It's not the first time a Steamboatin' vacation converts a first-timer
to a life-long calliope enthusiast. "During my first trip on the
Mississippi Queen." wrote member Al "Fingers" Griffin, "I fell in love
with the calliope on board -- appearance, sound, everything. So when
I got home, I bought one."
Al's portable calliope was an air-powered Tangley Calliaphone, and was powered by a simple motor like those in a vacuum cleaner. The pressure side ran the whistles while the vacuum part powered the music rolls, which could play the keyboard automatically if Al's deft fingers weren't on the keys. It was mounted in a two-wheeled cart (part of the package, Al explained). He towed it with an Oriental pedicycle, called the "Arty [sic] Shaw" by its original owner, apparently an aficionado of the band leader Artie Shaw, which featured a painting of the Golden Gate Bridge. It was originally used as a human-powered taxicab.
"The calliope weighed a ton and towing it by pedaling almost killed me," Al joked. "So I put in an electric wheel chair motor in the pedicycle so it looked like I was pedaling. It was just the right speed for parades. It could even go in reverse."
Soon Al and his calliope were fixtures in parades, circuses and carnivals in the area of his Dana Point, Calif., home. "I got kicked out of the San Juan Capistrano parade one year," he laughed while reminiscing. "I had a pretty girl riding in the pedicycle behind me, dressed as Lady Godiva. Oh, she had a bikini top and bottom, but they were covered by a long blonde wig. She had a lovely figure, and the men just loved it when the wind blew and she just loved the attention!"
Apparently, however, the woman who organized the parade, which was part of events welcoming the famed swallows back to the old mission, was not as appreciate. "She told me, 'This is a family event' and that was that," Al said, still laughing. But fortunately the folks in his home town were less prudish and Al, his calliope and Lady Godiva were popular attractions in the annual Dana Point Whale Parade, part of the festivities during the two or three week period when returning whales pass close by.
Though he still has the trusty old "Arty Shaw", Al, a retired civil engineer, has since sold the calliope, which brought him "the happiest eight years of my life." A calliope, he observed, "is much easier to play than a piano. It sounds awful even if you're playing it right," he joked. "If you mess up, you can always blame it on sticky valves!"