50 Years Today

Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and J.P. Richardson (the Big Bopper) were killed on Feb. 3, 1959, when their small plane crashed in an Iowa farm field.

U.P. has connection to ‘the day the music died’

About 48 hours earlier, an old bus carrying the three singers and fellow musicians broke down on U.S. 51 in the Pine Lake, Wis., area. Various published accounts listed the temperature that night and early morning at between minus 24 and minus 35 degrees.

Sunday marked the 50th anniversary of the famous group’s unscheduled stopover in this area.

The disabled bus was towed to a garage in Hurley, owned by Eugene Calvetti. (Calvetti died on Jan. 25).

The Winter Dance Party was touring the Midwest, appearing in small to mid-sized cities. It featured Holly, Valens and Richardson and also included Dion and the Belmonts and future country star Waylon Jennings who, along with drummer Carl Bunch, was part of Holly’s band, the Crickets.

On the night of Jan. 31, the group finished a concert in Duluth, boarded an old school bus and headed for Green Bay for their next show. A Minneapolis Star-Tribune reporter recently interviewed Tommy Allsup, lead guitarist for the Crickets, who recalled what happened.

“We had started up this incline. It was snowing real bad, and the bus just started going slower and slower, and the lights got dimmer and dimmer, and all of a sudden the bus stops … Everybody started thinking we were about to freeze to death.”

One account said the Belmonts started burning newspapers to keep warm. Eventually, an Iron County sheriff’s squad car stopped to come to their aid.

In a 2000 interview with the Daily Globe, Bunch, the drummer, said he nearly froze to death that night. He was taken to Grand View Hospital in Ironwood.

“I was delirious when they took me off the bus,” Bunch recalled. “The pain was terrible. Bad enough so that I was hollering.”

He recalled staff at the GVH “…thawing me out and giving me medication for the pain.”

Bunch was still a patient at Grand View when he learned of the plane crash that killed the star performers and the pilot.

Bunch recalled the bus being towed into Hurley by wrecker, with the repairs done at Calvetti’s garage on Copper Street. The late Frank Mioni of Ironwood towed the bus into town for Calvetti’s Wrecker Service, according to Ironwood resident Rod Stockhaus, who wrote a book that mentions the Feb. 3, 1959, airplane crash.

Members of the band were transported to Hurley by the Iron County Sheriff’s Department. John Hurley was sheriff at the time.

The Star-Tribune account reported the group was taken to the old Club Carnival in Hurley, a diner at that time, to get something to eat. Jennings, Holly and one other member of the group then were able to get rooms at the St. James Hotel in Ironwood. The next day members of the group traveled by Greyhound bus to Green Bay, the site of their penultimate concert. From there, another bus took them to Clear Lake, Iowa, where one reviewer said they gave “a rousing performance” the night of Feb. 2.

But Holly, fed up with the cold, dreary bus trips, decided to charter a plane to Moorhead, Minn., for the next concert. He, Valens, Richardson and pilot Rogert Peterson were killed when the plane crashed, apparently just minutes after takeoff.

In Hurley, Calvetti owned not only the garage on the north side of the street, but also repaired vehicles in a building across the street. That’s where the bus was repaired.

The building is now owned by Robert Constantini of Hurley, who said he uses the building for storage.

The building that housed Calvetti’s Garage on the north side of Copper Street is owned by Jean Davis of Bend, Ore.
The back end of the building is now the home of Art Unlimited, with the remainder of the building being used for storage, according to Jean’s brother, Tom Davis, of North American Overhead Door of Hurley.

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