, dedicated to showing the industrial fruits of the communist system, as well as technological achievement such as Sputnik. They were across the square from one another, with the American pool and fountain in between.
The American exhibit and pavilion had been the subject of much criticism at home. Many critics thought it compared poorly with the Soviet pavilion in those days of cold war battles for supremacy in propaganda. Without overstating it, all the criticism stopped the day the Cal Band arrived and captured the imagination of everyone, including the Soviets.
We formed up for our first show behind the American pavilion, which was at the edge of the fairgrounds. We marched around the left hand side of the pavilion to take a place for a concert in the front of the pavilion. As we came around the front of the pavilion, something miraculous happened. People started running from everywhere to see us. In particular, they poured down the huge steps of the Soviet pavilion and across the square. I couldn’t believe it. It was like nothing I ever experienced before or since. We were an immediate hit. I guess our band was something so out of the ordinary, both for Europeans and among the fair’s attractions.
We played before capacity crowds there for every performance, weather permitting. It seemed to rain constantly while we were there. If it was actually raining, we performed inside the pavilion.
The biggest hit with the Soviets was the sousaphone quadrille we performed to “The Farmer and the Cowman” from Oklahoma. They took film of us for Soviet television, and later in the week we were at the fair, the Soviets invited us to the theater in their pavilion to see the film. We did our concert performances in front of the pavilion, but our field show routines a bit further away in an area known as the Esplanade. Two shows, morning and afternoon, every day. Ellsworth announced the shows in English, then a Belgian announced them in both the official languages of Belgium, French and Flemish. It was a trip.
We attracted a lot of attention. Errol Flynn was at the fair with his girlfriend of the time, seventeen year old Beverly Aadland. I personally did not see or talk to Errol, but he spent some time with some of the bandsmen, and taught them some ribald lyrics to the trio of the Colonel Bogy March, which we were performing. We later adapted them to the Cal Band. Our version went like this:
Coleman has only got one ball;
Barnett has two, but they are small,
Cheatham, he doesn’t need ’em
and Mr. Berdahl has no balls at all.
Jim Berdahl strenuously denied the last line. Part of the fairgrounds was a recreation of a Victorian Belgian village, the French nane of which, Belgique Joyeaux, translated, we were told, into “Gay Belgium.” (Gay did not have the meaning in 1958 it does today). Gay Belgium was basically a fun area of restaurants and bars, and it proved to be a favorite of many of the more social members of the Band.
Feeding the Band was a challenge, since many of the arrangements were made as we went. Since we didn’t know until the Ralph Edwards show that we were actually going, and we didn’t entirely know what to expect, not all details were worked out before the trip. No problem. Dick Coleman and the other student leaders turned out to be masters of organization, innovation, and flexibility. We generally had some kind of continental breakfast provided at the Motel Expo, with group lunch on the fairgrounds which was arranged by the leadership. The high point of the lunches was the daily chug-a-lug contest.
Looking back, I have to marvel at the leadership ability of our senior band officers, with the concurrence, of course, of Jim Berdahl. This was a student run trip. We did not have professional tour organizers, paid staff or alumni leaders. Dick Coleman and Hugh Barnett, with help from Dan Cheatham, Chapman Dix and Larry Anderson. They did it all. We performed at the fair for about a week and made lots of friends and lots of fans. Bill Ellsworth started a romance with one of the female tour guides at the American pavilion. Our uniforms were tickets to a good reception throughout the fairgrounds. I think a lot of people were enamored with the still magical name “California.” It still was a promised land in those days. I say that because several people grabbed my uniform sleeve with “California” written on it, and repeated the name “California.”
Management of the American pavilion were very appreciative of the fact that we attracted so much attention to the American exhibit, and in large part, helped to make their whole effort a success. To show their appreciation, they hosted a reception for us before our last show. The unlimited free beer, plus our advanced state of fatigue, combined to get all of us high as a kite in no time. We put on a hell of a show. I don’t know exactly how the show went, but it must have been something special, because it is one of the things Jim Berdahl always mentions when we get together.
The Free Time Tour Of Europe
After the week at the fair, we all had five free days to tour Europe on our own. The only stipulation was to be back at the American pavilion at a certain time.
We broke into small groups to do various things. Some wanted to go to Italy, and that was all they could do in the time available, given the distance to Italy. My particular group had an agenda that would take us to Paris, Lucerne, and Heidelberg, an ambitious but wonderful trip.
One thing we learned was the efficiency of European rail travel. We left Brussels on the overnight train to Paris. We managed to see a heck of a lot in a one night stay. The Louvre, the Eiffel Tower, the Cafe De La Paix, and Notre Dame were among the sites we took in. Then it was on to Lucerne. This was a beautiful city. We took a cruise of the lake. I suppose it was delightful. I don’t know. I was so exhausted that I fell asleep sitting in a deck chair and missed most of the cruise. I wasn’t the only one on whom the pace, an the attempts to sleep on overnight train trips, were taking their toll. the wonderful feather beds in the hotel we stayed in were too inviting. We all overslept the next morning and missed our train to Heidelberg. The hotel staff was laughing at us.
Heidelberg is a place I want to visit again someday. It is a storybook city with quaint buildings on the Rhine River. We toured the castle. That night we went to a local student hangout for dinner. After dinner and a couple of beers, we started singing some Cal song. The German students didn’t take kindly to that, and immediately started a song of their own, and drowned us out.
We almost missed the train back to Brussels. We each went to a shop in the train station to buy something to eat. By the time we rendezvoused on the station platform, the train was pulling out. We had to run to catch it. It was like some comedy or adventure film, with us running beside the train, pulling each other on board, one by one. Hugh Barnett was the last in line, and he had an open container of milk, which he spilled on a German lady, saying “bitte, bitte” while he did it.
The Western European Tour
It was somewhat amazing. Our group spread out all over Europe on their own, and regrouped in Brussels at the appointed time. I have a vague recollection of one person getting delayed, and having to join us en route, but basically we didn’t lose anybody.
The logistics of moving the Band through Europe on trains, what with our sousaphones, drums, and luggage, proved to be something of a challenge. The challenge was intensified by the fact that we planned what we were going to do as we went. Again, student leadership was equal to the task, with the assistance of Bob Desky and his horn.
Bob Desky was one of the limited number of alums and support people we had in our entourage. Some time during the trip, he acquired a brass horn. I’m not certain how to describe the horn, but I think it was some kind of a shepherd’s horn, like a valveless trumpet. Anyway, it became an important piece of the Brussels Band lore. Since we planned as we went, there were occasions when we would be loaded on a train, uncertain whether we should stay on the train or get off the train and board another. Desky’s horn became the signal. If Bob blew his horn, we swung into action. Train windows went down, and all matter of equipment came through the windows onto the platform, much to the delight and dismay of any other passengers that happened to be there at the time.
In chonicling the personalities and events of the 1958 tour, I can’t possibly do it without mentioning Larry Josephson. Larry was another of the non-Band members who were with us on the trip. I’m not sure how we hooked up with Larry, or he with us, but he was our official photographer. Anyway, there were a number of things about Larry that made him unique, but the most important was the nickname he was given by someone in the Band: Sheepdip. I have no idea how or why he got that name, or what on Earth the reference was, but that was his name. Sheepdip. Larry went on to become a successful radio personality in the New York area, and I understand he is well-known there. I hope by his real name. To everyone in the Brussels Band, he will always be, and remain, Sheepdip.
We trained across Europe to Hamburg, where we put on a field show for some German school children on a soccer field. This is where the now familiar picture was taken of a little German boy looking admiringly at Grove Thomas holding the bass drum with the pot-bellied bear. If Sheepdip took that picture, he earned his place on the trip and in our history. Our next stop of consequence was Aalborg, Denmark, and the Rebild National Park. As I understand it, there is a large contingent of Danish-Americans who live in that area, and annually they hold an American independence day celebration on the fourth of July. What could be better than having an American college band there to play appropriate songs. It was quite an event. I’m told Victor Borge was there. All that sticks out in my memory was that it was HOT!
When one is planning to go to Europe for three weeks of marching, everyone is told to be sure to take a comfortable pair of shoes; you wouldn’t want to take a new pair and risk blisters. You also want to travel light, so take only one pair. What happens after two weeks of marching on rough pavement and cobblestones at the pace of the Cal Band cadence is that you wear holes in the soles of your shoes. I mean holes clear through to the socks. What saved the day for most of us were the cork coasters that were provided when you ordered a beer in a restaurant. They fit nicely into your shoes and filled the holes.
The next stop after Rebild was Copenhagen. The American ambassador held a reception for us at his residence. Someone said we had warm beer and cold hot dogs. There were also some young Danish ladies in attendance. I remember embarrassing myself by saying something about how great California was to one of them. She probably thought I was one of the ugly Americans that were talked about in those days.
A highlight of the Copenhagen stay was performing at Tivoli Gardens. What a great spot.
We stayed at a number of places on the trip to Scandinavia. One was a youth hostel, which was quite nice. The breakfast was almost too rich. We also stayed at a Danish army base, and found out something about life in the Danish army. There was only one faucet in the shower room in the barracks where we stayed: cold. And I mean ice cold. Actually, the stay at the Danish army base provided one of the few bad experiences on the trip. The commander wanted us to put on a show for the troops. It was a disaster. We had no yard markers, no lines, nothing to line up on. We had no ladder and couldn’t see the director, so we did not play together. Furthermore, the soldiers were sitting at ground the director, and didn’t play together. The soldiers were sitting at ground level and had no idea what we were doing. About half way through the show, the troops started to leave, but were ordered to stay by their superiors. We all felt badly about that.
In Denmark, we abandoned the trains for the more familiar buses. These were great, as they were the high window tour buses, and we had nice views of the country side. We also discovered polsner, which were like a red skinny hot dog. We liked that. It reminded us of home. I think we were beginning to long for some American grub.
Back To The Usa
After Copenhagen, we returned to Brussels for the trip home. We flew from Brussels to the British Isles and then to Gander. The flight home was uncomfortable because the air conditioning didn’t work properly. When we took off from Gander, we spontaneously broke into a loud chorus of “God Bless America.” It had been a great trip but we were happy to be heading home.
By now, we were celebrities. We landed in New York, but had been summoned to a reception to be given in our honor in Washington by Vice President Richard Nixon. We bused down to Washington. It was July and humid. We wanted to take a picture on the steps of the Capitol. A guard tried to run us off. The reception was held in the Old Supreme Court Chambers. Nixon made a short speech congratulating us, and shook hands with each of us, as did Senators Clair Engle and Tom Kuchel. It was a thrill and an honor.
The bus trip home was generality uneventful, except for continuing problems with buses breaking down. Continental Trailways was experiencing a strike and we were being driven by supervisors, and I don’t think maintenance people were working.
All of us were exhausted, nerves were frayed and tempers short. Jim Berdahl told us he was getting horny. People were very irritable - we called it “Getting the Beak.” A lot of people got “the Beak” on the trip home. Lyle Seeband kept a diary of the entire trip. Some of his entries for the bus trip home were simply “Beak, Beak, Beak.” We arrived home in Berkeley to a hero’s welcome from our families. What a marvelous trip; what a marvelous experience. It was obvious to us at the time that we had been a part of something that we would always treasure. Something truly unique. Something that no one else would ever exactly duplicate. If you were to sit down and plan a dream trip, I don’t see how it could be much different than going across the country and then performing and touring in Europe at age nineteen with ninety-six of your friends. I have had a lot of great experiences in my life since: not many, (not counting my marriage and the birth or my three children) are on a par with this trip.
I think we were great ambassadors for the University and for the United states. I think we added greatly to the prestige of the Cal Band. In Gay Belgium one evening, some of the guys learned a song. Later someone put some of our own words to it. It was immodest, but perhaps had a measure of truth to it at that one point in time. The first line said:
“Berkeley to Brussels, all the folks are crying: ‘The California Band’s the greatest in the land’”
Self Interview with Larry Augusta