Stephenson Tales

Piano Adventures - Part 2

In the fall of 1943, I was a Private in the Signal Corps in Basic Training at Camp Crowder, Missouri - whose only claim to fame (?) is that it is near the town of Neosho. Our captain was known for his ability to keep "the men" busy carrying out such important activities for the war effort as moving a pile of coal from point A to point B and back again.

One day he had the First Sergeant announce that on the morrow at 6 a.m. there would be a full-gear ten-mile hike. I went to his office and offered him a deal: If he would excuse me from the hike I would repair the piano in the Day Room. He did not really care if I went on the hike or not, and the piano was in terrible shape, with many keys that would not strike and the sustaining pedal did not work, so he agreed.

I went to the "Supply Room" and got from the Supply Sergeant a roll of adhesive tape (this was before the now ubiquitous duct tape was readily available), a box of assorted rubber bands, a box of thumbtacks, a long piece of string, a bottle of glue, several wooden tongue depressors, and a box of paper clips.

The next morning while all the hikers were struggling with packed duffle bags, rifles, ammunition belts and canteens, I went over to the Day Room. There were two or three malingerers there who had been excused from the hike for various reasons. I folded back the top of the piano, released both the upper and lower front panels, and unscrewed the keeper bar at each end of the keyboard. I always work better if I have an audience, and the men who were there watched me with great interest.

I unscrewed the big nuts holding the 88-key striking mechanism in place, and one of the men helped me lift it out and put it on the floor. I was remembering every step of Dad's example, but I ALMOST forgot to make the diagonal line on the wooden keys before removing them one by one. (I later discovered that this piano had the identity of each key stamped on the side of each wooden shaft!) Underneath the keyboard I found a dime and a quarter! How the larger coin ever got there, or when, I could not guess. Many of the hammers were broken right off, but every one of them was on the floor of the piano behind the foot pedals. I saw that the wooden rod for the sustaining pedal had come out of its socket, so I put it back in with a dab of glue underneath it. One problem easily solved. Then I proceeded to go from the left of the striking mechanism, repairing each hammer system as needed. I split the wooden tongue depressors into the slender rods and made splints for the hammer and put them in place with the adhesive bandages and glue. Before I was through, I used some of every thing I had gotten from the supply room. It really did take all day - with an hour off for lunch. When I finally finished about 4:30, every key worked! I reassembled the various parts, and for the first time, probably in several years, it ALL worked.

Two days later, the Captain called me in to thank me. He told me that he had told the Captain in the company adjacent to ours what I had done, and that his fellow Company Commander wanted me to repair the piano in his Day Room. In all, I did repairs on three pianos.

Just as I was being reassigned (thanks to Orlando) to Vint Hill to begin cryptography training, our Captain offered me a permanent job repairing pianos for the whole Camp Crowder. I politely declined, and happily went by train - now as a Corporal! - to begin the next phase of my Army Career.

Composed 3 October 2008; Transcribed by Lucky

© Jim Bob Stephenson 2008

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