I’m going to have to start at the beginning for this one… Two weeks ago, I was on the beach attempting to be completely off-grid for a week, on my first extended personal vacation in who knows how long. At the airport, on my way home, I checked my email on my phone and Kevin from Firefly Bicycles had sent me some information about an inquiry that they had received from a film maker about helping a boy actualize his lifelong dream of being in his high school marching band. The film maker, Sean Fine of Fine Films, explained in the email that the fourteen year old boy has progeria and that he can’t use any of the standard marching band equipment, because it is too big and heavy for his body. His parents were looking for someone to build some kind of custom harness to comfortably attach him to his scaled-down snare drum, so that he could play and march in the band. Kevin passed my info on to Sean, so that I could get some details. Sean passed my info on to Leslie, the mother of the boy. We went back and forth via email for a few days trying to figure out a time when I could meet them and see if a simple retrofit could solve the problem. I suggested over email that they just drop all of the gear that they had off at my office, and I would just make it all fit together somehow or make it smaller or something.
Leslie, Scott, and Sam came by on Sunday, and I inspected their existing harness. I tried to think of any possible way to avoid making an entire custom system for Sam, but it appeared to be the only option. Sam’s parents, Leslie and Scott, had looked everywhere for an off-the-shelf solution and had tried everything to make the current gear work. They needed something fast - Sam’s marching band camp was starting the next day. We started talking about where Sam was experiencing the most pain, and what parts of the current harness were causing the most problems and I began to get a feel for what he needed. I was picturing a system that took most of the load off of Sam’s shoulders, instead relying more on his waist for support (much like a hiking pack - but reversed). I had an idea of how to make something that would work. I took a lot of measurements of Sam and his drum, made a couple of reference sketches and then they left.
That night I roughed out a design for an ergonomically-formed metal frame assembly that would be easy (well, relatively) to fabricate, light and strong. Within twenty-four hours of our meeting I had designed, programmed, cut, and formed Sam’s new snare drum harness. It was made from the only piece of stock that I had in the office, a 12x24” sheet of 0.090” 3000-series aluminum. I had barely been able to nest a cnc toolpath for the three parts that I needed onto the available amount of material. The bare frame assembly weighed only 0.8-lbs. Sam and Leslie came in for a rough fitting, they were very excited about the new harness, and I was very pleased that everything fit as intended.
The next day I lined the inner contact regions of the aluminum frame with 0.375-in thick neoprene rubber and assembled a strap system from a variety of different nylon straps, catches, and buckles that I had laying around.
Leslie, Scott, and Sam came by to pick up the fully-assembled harness system on Wednesday afternoon. We mounted the drum to the frame, and Sam was finally able to march around comfortably. After we double checked everything and practiced taking the harness on and off a few times, they headed back to the night session of Sam’s marching band camp so that he could show everyone how well he could play and march. This is the most rewarding project that I have ever worked on. I’m going to see Sam play during the half-time show at a high school football game next month. It is going to be awesome.