Phantom Regiment's food truck
By Michael Boo^Becky Nelson, a 3rd-grade teacher from Rockford, Ill., has been a cook for Phantom Regiment for 22 years. Prior to that, while in high school, she wanted to march with the corps, but her parents wouldn't let her. So, she settled for being a fan, going to the big DCI Midwest competition in Whitewater, Wis., every year, enjoying Phantom Regiment's annual "Show of Shows," and watching the DCI show on PBS each year. She went to college and earned degrees in music education and elementary education. During college and in the summer of her first year of teaching, she served as a cook at a summer youth camp for up to 600 youth. But she never forgot her desire to march with the corps.Becky remembers how her life changed. "Twenty-two years ago, there was a paragraph in the Regiment's booster club newsletter inviting people who were interested in cooking the following summer to a meeting. I tried to go to that meeting, but I got lost. I reached the corps by telephone, and they invited me to New Year's camp. I went and was introduced to several people. The corps was very interested in the fact that I had experience cooking for large groups. "Since the previous head cooks were 'retiring,' Regiment needed almost a whole new crop of cooks. Gary Krug would be doing the ordering for the coming summer, and he and I just hit it off. I ended up helping him plan menus and do the ordering for the rest of the camps that year. Since I was single and had the summer off, I could travel more easily than Gary. He traveled some, but it's hard for a family man to volunteer his whole summer. We planned the menus for the entire summer and he did all the ordering. "In the early years, we cooked with seven roasters, three griddles and two charcoal grills. Everything we used on tour, including our food, was stored in the fifth wheel area of the equipment trailer. Inevitably, the gallon of French dressing I needed for supper would be in the back of the bottom shelf. It was always at least 120 degrees in the truck. :) "Because most of our cooking was done in roasters in the hallways of schools, the two most important questions we asked the maintenance men were 'where are the fuse boxes' and 'is there a 24-hour grocery store in town?' "We then advanced to carrying everything in a refrigerated box truck. Since there were no permanent shelves, we had to restack everything every day. The refrigeration went out on the truck several times that year, and we lost several hundred dollars worth of meat each time. That was not a fun summer. "Our next advance was moving to a refitted Winnebago that was not designed to carry the weight that kitchen appliances added to it. Numerous funny things happened in the Winnebago that summer. Several of us would sleep in the aisle on the floor each night as we traveled. One night, we had a breakdown of some sort, but we made it to a gas station that could help us. One of our cooks was sleeping so soundly we couldn't wake her up. When she did wake up, the Winnebago was in the air on the hoist, and she could do nothing. "Another day, on the way back from a 24-hour grocery store, a gallon of Thousand Island dressing fell out of the refrigerator and exploded all over the floor. When we got to the school, I tried to clean it up, but slipped, fell, and hit my head real hard. We got breakfast going (we had French toast that morning), but I had a terrible headache, so I went to lie down. In retrospect, I may have had a concussion, because I went to sleep and they couldn't wake me up until well into the evening of that day. "When the corps started talking about building a cook truck, my dad, a mechanical contractor, got involved. Kevin Nesmith, a Regiment board member and former Regiment drum major, went to Bloomington to study Star of Indiana's truck. He, Gary, my dad and I then studied the pictures he had taken and made plans for our truck. I still remember the day we stood inside the shell of the new cook truck and spray painted shapes on the blank wall of the truck so we could picture where the oven, toaster, and serving line would be. "Dad, due to his background, took over the building of the truck. At first, the corps wanted the truck ready for second tour (which started after the Drum Corps Midwest Championship at that time). Sometime in mid-May, the corps changed its mind and wanted the truck ready for first tour. There were many 12- to 14-hour days where we worked to get the truck ready, but we did it. I remember being scared to use the new truck. The first meal we cooked on the truck, we bravely plugged the roasters into the outlets of the truck instead of outlets in the hallway. "This will be the 16th year for us in the truck. It still has most of its original equipment, and there are very few things I would change if I had to do it all over again. I'm very proud of 'my truck.' I still think it's one of the best in the activity. "I'm sad about not being able to say I marched in Phantom Regiment. But, I do take a great deal of satisfaction and pride in knowing that I have had a part of getting a corps on the field for 22 years. "I didn't get to wear a member's uniform, so my apron has become my uniform. I don't carry a drill chart, so a menu becomes my guide. I won't point a horn at the press box, so my smile and my encouraging words have to be my music. The satisfaction that comes from knowing that I have done my part has to be -- in some way -- like the satisfaction the kids get from marching a great show. "I'm very proud to be a part of the Phantom Regiment. Although I'll never get to be on the field, in my own little way, I feel like I'm a part of what's happening on the field every night." Here are Becky's answers to some questions posed to her. What's it like seeing the country at night? Becky: I used to sit in the front of the bus, and the staff bus is usually at the end of the line. I loved watching the line of taillights that made up the caravan, especially when we were on a road that didn't have a lot of traffic. I loved listening to the drivers jabber and keep each other awake and entertained. It's beautiful driving through cities and seeing them all lit up at night. There are times in the last two years that I've missed that. The cooks ride in a tour bus now, and I'm usually asleep in a bunk ten minutes after we pull out of the parking lot. (I'm not getting any younger.) :) When you go home after tour, do you still wake up early, ready to start breakfast for the masses? Becky: My schedule abruptly switches from corps mode to schoolteacher mode. I miss being outside all the time. I miss the camaraderie of the cooks on the truck. I miss saying 'good morning' to the kids, and it is an adjustment to just cook for just one person again. Have you ever woken up wondering what state you were in? Becky: All the time. :) (Are we still in Ohio?) :) What's the camaraderie like between your crew and crews from other corps? Becky: I can't speak for the activity. I just know that the cooks from the Regiment rarely get to spend time with any other cooking staff. Now and then, two corps will have a joint snack after a show. Now and then, other cooks will ask to see our truck, or we'll go see someone else's new truck. I wish it were different. What are the funniest things that have happened to you in the process of doing your job? Becky: Water fights that erupt while using the hoses to clean up or fill coolers are great stress reducers! I once laid down in the shade of a big maple tree to take a nap. When I woke up, the snare line had circled me (they wanted the shade, too) and had been playing for an hour. In the first year on the truck we had to have spaghetti sauce over bread because I turned on the back burner and put the water for the pasta on the front burner. Every time we load 10 to 12 days food on the truck, we think, 'There's no way all of this stuff is going in,' but it usually does. What warms your heart? Becky: Every thank-you said every day. Having the horn line make an arc outside the truck and playing a private concert for the cooks. Mmmmmmm! What about new friends? Becky: I have met some of the greatest people doing this job. We have a saying in the Regiment that 'cooks never age out.' Our main cooks are parents of kids who aged out several years ago, yet the parents are still cooking. The friendships that are forged during those long, exhausting, hot summer days last all winter and for years afterward. What about the drudgery and joy of the routine? Becky: When I get home, I do not want to do dishes for a month. There is drudgery, but you learn to make the best of it because there is also joy. Every time the corps comes running up to the truck screaming, 'It's taco day!,' or 'It's chicken patty day!,' my insides just smile. When I can pull ice cream out for a snack after a really hot day -- mmmmmm! When we finish serving a meal in less than 20 minutes, and the kids have 40 minutes to relax -- that's a good feeling. When I climb on the bus at the end of the night and I think through the day about meals that were on time, hot (or cold), nutritious, and pleasing to most everyone -- there's joy to that. Do you every feel you have to be a volunteer because there's no way they could pay you enough to do what you do? Becky: I choose every summer to volunteer. My paycheck comes in the form of a smile and a 'thank you' as I pass a meal out the serving window, and as I watch the show each night knowing I had a little part in the day of these talented kids. Money can't do that." After a hard day, has a kid ever said anything that has made the entire day worth it? Becky: Yes, yes, yes. The 'kids' are why I'm still at this. Calling all readers -- Have you had a memorable drum corps instructor? They might be famous or not even known outside your own corps. Please share your memories with us for consideration in a future "Fanfare" column.    Send your contribution to Michael Boo at Please put "Memorable Instructors" in the Subject heading at the top of your e-mail. Please include your name, hometown, corps affiliation (if applicable) and years marching with or working with the corps (if applicable). No anonymous comments, please. We will credit you for your contribution. Michael Boo has been involved with drum and bugle corps since 1975, when he marched his first of three seasons with the Cavaliers. He has a bachelor's degree in music education and a masters degree in music theory and composition.   He has written about the drum corps activity for over a quarter century for publications such as Drum Corps World, and presently is involved in a variety of projects for Drum Corps International, including souvenir program books, CD liner notes, DCI Update and Web articles, and other endeavors.Michael currently writes music for a variety of idioms, is a church handbell and vocal choir director, an assistant director of a community band, and a licensed Realtor in the state of Indiana. His other writing projects are for numerous publications, and he has published an honors-winning book on the history of figure skating.His hobbies include TaeKwonDo and hiking the Indiana Dunes.But more than anything, Michael is proud to love drum corps and to be a part of the activity in some small way, chronicling various facets of each season for the enjoyment of others.