Tom Ross: The tale of Steamboat’s missing bassoon |

Tom Ross: The tale of Steamboat’s missing bassoon

The bassoon sits on Bill Fetcher's workbench.
Bill Fetcher/courtesy
Tom Ross
Tom Ross staff photo

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — One of the best tales Northwest Colorado had to offer in 2019, almost escaped my attention until this month. An old friend, Bill Fetcher, sent me his account of how a 57-year-old bassoon “escaped” from a yellow school bus on the way to an April music festival in Kremmling — about 49 miles over Rabbit Ears Pass from Steamboat Springs.

The bassoon, and a couple of trombones appeared to have exited the Steamboat Springs Middle School bus when it rounded a curve and a luggage bay popped open. School officials put out the word to the Colorado State Patrol and snowplowing crews were alerted, all to no avail. 

In my imagination, the bassoon, built decades earlier by crafts people in Germany, had executed an escape so that it could realize its own destiny. 

Picturing a bassoon

If you can’t picture a bassoon and the sound it makes, try to recall the children’s classic musical “Peter and the Wolf” by composer Sergei Prokofiev.  The bassoon signals the arrival of Peter’s grandfather in this orchestral music.

Of the three musical instruments in Fetcher’s story, one of the two middle school trombones was spied along the highway and recovered. But the bassoon and second trombone couldn’t be found. Had they eloped?

If the bassoon in this story truly was blessed with intent, the gig up was up almost as soon Fetcher received a phone call from a young man in Denver, Noel Balderrama, saying his mother had recovered the wayward wind instrument under a guard rail, still in its case.

How expensive are bassoons?

The wayward musical instrument at the center of this story was built in Germany (No. 7392) and purchased by the Steamboat Springs High School in 1962.  A similar used instrument today could be valued between $2,000 and $3,000. But a new Schreiber bassoon built in Germany would go for $10,000.

Balderrama spied Fetcher’s name and phone number on a worn yellow repair tag that had been attached to the handle of the instruments case ever since he repaired it  in his home workshop in 1983.

Fetcher didn’t hesitate; he drove to Denver to recover the expensive bassoon and extended a generous cash reward to Balderrama. Upon returning to Steamboat he made some repairs and collected his fee from the school, as well as being compensated for the reward. 

Bill Fetcher, seemingly can repair anything

Fetcher is one of those rare people with the skills and logic to repair an astounding range of household items.  Got a broken clock? Bill can fix it. The same is true of manual typewriters, vintage bulldozers, self-propelled hay balers, clocks, vintage toasters, broken down malted milk blenders and much more.

Repairing musical instruments is no different from repairing vintage kitchen appliance, Fetcher says. 

“They’re all machines (made of) steel brass, wood and plastic,” to conform to acoustic principles he said of musical instruments.

But the connection between Fetcher and our wayward bassoon and our story is deeper than you would think.

I was amazed to learn that Bill had been acquainted with the deep-voiced bassoon, dating back to his years at Steamboat Springs High School.

“The bassoon in question is a Schreiber No. 7392, purchased new in 1962, my sophomore year with Steamboat Springs High School and my second year as a beginning oboist,” Fetcher wrote this year in an article submitted a woodwind quarterly publication,  “The Double Reed.” (Don’t bother looking for it at the magazine rack at the grocery.)

After graduation in 1965, Fetcher went on from high school to pursue a 20-year career with the U.S. Navy where, after passing an audition on oboes, he was accepted into the Navy Music Program, and upon completing the basic music course at naval School of Music in Norfolk, Virginia. He was assigned to shore-based bands (he also played saxophone). Later, he served the Navy as an instrument repair technician. 

When Fetcher retired from the Navy and returned home to the Yampa and Elk river valleys where his family operates a cattle ranch, Bill reunited with the bassoon… really an old friend he had known for 57 years.

If you don’t agree that some inanimate objects  have a destiny all their own, consider the family heirlooms displayed on mantles and bookcases in your own home. Who will cherish them when you leave this earth?

Musical instruments in literature

Authors and filmmakers have historically celebrated the fates of inanimate objects, including musical instruments.

  • “Accordion Crimes’” a novel by Annie Proux
    Proux used a button accordion as a literary device to explore the difficulties endured by immigrants to America beginning in 1890. Her story begins with the arrival of a Sicilian accordion maker and his son in New Orleans. Their lives were extremely difficult, as were those of a string of immigrant families who came to acquire the little accordion.

  • “The Red Violin,” screenplay by Don McKellar
    Another example is that of the “Red Violin,” a novel turned into a film. The instrument in question was made in Italy in 1681 and fell into the hands of many musicians, beginning with a young prince with whom it was buried, before it was disinterred and ran off with a band of gypsies. The violin suffered gunshot wounds and love triangles through the centuries.

Tom Ross retired from the Steamboat Pilot & Today in 2018 after 36 years in the newspaper business. He continues to write a regular column for the paper.

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