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Let’s Talk About Purdue Traditions

What about the drum?

Space USA baboreally

For a few years when Purdue was terrible at football, I would try and write articles about anything but that sport. I am still doing this even though Purdue has fielded a competent team for two consecutive years.

So today we will discuss traditions at Purdue. And what better place to find traditions that the official university webpage: I will copy the information from that site about some of the more interesting traditions and then comment on each tradition.

Big Bass Drum

Known as the “world’s largest drum,” it stands 10 feet tall on its field carriage and is handled by a crew of four band members with two beaters. The drum draws attention wherever it goes from fans who want their picture taken with the instrument. It still has its original 1921 frame, which is eight feet in diameter and nearly four feet between its two heads.

I like the drum. It is pretty neat as far as marching band gimmicks go. I do notice that the official Purdue line is that it is “known as the ‘world’s largest drum’”, not that it actually is the world’s largest drum. A clever bit of not-quite-lying.

Another fun fact about the drum. The song “1921” by The Who was written because Pete Townshend was impressed that the drum still had its original frame made in 1921. The song includes a reference to the drum. It appears at the beginning of the album Tommy. In the song Tommy witnesses his long-lost father murder his stepdad. Commonly misheard lyrics are actually as follows:

What about the drum?
What about the drum?
What about the drum?
It’s ten feet tall!


The moniker for the University’s athletics teams has become a popular reference for all things Purdue. A reporter first used the name in 1891 to describe the year’s winning football team and quickly gained approval from students.

I like the name Boilermakers. Unique team names, even if terrible are preferred to generic names. I mean Buckeyes is a lame name for a team, but it is light years better than Wildcats.

Boilermaker Special

The locomotive design of Purdue’s official mascot celebrates the University’s renowned engineering programs. The first Boilermaker Special was presented in September 1940 and has been used to announce campus events ever since. Rides on the Special can be arranged through the Purdue Reamer Club.

Having a fake train that is actually like a small bus is pretty cool. My friend rented it out for his wedding and we got to ride around in it. I “wrote” a best man speech in the ride from the church to the reception place. It was not great, but somehow not embarrassing. I believe I stole a line from the priest’s sermon at the wedding.

Grand Prix

This 50-mile, 160-lap go-kart race is “The Greatest Spectacle in College Racing” and wraps up Gala Week each year. All 33 participating karts are made from scratch by student teams. The event has been raising money for student scholarships since it began in 1958.

The Grand Prix is pretty cool I guess. I have never been to it, nor was I excited when it was Grand Prix Week because I did not care about partying at frats and/or sororities and/or cooperative housing. I think a lot of people compare it to IU’s Little 500 which was immortalized in a movie starring the guy who did VO for The Wonder Years.

I do like how the Purdue website has gotten bolder as the page continues. Rather than saying that “it is known” as the “The Greatest Spectacle in College Racing”, it just “is”.

“Hail Purdue”

While University events are the most likely place for Boilermakers to join in a chorus of Purdue’s official fight song, it’s not uncommon to hear it somewhere on campus every day. The song was composed in 1912 by Edward Wotawa (music) and James Morrison (lyrics).

As far as school songs go, “Hail Purdue” is pretty good. It was also the fight song (with changed words of course) of my high school so I am pretty used to hearing it. I was not aware that the controversial “Lizard King” wrote the lyrics, but it says he was. I did not remember that part of the Oliver Stone movie.

Old Gold and Black

Purdue’s colors were adopted in 1887, the first year of Purdue football. It was decided that colors were needed to achieve distinction, and the captain of the football team that year proposed the colors.

As far as school colors go, Old Gold and Black are pretty good. Apparently the pilot episode of Netflix’s prison drama was called Old Gold is the New Black, but executives made them change the title.

Old Oaken Bucket

Found on a farm in southern Indiana, the oaken bucket is one of the oldest football trophies in the nation. The winner of the annual Purdue-Indiana football game gets to add a bronze “P” or “I” chain link and keep the trophy until the next face-off. Ironically, the first competition in 1925 led to a 0-0 tie, resulting in the first link on the chain being an “IP.”

The OOB is a really good rivalry trophy. It is easy to pick up at the end of the game, and the I and P links are a cool way to show who won the games. In an interview in Guitar World magazine in 2002, weirdo guitarist Buckethead said he named himself after the Old Oaken Bucket.

Purdue Pete

What started as an advertising logo for the University Bookstore in 1940 has become one of the most recognized symbols for the school.

Purdue Pete is the best. He really is. Purdue Pete had a son named Rowdy while I was at the school that was one of those giant inflatable things. In 2011, New Purdue Pete came along and was never seen from again.

In another link between Tommy and Purdue, a new version of the song “1921” replaced the original version in the 2018 Roger Daltrey tour that included a full orchestra that performed Tommy in full. The new version was called “2011”. Changed lyrics from this version implied that Purdue Pete murdered New Purdue Pete and Rowdy was there to witness it. Here are some of the lyrics, judge for yourself:

So you think two thousand eleven
Is going to be a good year
It could be good for Purdue Pete
But New Purdue Pete, no never!

What about Rowdy?
What about Rowdy?
What about Rowdy?
He’s ten feet tall!