The Wabash Washboard

by Ange Albsmeyer, Indiana State Museum volunteer

I have been a volunteer in the Indiana State Museum conservation lab for about eight months. My job is to do some of the more basic tasks around the lab to help free up conservator Gaby Kienitz to work her magic in repairing, cleaning and restoring museum artifacts. I have vacuumed dust off of the sport coat Ernie Pyle wore to a meeting with Eleanor Roosevelt. I have photographed a 19th century floor sample coffin, cleaned stage props used by an acting troupe from the late 1800, and helped repair an 1830s quilt. And I’ve had fun doing all of it — and learned a lot about Indiana history along the way.

But my favorite project to date has been the restoration of the Wabash Washboard — a handmade, one-of-a-kind musical instrument used by Paul “Hezzie” Trietsch of the 1940s novelty band the Hoosier Hot Shots. The instrument will be featured in the upcoming Odd Indiana exhibit that opens on Sept. 4.

Hezzie’s washboard is more than just a rhythm instrument — he could play fairly complicated melodies with the attached horns and cowbells. If you watch the video “She Broke My Heart in Three Places,” at the end of the number you can see how skillful a musician Hezzie was on his Wabash Washboard.

From years in storage after hard use on stage and in the studio, some of the rubber bulbs on the horns were missing or needed replacement. The original duct tape holding the bulbs in place was slowly peeled off and preserved — parts of which may be returned to the instrument because it would look more authentic than using all new tape. The replacement orange bulbs looked too shiny and new next to the originals, so umber coloring was used to “age” them to blend in with the original horn bulbs.

I like to think that Hezzie would be pleased (and maybe a little amused) at all the work that has been put into bring his Wabash Washboard back to life. Oh, and though the instrument will never again be used on stage, the new bulbs have been tested and sound as good as new, too!

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