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The PHHS Big Red Marching Machine / Yesterday & Today / Part Two

The 1972 Big Reds Marching Machine, Germany bound, in front of McMorran Auditorium. Photo: Ralph Palovich

Changing Lives One High Step at a Time

Originally Published on February 13th, 2018.

This is the second in a series about how the whole city of Port Huron came together and made the impossible possible. If you’re old enough to remember, the Port Huron Big Reds Marching Machine (BRMM) went to the Olympics in 1972. With the benefit of a few years, the 250 members and chaperones who went have realized just what a feat it was – to engineer a plan for a mammoth project which included raising a staggering sum of $1,120,000.00 in today’s money,  persevering through nine months of sweaty work to gain the skills to succeed, and finally achieving their goal.  

In our articles, we’ll be talking to the people who made it happen and how it changed our lives in the process. This week’s article, Planning the Impossible Dream covers the hundreds of hours of brainstorming, a fraction of the myriad of details that needed to be worked out in planning, and a few of the great people that were recruited that were key in making the trip a success. We’ll also be looking at what the current Big Reds Marching Machine (BRMM) is up to and the people making them successful.  This week’s article, The 2017-2018 Big Reds Marching Machine, Changing Lives one Glide Step at a Time, talks about the long strides of achievement they’ve made this year, how much the 93 year history of the band influences them, and what’s up their sleeve in the near future. It’s surprising how something that the whole city was proud of 46 years ago still has an impact on today’s BRMM members. We want to do everything we can to ensure their ongoing success. We remember how fortunate we were.  

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  • To read the first article in the series, click here.
Planning the Impossible Dream

There are some people who live in a dream world, and there are some who face reality; and then there are those who turn one into the other.” Douglas H. Everett

While many in the community considered the undertaking of a trip that cost $160,000.00 an impossible dream, Payton, a self-proclaimed optimist, did not let it deter him. He was determined to turn this dream into a reality.  The planning of doing so would fall on his shoulders.  One of his strengths was having a knack for calling on the right people for every task.  Although he knew he would make all final decisions for planning the trip, he believed in the old saying, “Two heads are better than one.”

Payton in 1972 Band Photo

Mr. Payton was not exactly known for paying attention to the clock when it came to calling on people!!  Dr. S. Davis Smith, a close friend of Payton’s whose three kids went on the trip, recalled, “Eric showed up on my doorstep at eleven o’clock one night. He wanted to talk about the planning of the trip.  So as to not disturb my family, we headed out back to the trailer.  We kicked on the heat, and that is where the trip to Europe was hashed out and planned. For almost a year, we met in that trailer, three to four nights a week, planning and brainstorming as we came up with dozens of ideas, some of them created in the wee hours of the morning.  The next time we met, we would use three or four of the ideas and laugh at the absurdity of the rest of them, thought up by exhausted minds.  At least that is what we told ourselves!” 

Pictured right: Dr. S. Davis Smith and children in Germany. Scott (Left), Dr. Smith (Center), Sally (Right). Grant Smith also attended but is not pictured. Photo: Smith Family

We are the music makers, and we are the dreamers of dreams.”  Arthur O. Shaughnessy

In a music competition, what could be more important than the music itself?  It was priority number one.  Payton and Smith turned to a 1967 Port Huron High School graduate, Bill Himes.  Mr. Himes studied arranging and composing at the University of Michigan, from which he graduated in 1971.  He was a member of the University Symphonic Band. Bill has also toured Europe and Russia. He would be entrusted with the important task of arranging the music the Big Reds would go into competition with.  It could not have been placed in more capable hands.

William Himes, Photo courtesy Salvation Army

Himes came up with a repertoire worthy of a knock-out performance by the Marching Machine which included:

U.S. Fanfare (composed by Himes)               

Old Man River

When the Saints Go Marching In         

This is My Country

Missouri Waltz

Smile

Climb Every Mountain

Once the music was arranged and returned, it was sent to the director of the Imlay City band, Joseph Dobos (also a 1971 graduate of the University of Michigan), who helped in creating the drill.  With the competition show ready for the band to start work, Payton and Smith turned their attention to the next concern, the logistics of the trip.  

Thunderbirds dance group show off perfect form during a parade in Wiesbaden. Photo: Bert North

The Big Red Band director normally did a “dry-run” of every trip; actually going to the cities and setting up motels and other arrangements.  This time it was not practical, so they had to depend on doing it from home.  Payton contacted  every city and every motel set up by Robert O’Brien’s committee, the National Educational Scholarship Foundation (NESF).  He even contacted the police in each city where the Marching Machine would stride through their streets.  He asked them to measure the width of the streets, and inform him of turns so that he could transform a ten line band down to five where needed, providing more efficient and professional movement.  Other directors marveled at the intuitiveness of Payton’s forward thinking.

“So many of our dreams at first seem impossible, then they seem improbable, and then, when we summon the will, they soon become inevitable.”  Christopher Reeve

How to get everyone across the Atlantic was problematic. Consideration for moving the massive Marching Machine and its fifty chaperones made a commercial flight impractical.  Payton and Smith opted for a private flight in the form of a Trans International DC Stretch 9.

Dr. S Davis Smith, Scott Smith, head of Stajarmy. Staging area for Wiesbaden parade. Photo: Bert North

The leader of this enormous effort left nothing to chance.  He had the inside of the cargo area of the Big Red bird measured.  Crates were built by band booster, James Muir, to carry instruments, uniforms, equipment from the Marching Machine’s auxiliary groups, as well as all of the luggage of the students and their chaperones.  Airline personnel were impressed that the crates filled the storage area exactly with no room to spare!

The next concern was moving the Big Reds around Amsterdam and Germany.  Five buses were used, all being identified by color: the Red Bus (the lead bus carrying Director Payton) Blue Bus, White Bus, Yellow Bus and the Green Bus. Each bus had a German guide, who became part of the Big Red family.  All buses had captains that were in complete charge of their bus, with their most important task: making sure everyone was accounted for on the bus when the Machine was in transit.  Each bus had someone in charge of the money, as well as another in charge of a first aid kit and possible medical emergencies.

At home, students and chaperones were busy applying for passports and obtaining written permission to go on the trip.  Not one student went on the trip without a signed form for authorization for medical treatment.  One of the less pleasant requirements for the trip overseas was shots!  Every one had to provide verification that their shots were up to date.

Arrangements were made with Wakeen’s Shoe Store to provide the band with matching shoes for the members to wear.  They were reserved for the inspection and competition.

Cover of the promotional booklet distributed to “fans” and onlookers of the BRMM in Germany.

A sixteen page booklet was put together with information about the Marching Machine, its director and the city of Port Huron.  In the middle of the booklet, there was a picture of the Machine, taken in front of McMorran.  There were also pictures of Principal, Chet Wydrzynski, Port Huron Mayor, “Scotty” Hanton, and Drum Major, George Rinderspacher.  It was translated into the German language by native born, Gertrude Rinderspacher, and published by a print shop in Lansing, Michigan.  An English excerpt was included.

BRMM Brass coins struck commemorating the trip. Photo: Luanna Bryer Jenkins

Metal coins were made with the Big Red Chief on one side and the state of Michigan on the other.  Band mothers sewed bags in which to insert the promotional information and coins to be handed out along the parade routes.   Payton remarked, “No other band had the insight to provide the citizens of the Netherlands and Germany with such information about their band and its home town!”

Housing was set up; allowing the students to choose their own roommates which would remain the same throughout Europe. Meetings, first with parents and chaperones, then with students were conducted; setting up the rules and limitations for students while overseas. “Payton’s Poop Sheet,” a newsletter went out on a regular basis to keep the parents informed of plans and schedules.

Although the city of Port Huron was certainly aware of the fundraising that went on, it is doubtful they knew of all the planning that was done behind the scenes. Tremendous hours were put in by Eric Payton and S. Davis Smith, giving up sleep and personal lives to make it all come together.  Yet, they didn’t do it completely alone.  Everyone carried their weight from Band Boosters to students, and the Port Huron community who all worked tirelessly to ensure the “Impossible Dream.”

The BRMM Wiesbaden parade. Photo: Bert North

“To accomplish great things, we must not only act, but also dream; not only plan, but also believe.”  Anatole France

Next up:  Fundraising and the grant that put it over the top.

Click here to continue to the article, The 2017-2018 Big Reds Marching Machine, Changing Lives One Glide Step at a Time. 

Our Band Boosters 

The trip to Germany would not have been possible without an army of many unsung heros from the community, our parents, and friends – our PHHS Band Boosters. The 2017-2018 Marching Machine still needs those heros. Music and funds for repairs were not included in the recently passed bond  and are still critical. The Booster’s calling is not just fundraising. Ensure the Marching Machine’s sucess by pitching in a few hours of time or funds to keep the band functioning. Let the Boosters know you can lend a hand. Alumni, parents whose kids have grown, and community neighbors are welcome as are monetary donations.  The PHHS Band Boosters is a 501C3 charitable organization.

Write Dave Minock, Band Booster Pres. :  Daveminock@yahoo.com

Call or text him: 810-334-7373

Send donations to:   PHHS Band Boosters

     P.O. Box 611606

     Port Huron, MI 48060
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Kathleen Knowles is a life-long resident of Port Huron and a 1973 graduate of Port Huron High School. After attending St. Clair County Community College, she has worked for credit unions all of her life as well as a professional dog show handler, known for handling Pekingese. Kathleen has been writing fiction for years as a hobby, having posted many stories online.

Pat North, a native of Port Huron, graduated from Port Huron High School and is a proud alumna of the 1972 Big Reds Marching Machine Germany band. She holds a Bachelor’s of Music in Flute Performance from the College Conservatory of Music, Univ. of Cincinnati, with graduate studies at the Univ. of Illinois where she also received her Pilot’s license. Pat was apprenticed to professional flute builder, Jack Moore, and later started her own company, Cincinnati Fluteworks, in 1980, specializing in the technical and acoustical aspects of the construction of the flute as well as branding. She authors a quarterly technical and promotional newsletter for the company. In addition to her passion for the flute, she hosted and produced community radio and TV programs, focused on civil rights and justice issues. Her other passion is for Standard Schnauzers. Pat produced and was co-editor of The Standard Schnauzer Club of America’s Source Book 4, as well as several other educational interactive and print publications for them. She lives in Cincinnati with her very own home bred Standards, but once a Michigander, always a Michigander.

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