In March 2002 Alan Rouse had a phone conversation with Don Agard, who worked for Olds from 1952 until the plant closed in 1979 (at which time he was general manager of the plant). Following are notes from that conversation.
Don Agard lived in the Cleveland Ohio area, and as a youth (age 11) he worked for F. A. Reynolds on his farm (yes he had a farm at the same time as his brass company there). During times when there wasn’t much work to do on the farm, he sometimes worked in the brass plant. In 1947 Mr. Reynolds sold the company to the Roth company. Reynolds came to Olds in LA Calif at that time. F. A. Reynolds and his brother Harper together designed the Ambassador horns, and they were introduced in 1948. Don felt that the 28xxx serial numbers I’ve seen on these cornets had to be some of the very first Ambassadors.
In 1951 Mr. Reynolds was on a business trip to Cleveland, and he invited Don to come to LA to work at Olds. In 1952 Don took him up on the offer. Don had an engineering degree and was basically a “go-fer” at first.
In 1954 Don had responsibility for two key projects.
According to Don, trombones and trumpet/cornets had two separate serial number sequences until 1954! He says that trombones were around 45,000 – 48,000, and trumpets were around 68000 (though I don’t know for sure how solid those numbers are). He says that in January 1954, the sequence was started anew at 100,000 including both. Don reports that he was the person responsible for making that happen. His other 1954 project was the move to Fullerton. They moved the operation between March and July. It sounds like it was a painful, stressful process. After they arrived at Fullerton, it took a while to get things changed so that horns were labeled as Fullerton.
Meanwhile, Reynolds had been purchased by Roth. The general manager at one point, a Mr. Caldwell, was an Abilene native, and he opened an operation in Abilene. It turned out to be a difficult thing to keep going because there was no brass instrument industry in Abilene from which they could draw experienced employees, and so the Abilene operation never was as successful as hoped. Maybe that explains why later on, Olds was making parts in Fullerton and shipping them to Abilene for assembly (we didn’t discuss that, just my conjecture). Anyway according to Agard, RMC was “Richards Music Corp” (if I got it right) and apparently they purchased Reynolds around 1960 or so.
Then in 1964 CMI / Norlin acquired Reynolds and Olds. He wasn’t sure exactly when the Opera was introduced, just confirmed the last half of the 50’s. He spoke of a day in April 1968, when Herb Alpert and the TJB came to the Fullerton plant, with a network TV crew, to tape a two minute introduction / trailer for a show. They spent 8 hrs at the plant, just looking for spontaneous situations. At one point there was a worker hammering on a bell flare / neck joint on a mandrel, and the band started playing along with him. It brought the whole plant to a standstill! Alpert was a confirmed Benge player (and I guess endorser), though they tried to persuade him to take up an Olds.
He also mentioned that the Clark Terry model trumpet was introduced in 1977. Like everyone else, he speaks very highly of Clark. Says he’s a very personable and funny guy.
6/30/23 Editorial note: In the 20+ years since this “interview” there is a fair amount of evidence than Mr. Agard was mistaken about the timing of the merger of the trumpet and trombone serial number sequences. Recent evidence suggests that this occurred shortly after WWII around serial number 15000. Perhaps there were other serial number sequences that were merged around serial number 100000.