Like many of the state’s most colorful stories, the story of Big Bertha of Texas and years of rivalry for the biggest drums in college football began with the bravado of a wealthy oilman.

In 1954, Longhorn Band benefactor Colonel D. Harold “Dry Hole” Byrd, a man given the unfortunate nickname for drilling wells that yielded nothing before eventually making a fortune in an East Texas oilfield, commissioned UT group director Moton Crockett to purchase the biggest drum he could find.

- Advertisement -

Like Byrd, Crockett started his own expedition before making great progress. Really big. His discovery of one of the biggest drums in the world, languishing in a warehouse in Indiana, and his subsequent acquisition revived one of the greatest off-field rivalries in sports history between Purdue and Texas.

- Advertisement -

Purdue had the biggest drum in the world. There was Big Bertha in Texas. Both claimed they were the largest, with Purdue claiming that its dimensions were a “trade secret”, deliberately and somewhat bizarrely hiding the actual dimensions to keep the secret.

- Advertisement -

But on October 15, Texas announced a decisive victory when the Longhorn Band unveiled the Big Bertha II, a worthy successor to their 100-year-old giant bass drum. The Bertha II – an even larger Bertha – was unveiled to the world during the centenary celebrations of its predecessor, billed at an impressive 9 ½ feet tall and 55 inches wide.

The Longhorns issued a press release titled: “Big Bertha II, World’s Largest Bass Drum, Debuts at Texas-Iowa Game.” The Texas drum was larger than the largest drum in the world. He was bigger than Missouri’s Big Mo, introduced in 2012 (who, by the way, was Rodney Dangerfield among drums, eclipsing both of them at 9 feet tall and 54 inches wide, but never claiming a place in the debate).

Clearly, Bertha II is a source of pride for Longhorn Band director Cliff Krooms, the former snare drummer for the Texas band.

“Absolutely,” said Krums. “When we say there’s more to Texas, that’s what we mean. Texas had the tallest drum, and Purdue had the widest drum. wider than any of these drums.”

The surprise debut of the Bertha II was a blow to a century-long rivalry that had reverberated since 1921, when Purdue band director Paul Spots Emrick hired the Leedy manufacturing company in Indianapolis, Indiana to build a drum of “impossible dimensions”. the newspaper reports. The result is a behemoth known as the “World’s Largest Drum”, about 8 feet tall and 48 inches wide, priced at $800. The drum made its debut when Purdue visited the University of Chicago for a Big Ten game that pitted the Boilermakers against legendary coach Amos Alonso Stagg and the Maroons.

But just like college football, there is always a booster who wants to do something bigger and better for the pride of their school. Chicago alumnus Carl D. Greenleaf, who was president of a rival music company in Indiana, CG Conn, Ltd., had a son named Leland who played in a college band. He embarked on a plan to build a bass drum for the Maroon Marching Band. In 1922, Big Bertha was born, named after the famous German howitzer from the First World War. Like Purdue, she has become a huge attraction at football games and parades.

So how did Texas get into the mix? This includes the saga that began with Chicago abandoning football and leaving the Big Ten in 1939, the drum being mothballed in storage at the stadium that eventually became home to the Manhattan Project experiments by Italian physicist Enrico Fermi, creator of the atomic bomb. . which raises concerns that the drum may have been radioactive.

“There is no evidence that the drum was more contaminated than anything else stored in this stadium,” said J.P. Kirksey, Bertha’s Texas historian, who noted that the drum ultimately passed the Geiger test.

The drum was eventually abandoned at CG Conn before being rescued by Texas.

As Texas celebrated its new exhibit, the drum debate moved from regional to national. Fans of both schools played pranks on each other for years, including a scheduled 1961 fraternity meeting to decide once and for all which drum was bigger. The Boilermaker contingent arrived on time with their drum, but the Longhorns did not, allowing Purdue to claim the mythical title. Meanwhile, Missouri introduced Big Mo in 2012, and the Texas group even claims they don’t know much about its size.

Purdue, whose drum is so big they couldn’t push it through the visitor’s tunnel during a game against Notre Dame last year (and they weren’t allowed to use the home tunnel to carry it through, irritating the boilers). ), was not involved in the new Texas claims. But they had one message for the new Big Bertha, keeping the spirit of petty rivalry alive.

“Tell them our good friends at Notre Dame would love to see it,” said Aaron Yoder, a spokesman for the Purdue All-American Marching Band.


FIRST WE MUST note that there are larger barrels that will also not fit in any of the Notre Dame tunnels. Guinness World Records pays homage to the “Traditional Korean CheonGo Drum” in Simcheon-Meon, South Korea, which measures 18’2″ in diameter, 19’6″ in height and weighs 7 tons. Meanwhile, a scientific study claims that the largest drum in the universe is actually a drum. magnetic field surrounding the earthcalling it “a complex musical instrument”.

But this dispute concerns the bass drum. Not space magnets or giant Korean bongos. Thus, Purdue is not going to change the name of their drum anytime soon. It’s all part of the fun. Boiler manufacturers have long tried to hide the actual dimensions of the drum by only reporting assembled dimensions, claiming that it is over 10 feet high on a trailer.

“Purdue won’t tell anyone the drum size,” said Neil Boumpani of Boumpani Music Co. in Georgia, who built Big Mo in Missouri, as well as a six-foot drum for the Harvard band. “They just keep claiming the biggest drum in the world and they’re full of them – especially now.”

Hayley Colombo knows the truth. In 2013, when a 23-year-old newspaper reporter in Indiana, a city editor named Dave Smith satisfied her curiosity about the Purdue drum size mystery by sending her on a quest to find out why no one had told her the size.

“Why do you say it’s the biggest drum in the world if you don’t want to be asked about it?” Colombo said. “It says it on the drum.”

She wrote an article that was published in the Indianapolis Star with the headline: “World’s Biggest Drum Purdue Says It’s a Huge Exaggeration.” It was supposed to be a light-hearted “investigation” to uncover the truth, but Purdue denied her request for freedom of information on drum dimensions, saying they were not subject to a “trade secret” recording. After using several unusual methods and sources to calculate the size, Smith sent her to the Tippecanoe County Public Library, where she found a 1921 newspaper with a front-page article the day after the drum was opened that explicitly stated it was “seven foot three”. in diameter and three feet nine inches wide.”

She was glad to get to the bottom of the matter. There were no readers.

“We thought, ‘Oh, that’s so smart. People will take it in a good mood,” she said. No … people were so offended by this. Someone made a parody of me on Twitter, writing: “I like long walks on the beach and slandering universities.” It got really intense.”

Purdue fans have been playing defense since 1922 when Bertha I was built in Chicago to challenge their title. It was difficult to make anything bigger because Greenleaf ran into the same problem as Leady when he tried to build a larger drum: the “heads” or material on the surface of the drum were made from cow hides at the time. and thus you had to find a big enough cow.

“Our purchasing department made a trip to Union warehouses in Chicago,” a company official told an Illinois newspaper in the 1920s, claiming the drum cost $1,100. “[We] I spent three days in the barnyards, inspecting the cattle in search of these skins, and since the big drum had two heads, it was necessary to find two exactly the same. … The leather that was used for the head of this drum measured 102 inches when it was cut and ready to be installed.”

And yet, the rivalry only lasted 17 years before Chicago crashed out of major college football and removed the drums.

That was until Crockett decided to fulfill Byrd’s vision of a standout specimen for the band and overheard talk of a very large abandoned drum in Elkhart, Indiana. Later that year, he visited Greenleaf at CG Conn’s warehouse – 32 years after Greenleaf built it – and landed a lucrative deal.

“He told me he wanted the biggest university in the biggest state to have the biggest drum in the world,” Crockett wrote in an essay published in the centenary booklet by J.P. Kirksey, a former member of the Longhorn Band and Bertha’s unofficial historian. “He said he couldn’t give it to me. But he can sell it to me – for $1. I was happy to pay him a dollar and he wrote out a receipt and gave it to me.”

Crockett rented a U-Haul trailer, covered the barrel with a tarpaulin, and towed it behind a borrowed 1954 Ford Fairlane all the way to Austin, a three-day December trip. The following summer, Crockett restored Bertha by removing the unsightly burgundy letters and replacing them with the Texas seal painted on the original heads.

Bertha has become an integral part of Texas, serving the Longhorns from 1955 to 2022. It was used in the John F. Kennedy inaugural parade, competed in three AP National Championships in 1963, 1969, and 2005, and is considered as much a Texas icon as Bevo or UT Tower.

She was known as the “Sweetheart of the Longhorn Band” and despite her wooden frame and wear and tear from her wheels, she spun on her trailer and under the wailing of generations of students, she endured…