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Franklin Band: Music on Skis = Spills and Dents

RVHS Photo #97.46.32

The date is January 1938. The event is the dedication ceremonies for the new Snoqualmie Ski Bowl near Hyak Station at the east entrance to the Milwaukee Railroad Cascade Tunnel.  The music is furnished by the Franklin High School all boys band, on skis, under the direction of Victor McClelland. The band gained national publicity for their part in the inaugural trip of the first regularly scheduled ski train in the country. The event was covered by Universal news reel and was showing at the Music Box Theatre in Seattle as well as across the nation. Performing on skis resulted in spills and dents and in one instance the base drum arriving at the bottom of the hill before the band.

Victor, called “Mac” by his students, was in his second year at Franklin as band director and on his way to establishing an institution that would continue for 20 years and become the envy of schools throughout the area. Mac recruited incoming students whether they could play an instrument or not. Fine if they could but if they had no training he would get them into “junior” band, supply an instrument if they couldn’t afford one and teach him how to play it. If they could play a piano or a stringed instrument he would recruit them away from the orchestra and hand them a trumpet or a drumstick and expect them at the next practice. 

The band, about 65 in number, became a very close knit group and the officers, elected by the members, coordinated all of the jobs that were required with their busy schedule of performances. During the war years of the early ‘40s the band spent much of their time performing at bond rallies and other patriotic events. Mac stayed in touch with the alumni that were fighting overseas and for them, kept alive his vision of an alumni band when the boys came home at the war’s end. He kept his promise but after several rehearsals at a hall at Seattle U it was discontinued mostly because of scheduling problems. His wish was to give the boys overseas something to look forward to and to that end he was successful.

Mac did not want girls in the band. It would never happen today but at that time, during the war, with the band’s dark, navy officer style of uniforms with gold braid on the shoulder, officer stripes on the sleeves and officer caps, it seemed the best way to go. On many occasions the uniforms would prompt a salute from passing navy personnel.  Mac did have an all girls band however that was very successful.

With the advent of the swing music in the late ‘30s, Mac switched to playing that style in addition to the marches and classical and it was an instant success. The P.T.A. dances at the Rainier Fieldhouse were about to be dropped for lack of attendance. With the band’s new sound and lots of special features and decorations, the attendance soared to about 1000 and the dances continued.

The band members made a slapstick movie called “Wilderness Woo” which was shot at Seward Park.  It featured the villain, Weazel Puss and the heroine, Wocky Woo Woo. Others in the script were the Lone Ranger, Witherspoon, Witherfork and Withertonsilsout. It was presented at their Spring Concert with narration and specially written background music by the band.  For an encore it was run backwards and the audience “went wild” according to the critics. 

Benny Goodman made an appearance at one of the band’s assemblies and the 2000 students went berserk when he borrowed a clarinet from one of the band members and gave them a swing rendition of “Dinah”.

Vic McClelland was one of a kind. He was one of those rare teachers that set an outstanding example and made an impression on his students that they would carry with them all their life. He retired from the band in 1952. Well not really retired as he went back to the University and studied Biology and returned to Franklin as a Biology teacher. He arranged for one of his former band students, Phil Adams from the class of ’45, to take over the band. Phil was there for six years and moved on when he heard rumors from the administration that girls were going to join the band. 

I was in the band for four years from ’41 to ‘45 and they were some of the best years of my life. 

Days Gone By 

South District Journal 10/21/1998

By Buzz Anderson


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