Tim Johnson, Burlington Free Press
February 6, 2011

Everyone knows the von Trapp family saga up to a point — from "The Sound of Music" and their flight from Austria in 1938 to their ultimate resettlement in Stowe, four years later.


Agathe von Trapp, center, is seen in this undated historic photo with members of her family provided by the Trapp Family Lodge in Stowe. She died Tuesday in Maryland at age 97. Appearing in the photo are (back row from left) Hedwig von Trapp, Werner von Trapp, Maria von Trapp, Eleonore von Trapp and musical director the Rev. Franz Wasner; (front row from left) Johanna von Trapp, Agathe von Trapp, Johannes von Trapp, and Maria Kutschera von Trapp. (Courtesy Trapp Family Lodge)

What many people may not know is that the Trapp Family Singers spent much of their initial Vermont period out of state — on a bus.

Long before rock bands plied the country in customized tour buses — before rock 'n' roll was even invented, for that matter — the Trapps were doing just that. Their expeditions lasted months a time, with bookings from coast to coast, and Maria Augusta, the famous matriarch, even wrote a book about it: "A Family on Wheels: Further Adventures of the Trapp Family Singers" (1959).

She described what she brought with her on the bus, which was emblazoned "Trapp Family Singers": suitcase, books, guitar, dictaphone, typewriter, mechanical blender (for grinding vegetables into liquid vitamins on the road), carrots and other vegetables, and finally, "my heart's treasure, the Dormiphone — a find instrument designed to teach languages by gently playing language records through one's sleep."

"I never once awoke talking French fluently," she later admitted.

The center of the bus was a "living room," with two seats facing each other. Maria convened occasional meetings of a family "School Board" (she was the superintendent), mostly comprising elder siblings charged with teaching algebra and other subjects to Johannes, the youngest.

"Von Trapp Family Leaves Stowe on Long Concert Tour," read a headline in the Burlington Free Press on Feb. 1, 1947. The three-month, itinerary led from New York through the South and Southwest to Los Angeles, then back to Minnesota.

"To fill this extensive concert tour," the story read, "the 10 members of the performing group, accompanied by the head of the family, Baron Georg von Trapp, and his youngest son, Johannes, will travel in a specially chartered 9-ton motor coach which has been fitted out for the Trapps to provide a close semblance of cozy home atmosphere, with facilities for cooking and sleeping, as well as a library ... and material to enable the versatile Trapps to carry on their many handicraft hobbies."

The more than 120 performances scheduled in that single season elevated the Trapps "to the position of America's most heavily booked concert attraction," the Free Press pronounced.

The baron died in Stowe that May, not long after the tour ended. The family's performance tours continued through 1955. Maria A. von Trapp died in a Vermont hospital in 1987 at age 82.

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