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The Harley Sadler Tent Show Marimba

"I obtained this instrument from the son of Harley Sadler's attorney. Apparently, when Harley Sadler retired from show business and accepted a seat in the Texas Legislature, he gave the Tent Show's marimba to his good friend (and attorney) as a gift. I was told by the attorney's son that he inherited the instrument instead of his brother due to the fact that his brother always objected to the instrument being set up in the family's living room!
The instrument is a Deagan 4.5 octave Marimba-Xylophone, C - F On the little brass plate affixed to the instrument, it says the following: "Quality Deagan Marimba Xylophone Catalogue #4726 Manufactured by J.C. Deagan Musical Bells Inc. Chicago, USA"

Quotes From The Son Of The Original Recipient

The following is an excerpt from the initial letter I received with the instrument, written by Harley Sadler's attorney's son;

"Steven, As to the condition of the instrument, since it was built in or about 1906, and used in the Harley Sadler tent shows; which I assume it was set up, torn down and moved once or twice a week for years, I considered the instrument to be in very good condition. When it was given to my Father in the late 1930's he set it up in his house and played it occasionally. It stayed in his house until 1971; at that time I moved it to my new house and played it occasionally. I restrung it in the late 70's or early 80's. It stayed in my house until I packed it to ship it to you. The instrument is in original condition! If you want to have the bars refinished, that is your decision but I think you should keep it original as an antique. I hope that you enjoy the instrument and again I feel that the instrument will outlast you in the condition that it is in now. Afterall, it is over 90 years old!"

The 1906 date that he refers to is actually a patent date, and the instrument was probably manufactured much later.


Not much was done or needed in the way of restoration. The thick rosewood bars were sent to Gilberto Serna at Century Mallet Instruments in Chicago. Serna's business is headquartered in the original Deagan building, which caused me to speculate on whether or not these marimba bars have a soul. If so, they most certainly realized that they were in the same place that they were originally manufactured in, decades before! We opted not to have the bars refinished, in order not to tamper with their historical value, and not to tamper with their beautiful, earthy tone. The instrument came in its original heavy-duty, hardshell, trunk-like travelling cases; just two such cases are required to house the entire instrument. The instrument conveniently breaks down into four sections, which fit into the cases with the utmost in efficiency. I imagine these were custom-made to help facilitate the necessity of constant tear-downs and set-ups during the usual string of Chautauqua "One-Nighters".

The Usual Suspects

According to our research, the instrument was probably manned by a Paul Thardo, who was the xylophonist with the Harley Sadler troupe. We've located a file in one of the research libraries in Texas that contains the following materials pertaining to Mr. Thardo and his career;

Kalmbacher, Paul C. Papers, 1878-1970 1 microfilm reel (100 ft.) : negative Consists of scrapbooks containing photographs, programs, postcards, newsclippings, correspondence, and other materials concerned with Kalmbacher's family and their association with tent theaters which traveled throughout Texas during the 1920s and 1930s. Born in Linesville, Pennsylvania, Kalmbacher grew up in the Tuttle Olympic Show, of which his parents were a part. He married Daisy Lowe, daughter of a grocer in Lubbock, and they had a son, Conrad. Known professionally as Paul Thardo, he was an actor, drummer and xylophonist. During his later life, he was associated with the companies of Roy E. Fox, Harley Sadler, Harvey Haverstock and other tent shows. Kalmbacher died on May 16, 1982.

Books about Chautauqua, Tent Shows & Harley Sadler

To read more about Harley Sadler, the world of Tent Shows and the Chautauqua Circuit, click on the cover of the Harley Sadler book (right) or follow this link to read an article about Harley Sadler, the first man to make a million dollars from a tent show!