Two Drumsticks and a Squad Car - September, 1956
I went off to Purdue in September and left the Jimmy Stephenson band to play a gig in Lemont without me, their leader. I was in my new world only a few days when I started hearing reports of an unusual happening at the gig. I asked my informants to write independent accounts of what went on. Here's what I got:
From a non band member:
. . . . . they played fine and everything was OK except there was quite an
"incident" beforehand. Li'l Jim forgot his drum sticks and being over
the police station, they asked a cop (who had had too much to drink)
if they could borrow a squad car to get their drum sticks.
He mumbled something so Tommy, Jim, and I don't know who else set off with blinker
flashing and siren going and went speeding down and back for the drum
When they got back two sober cops were waiting for them and ushered them into the station and gave them the 3rd degree, but finally let them go to go play in the orchestra. It'll go bad for them if they ever get picked up again in Lemont--that's for sure.
Almost didn't have everybody. Salbego forgot drum sticks so Nelson, Little Jim, Barnett, and Mau (came with Barnett) took squad car to get them. I didn't know about this and 10 minutes later cop told us they took squad. We couldn't believe him, but it was true. Cops were frantic. When characters got back they said they asked cop and he said, "Take the squad." Cop maintains he said, "See the Sarge." Anyway chief of police gave them a lecture (were they scared!) and let them go.
From Palmer Kloster, a sub:
All didn't go so well at Lemont. Barnett, Tom, and the Drum player (can't remember his name) got into trouble before the dance if that's possible. When I got up stairs at the hall, I was greeted with the stirring words "are you missing anyone". As I and Williams looked around we discovered something. We were missing some one, in fact 3 someones. Than the police relatid [sic] the fact that 4 boys were seen gitting [sic] into the police car and now it was missing and so were three of our boys. This posed a problem. Why did they take the police car. No body in there [sic] right mind would do that. Then I thought of thoes [sic] three and knew it was possible. Meanwhile, the police and the people who were there weren't very happy with us, especially the police. They called Lockport police, for one of the bandmembers over heard the drummer say he forgot his sticks. Well soon they came back and were ushered into the police station in a hurry. What happened down there I don't know. I was busy sorting out all the waltzes, but I thought for sure we'd be playing minus three players. They were down there about 45 minutes and they came up happy the police let them go with a lecture. Then is when I found out why they took it. The drummer forgot his sticks so they asked one of the policemen if they could use his car and he said unknowingly YES. They didn't need his car for Tom had his there. I hope this doesn't runen [sic] our chances of having another dance in Lemont.
So now from the beginning are the details of the story of two drum-sticks
and a sqaad car.
7:45 P.M. - I had just arrived at Lemont city hall for a dance that starts at 8:30. Charles, "Willum," Palmer, and Dennis our piano player were present.
7:50 P.M. - Four policemen came running up the stairs three steps at a time, and asked us if any of our members were absent. We told them that four were but one (Bobby Joe) couln't be there because he was injured in the football game last night. According to them our men had stolen the squad car.
7:55 P.M. - All except Palmer were taken downstairs for questioning. After telling all we knew the captain called the Lockport police, the State police for a radio call, and Mr. Salbego.
8:10 P.M. - A black Chevy squad car pulled up in front and the four policemen ran out with their "billy clubs" and ordered the occupants out of the car with their hands behind their heads. After questioning the occupants, Jim Salbego, Wayne Barnett, Jay Mau, and the driver Thomas Nelson we learned this:
Jimmy had forgotten his drumsticks and Thomas's car wouldn't go over 25 M.P.H. so they asked one of the bluecoats, "Could we have a ride in the squad car to get a pair of drumsticks?" The policeman told them, "Go see the Sarge, he's standing outside." Thinking he had told them, "See the squad, it's outside," they took off.
8:29 P.M. - All occupants were released on the understanding that they play plenty of polkas that evening.
* * * * * * * *
More than 50 years later---in June, 1959---squad-car driver Wayne Barnett finally came clean with the definitive account of the incident:
Well here is the "real story" of what happened:
The infamous "Stolen Lemont Squad Car" story.
by Wayne B. Barnett, Criminal @ Large
We booked the gig as a wedding reception and it was to be held in the hall above the Lemont Police station on the main drag, downtown Lemont. I remember all band members were driven to the gig, including Nelson. I don't remember him having his dad's fish truck that night. My parents drove me and my bass to the gig in our 56 Chevy 210 station wagon.
Early on Salbego announced he had forgotten his drum sticks and we all kinda panicked knowing we had no transportation. A uniformed cop was standing by the stairs leading down to the street. Mau, Salbego, Nelson and I walked up the the cop and explained our dilemma. One of us said almost jokingly, "Hey, can we borrow the squad to get the sticks?" I swear to God his reply was "The squad is down in front." We didn't need to hear another word and we poured down the steps. I made it to the driver's seat first and we shot out of Lemont, down New Avenue toward Lockport. Of course having all the buttons and stuff to play with, we played with them. One switch made the siren work when the horn ring was pushed. So I pushed it. A lot. Another switch turned on these neat red flashing lights on top the car, so of course we used them as well. We roared past 4 or 5 cars on New Avenue and it was neat to see them brake to the side. What power! No wonder people want to be a cop. Mau kept playing with the police radio and we kept hearing some crap about a stolen squad car and that every jurisdicton should be on the look out for it, including Lockport Police, State Police and Sheriff's police. We though nothing of the reports because we were not in a stolen squad, we had permission to use it.
As we tooled down State St toward Salbego's house (flashers off at this point) and with me still driving, I said "Lets head up Division St to my house to show my Mom & Dad". OK. I pulled in my driveway and hit the siren and lights. My parents came screaming out the door as well as a couple neighbors. Not wanting to waste time, I rolled down the window and said "Hi Mom. Hi Dad. The Lemont Police let us use this. Isn't this cool?" Numerous profanities later from my Dad, we decided he was not going to understand so off we went again.
We swung into Salbegos drive, he ran into the house, retrieved his drum sticks and off we went. I think Nelson was now driving. The same basic treatment was given to the squad on the way back. The radio reports of the stolen squad had intensified but of course they still didn't apply to us.
As we neared Lemont, Tommy shut off the siren and lights to be more cool. As we approached the first (major?) intersection on main street, we observed a uniformed police officer standing in the middle of the road holding a shotgun. Tommy said, "I guess we should stop." We did.
We were escorted into the jail and immediately were interrogated by half a dozen police, including the Chief. We kept to our story and the cops just yelled at one another, pissed off that an additional squad was not available to give chase.
After about 20 minutes of this crap and about 5 minutes before we were to begin playing, one of our members....don't remember who, reminded the Police Chief that if we didn't get upstairs, there would be no music for the bride and groom. The Chief looked dumbfounded and finally said, "OK. I'm going to let you go with the understanding that you never, and I mean never, tell anyone about this incident. Especially to another cop."
We all agreed, ran upstairs and did our gig. It was a great nite.
Oh, I almost forgot. The bride was the daughter of the Police Chief.