Keller, Baxter

Interviewer: Jean McMillen
Place of Interview: Scoville Library
Date of Interview:
File No: 2 Cycle: 4
Summary: Grove swim team, Boy Scouts, Marines, Holley-Williams Camp, guitars, scuba diving, Sultans of Soot, The Casino

Interview Audio

Interview Transcript

Baxter Keller Interview:

This is file #2, cycle 4. Today’s date is November 6, 2018. This is Jean McMillen. I am interviewing Baxter Keller. He is going to talk about his house, The Casino, growing up in the area, boy scouts, the Holley-Williams Camp, the Grove, his military experiences, and anything else we wants to talk about. But first we’ll start with the really difficult stuff.

JM:What is your name?

BK:My name is Baxter Keller.

JM:How did you come to the area?

BK:My folks moved here when I was 4 or 5 years old (c. 1992).

JM:They bought “The Casino”.

BK:They did.

JM:The Casino means what? What was it originally?

BK:The Casino was a spot where all the workers from Barnum & Richardson Iron works got together.

JM:It was not for gambling?

BK:No, no it wasn’t. That goes back from what I understand to the Italian population who called any kind of social center a casino.

JM:How large is the house? How many rooms?

BK:The upstairs was one big room and there were 4 or 5 original rooms on the first floor.

JM:The second floor at one time was used for showing movies, I think.

BK:Yeah there is a trap door which leads to a projector booth on one side. Throughout the years it was also a print block studio.

JM:Oh yes, Wallack I think the name was. I think they had dances there too.

BK:I am sure they did.

JM:Do you know when your parents bought the house?

BK:It was 25 years ago (1993 Ed.)

JM:Have they done any renovation with it?



BK:They have. We have renovated the main part of the house and added the new wing to it. If fact when they bought the house, the roof was caving in, the previous owners just basically abandoned it. They moved to the city. Water was running upstairs. It was almost 6 months to a year after they had purchased it before my parents, my brother and I were able to move in. My dad just worked on it.

JM:Your dad likes project like that.

BK:Oh yes he loves it.

JM:He is good at it too. When did you meet George fitting?

BK:Probably that first year I moved to town. I have known him as long as I can remember.

JM:Were you at school together?

BK:Yes or some sort of activity.

JM:You went to Salisbury Central, didn’t you?

BK:I did.

JM:The high school?

BK:Yes, but 7th and 8th grade I went to a private school in Virginia; it was a military school.


BK:I thought it would be fun. I convinced my parents, too.

JM:Was it fun?

BK:Oh yeah. It made me independent and I felt like taking on the responsibility. It was a good life experience.

JM:You had a special group of friends. Who were they?

BK:They were George Fitting, Matt Winters, and Adrien Delessert. The four of us pretty much did everything together in those early years.

JM:How long were your 4 together? Until you all went off to college?

BK:Yeah, when George went to Steiner School in Gt. Barrington and that was 6th grade. He went there and we lost touch then and he came back to Salisbury. I had gone and I went to Virginia.

JM:Do you still hang together or not?

BK:Yeah we do when we can. We see each other.

JM:Now you were in Boy Scouts up in Canaan.3.

BK:Yes, I went through all of the levels until Boy Scouts. {Cub Scout levels are Lion (kindergarten), Tiger (1st grade), Wolf, (2nd grade or age 8) Bear, (3rd grade and Weblos (4th & 5th grade) Ed.}. I worked through the first two years of actual boy scouts before activities changed my direction.

JM:You spoke about a Pinewood Derby. What is that?

BK:It is getting kids together to make an engineering project. You get a block of pine wood, 4 wheels and 4 nails and the rules in terms of weight. You make a little car and you race it down the track, competing against all the other kids. It is a great way for everyone to have a competition and use their minds.

JM:Did you work as a team or as an individual?

BK:As an individual.

JM:Did you win?

BK:A couple of times. I have the trophies from about 1996. The trophies are so old now the date and plaque with my name on it has fallen off.

JM:You have been polishing it so much!


JM:How old were you then?

BK: I was a cub scout so about age 8 or 9; I can’t remember.

JM:You went to the Holley-Williams Camp. Did you go with the 3 boys?

BK:I am pretty sure, yes.

JM:Did you go once or more than once?

BK:At least once, but maybe 2 or 3 times.

JM:I asked you what you remembered and you aid chasing insects and butterflies.

BK:Oh yeah we did that in the little maze behind the house. That was a lot of fun.

JM:After you chased the insects and the butterflies, did you have to identify them?

BK:We probably had to identify them with Jane fitting involved with it. I remember we made those little hand- woven mat trivets for hot plates and things like that.

JM:She and Lou were very good about hand-on things: cooking, sewing, 19th century games and that sort of thing. It was a different kind of camp.


BK:We learned a lot of useful things there. Up until our last conversation I didn’t really identify them, they were just fun.

JM:You spent some time at the Grove too, I bet.

BK: A lot of time.

JM:How did you get there bicycle?

BK:Yeah usually I biked there or my mom would drop me off in the morning, wave good=bye to me, and be home for dinner.

JM:Were you on the swim team?

BK:Yep I was on the swim team with other kids, not my special friends.

JM:Who taught if Jackie Rice or Art Wilkinson?

BK:It was Jackie Rice. Art was always kind of in the background.

JM:How long were you on swim team?

BK:Forever. I continued through high school on swim team.

JM:How about college?

BK:I went into the military right after high school. I was a Marine Combat Instructor of Underwater Survival. I was very highly trained.

JM:Did you specialize in a particular stroke on swim team?

BK:I was a free style, back stroke and breast stroke swimmer. I did not do butterfly. It was too much effort for the outcome.

JM:You were a life guard too?

BK:I was. Before I was a life guard, I was the 10 year old kid that Jackie Rice would give the ice cream bars to “drown”. So the life guard would come get me.

JM:You were “the dummy” in the pool.

BK:I was.

JM:You got free ice cream for this. I bet you got a lot of ice cream.

BK:I did. They had to stop as apparently it was, “Aw that is just Baxter.” When they would come out to get me, I would just dive down and sit on the bottom.

JM:Oh you were a nasty little boy.5.

BK:I was a terror. I would hide under the raft and pinch people’s ankles and they would think the fish were biting them. I had such a good time.

JM:Typical boy. Did you ever participate in the fishing opening day contest at the Grove?

BK:I did a couple of times. I like fishing but it was never a passion. I prefer being in the water like swimming with the fish underwater.

JM:Do you remember who the Grove Manager was at the time?

BK:Stacey Dodge?

JM:She has been doing it for over 20 years. It probably was Stacey. It went Frank Markey, (See tape #78A&B, Frank Markey) Jim Rutledge, (See tape #150A, Jim Rutledge) John Pogue (See file #29, cycle 3, John Pogue) and Stacey Dodge. (See file #40, Stacey Dodge)

JM:When did you go into the military?

BK:Right after high school I took the summer off to have one last summer and then joined up in 2006.

JM:Did you go into the military because of the military school in Virginia or was there family background?

BK:I don’t think the school had much to do with it. I had a lot of family members who had been in the military. My grandfather on my dad’s side was Army air born during World War II at Corregidor and the Pacific islands. That was unreal. Two of my uncles on my mother’s side were both officers, but they are both retired now.

JM:There was a reason for you going into the military.

BK:I had options at school, but it was more interesting to be in the service.

JM:What branch were you in?

BK:I enlisted in the Marines.

JM:How many tours did you do?

BK:I did one tour in Afghanistan which was pretty much all of 2009 10 and ½ months.

JM:You said you were trained for Green side Reconnaissance?

BK:Our official title was Amphibious Reconnaissance. We were the people in the Marines who jumped out of airplanes and did the scuba diving. We had several different objectives while we were overseas, part of which was the green side which was surveillance and everything that comes with that:


enemy movement, watching cows, developing standards of how they interact, who is directing them, and so on. Then we provided that information for it to be acted upon at a different level. The other side of our job was actually jumping out of helicopters, taking over buildings or capturing specific people or helping shape the battlefield before the infantry came in.

JM:That sounds awesome and I mean that sincerely.

BK:It was something else. It was really dangerous. I turned 21 in Afghanistan. There would be 6 or 12 or 18 of us would go into a town a week or a few days before the infantry would go in. In 2009 there was a really big push to take down the bottleneck. Obama had jumped the number of Marines up to 250,000. We were really trying to get it over with. We would go in, get help, and clear the space for the infantry guys so that when they came in… The accountants were there to pay the fighters, the mercenaries. They won’t fight until they get paid. So what we did over there was if we capture the accountant, the fighters will not fight. Thus our guys will need less assistance.

JM:You were trained to jump out of airplanes?

BK:I was. We were one of the only few Marine corps troops that would go through airborne school. Some years after my grandfather, I went to the same school that he did. That was pretty cool.

JM:I bet it had changed some.

BK:Probably it was a little different. Parachuting has not changed all that much. When I graduated, he gave me his original parajumping wings that he got. I still have those. When you graduate from air born school, they give you a lapel pin that is parachute with a set of wings enfolded.

JM:Were you in Iraq?

BK:No just Afghanistan.

JM:Where did you do your training?

BK:Primarily we were in Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. I went to Paris Island for boot camp. The reconnaissance training is all over the country: most of the time I was traveling from Virginia to California to Washington State.

JM:Did you reenlist?

BK:No, I was willing to. It just came down to the contact. I wanted to be an instructor at one of the schools. Basically what happened was they said reenlist and we’ll give you the job. I said to put it into my contract and I’ll reenlist. They won’t do it.

JM:That was too bad.


JM:They lost a good asset: they really did. You told me about black tar heroin?7.

BK:Yeah, that was one of the big things that we were over there to collect. It is a slightly less refined form of heroin than you would see on the street. At the time the percentage of heroin in the world coming from Afghanistan was staggering, something like 90 something %. The locals did not want to grow it: they did not want to grow poppies. They wanted to grow food for their families. The drug dealers would come in and execute their families if they refused to grow it. Grow poppies or else. The locals were never an issue for me. They were very respectful. They really did not come to us: we did not interact all that much. Several times we went to collect tons and tons of heroin and destroy it.

JM:From the pictures that I have seen Afghanistan looks like a very barren country.

BK:Parts of it are, and parts are very lush. The Helmand River in Helmand province was defined by the river.

JM:After you got out of the service, what did you do?

BK:After I got out of the service, I did a brief stint trying to get into a college in New Mexico. It was too soon after getting out. All my friends were deployed. The second one was worse than the first so a lot of my friends were killed. Getting a phone call once a week telling me what had happened, while trying to go to college.

JM:I assume after what you had been through college was a bit too juvenile for you.

BK:It was. Being a freshman and being the dorm with a bunch of 18 year old kids with a curfew was not for me. I wanted the experience.

JM:If you went back to a difference learning situation, it might be different because you are in a different place now.

BK:Yes I am in a very different place now.

JM:Scuba diving, you did that for a couple of years in Florida.

BK:I did. I was kind of leading up to that. I left New Mexico and ended up working in Texas, restoring antique firearms. Anything I did with my hands creatively was good for me. It helped with the PTSD. Anything that I could pour myself into and concentrate helped. While I was there I got into building guitars. I like electrics now. For me that was the ultimate expression of myself by building instruments and it still is. Then also then someone gets my instrument and goes off to do music in their hands. That is very cool.

JM:There is a lot of work that goes into making a guitar.

BK:There is. It is the nearest thing a mixture of seeing the forest and the trees so to speak. The broad strokes seem very obvious especially building an acoustic guitar: there are so many parts and so much that has to be so specific. If you condense it down and that is something we learned in the


military was to give yourself the smallest goals possible: like around the next corner or around the next corner or one more day and then I‘ll quit.

JM:You have transferred a lot of the military skills into what you are doing.

BK:In every job that I have had ever since, I have learned that what I took away may not have been the technical knowledge but there is a system or structure to accomplish something.

JM:They are life skills that you acquired through the military.

BK:Those lessons are very useful. I learned a lot of really useful skills. If you talk about the formative years, they are 18-21, If you have real responsibility and real team work , you learn how to work with a team, how to do all that stuff, that puts you so much further ahead perhaps than going to college for 4 years.

JM:It depends upon the college and the individual. Let’s go back to the scuba diving, please.

BK:I left the job I was at in Texas and figured I could do something with scuba diving. I had gone scuba diving in Key West just for fun. I had never been scuba diving outside of the military which was not fun. That was work. In diving in the keys it was just freedom and peace and that really helped me move forward with my health progression. I found a scuba diving place in Key Largo. There was a shop that had a GI bill to become a scuba diver instructor. So I did that and spent a little over 2 years living in the keys. For the first 9 months I was living on a little boat a 30 foot sail boat. It was great. It was really a small group of diving instructors there on a very small island, lots of tourists, but not many locals. We did diving, spear fishing, it was an absolutely wonderful life experience.

With my father being a chimney sweep up here (The Sultan of Soot) he knew a lot of folks and had been in a lot of houses and since I was a kid I worked with him and got to chat with some folks I found interesting. I would meet these very affluent and respectable people in the area many of whom I admired. They always regretted not doing something in their youth, if I mentioned I was considering doing that for a couple of years, they all said< “I wish I had done that.”

JM:You don’t regret the things you do as much as you regret the things you didn’t do.

BK:I’ve got a pretty good track record for not having many of those regrets at this point.

JM:You gave up scuba diving after two years, why?

BK:I think I got a lot of it out of my system. I met my girlfriend who was from southern Connecticut. We started dating about a year in to my scuba diving adventure down there. Scuba diving was great and I could afford to live and do what I wanted to do but I couldn’t save any money and it was hard to travel. There were other things that I missed, so I agreed to come back up here.



I started building guitars again. About that same time I started getting some reoccurring scuba diving students who were in the entertainment industry doing big tours and TV shows either lighting or directing. What they would do is they would go off on a show for 2 weeks and have a week between shows. They would have the company fly them to Miami or drive down and go diving for week then go on to the next show. These guys do this for the course of 6 or 7 months and dive about every two weeks. I had a really good relationship with them. They saw something in me, more than just being a diving instructor. When they found out I was a musician, they suggested I go out to a couple of shows with them, so I did. I left Florida and came back home.

Now I travel and set up big conventions, and award shows. I leave tomorrow at 6 in the morning to St. Louis for a travel industry convention. After I finish that, I have about a day or two off. Then I go on tour with Andrea Bocelli who is the blind Italian opera singer for at least 6 weeks. I have been on tour with him before. When he sings, the entire audience will be crying. I am on the camera and trying to do my job. I have big earphones on so I can’t hear it as well. At times it is still emotional.

JM:Are you a video engineer?

BK:My job title is “Video Engineer” but I focus more on the LED walls: they are video wall basically like the jumbotron at sporting events. Imagine a 50 foot wide by 30 foot tall TV. It is not a common term on the audience side of things.

JM:Do you intend to stay with career or have you got urges to do something else?

BK:I have got other interests. One of the great things about this; there are several great things about it. One is that it gave me the opportunity to start working on instruments. Now I have a couple of weeks or a month off and instead of trying to get more work, I can sit back and work on my guitars.

JM:Do you have a workshop at home?

BK:I do in our basement. However I am looking at a rather serious side expansion. We are meeting with a potential investor Thursday about something related to guitars and guitar manufacturing. We are looking to produce more or develop the prototype and get licenses and plan strategy. I want to help get the guitar industry which has been very much unchanged for the last 70 years. The electronic pick-up is 100 years old. The guitar of Les Paul brought that instrument into the main stream. There has been an extreme lack on innovation since then.

JM:So that is something you are working toward.

BK:Yeah we think we have identified the way to do that and to move it forward.

JM:Is there anything else that you would like to add that I haven’t covered?

BK:No we have covered all the major events. It has been my pleasure.