Today I am leaving for Austin, TX to play with Titanium Sporkestra at Honk Fest TX.
This was the first time that I have needed to ship my sousa on an airplane, so I spent the last few weeks building and perfecting a case for my sousaphone. I have always felt that the standard sousaphone cases were overly-clunky and designed to be the most difficult to carry, plus they are expensive. There are some nice molded plastic ones with wheels, but those are even more expensive. I wanted something better.
Based on my previous success with the use of pallets as a building material, I decided to visit my favorite pallet source again and procure a couple for this purpose. I cut the pallets into the rough dimensions that I would need, then set the sousa inside and made specific cuts to accomodate the odd shape. The width of the pallet and location of the cross pieces turned out to be almost perfect for this purpose.
The two pallet pieces basically sandwich together forming a top and bottom piece. I made notches and attached small pieces of scrap wood so that the top and bottom pieces would interlock together. I attached a metal latch at each of the 4 corners of the case to lock down the two pieces. With this, the basic form of the case was complete, but there were still the finishing touches to add.
The most important addition was the wheels. When we bought our house a few years ago, it came with a box of junk that included a pair of small 6″ diameter wheels with metal spokes and solid rubber “tires.” I have no idea where these wheels came from originally, but they seemed ideal for my case. I took them to Stoneway Hardware, and figured out an attachment method from Stoneway’s vast collection of nuts, bolts, and fasteners. I attached the wheels near one of the corners, so that the case could be pushed around like a wheelbarrow. The wheels are also recessed so that they are mostly within dead space within the case and only protrude out a few inches.
Building on the wheelbarrow idea, I next fashioned a removable handle out of a scrap copper pipe piece leftover from the water heater project. The pipe already had a 3/4″ threaded piece on the end, and in my box of random plumbing stuff I had a 3/4″ female piece that I could screw onto the pallet boards. I mounted the handle at exactly the perfect height where I could hold my arms at rest position while grabbing the handle and the case would be perfectly level. I also mounted it in line with the center of gravity so that the case will stay relatively balanced between the wheels while being pushed. I installed some clips just inside the case for stowing the removable part of the handle when not in use.
From the Goodwill Outlet (“The Bins”) I obtained a black velvet dress. Although the dress actually fit me pretty well, I cut it up and stapled the material to the inside of the bottom of the case to provide a soft surface that the front of the bell piece would rest against. To protect the top of the sousa, I just drape a blanket over it and tuck it underneath, and stuff a towel between the main and bell sections of the sousa so that they don’t clank together. This is an area for improvement; the blanket tends to get untucked and disheveled while in transit.
Finally, I attached a small fanny pack, also a goodwill score, to the inside of the case in a corner that was otherwise dead space. This is where my mouthpiece, neck piece, and other important accessories go.
The case plus sousa weighs in at about 70 pounds, probably about 15 pounds heavier than a standard case would be. However, it rolls like a dream, able to negotiate the poorly-maintained sidewalks in our neighborhood with ease. Also, since it is a pallet with the gaps still left between the boards, you can grab the case at almost any point to get a good grip on it. Another area for future improvement is to spend some quality time with the orbital sander to reduce the incidence of splinters.
Today the case went on its maiden voyage. This morning I rolled it through the pouring rain to the light rail station, and then negotiated it into the wheelchair securement area on the next arriving train. (I believe that playing a large instrument qualifies me as disabled and thus am allowed use of the wheelchair space.) At the airport, I wheeled the sousa over to the Southwest Airlines ticket counter and stowed the handle. The agents first looked at my “contraption” (yes, that is the word they used) with suspicion, then ascertained that it was a musical instrument, charged me a $50 overweight fee, made me sign two different damage waivers, and I had to take it to the TSA counter myself and open it for them to check for explosives. After that it was at the mercy of the baggage handlers.
I had a 2-hour layover in Phoenix and then on to Austin. The sousa was there faithfully waiting in the oversize baggage area when I arrived in Austin. I haven’t yet opened it for a full inspection, but it appears that it it arrived safely.