CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- "That's a picture of the largest shell ever shot during the Sunday night fireworks display," Bill Rice said. "It was an 18-inch shell. They don't allow anything larger than 12 inches now."
On a wall of his Stockton Street offices, pictures, posters and framed souvenir pins and nametags commemorate the decade he spent as a bigwig volunteer for the Charleston Sternwheel Regatta.
He points to a poster promoting The Beach Boys' Sunkist Silver Anniversary Tour. "The Beach Boys cost $150,000," he said. "The Regatta Commission put in a lot of money for that one.
"I've got a set of commemorative coins signed by the Beach Boys at home in my safe."
A miniature Regatta museum dominates the basement of the Stockton Street building. The first souvenir shirt with the original Regatta logo hangs over the pool table with shirts from subsequent Regattas. Behind them, glossy promo photos of notable Regatta entertainers spur memories of behind-the-scenes trivia.
"There's Crystal Gayle. She was the M&M girl. She didn't like chocolate M&Ms. We had to have someone pick them out by hand.
"The entertainers were always very interesting," he said. "For every entertainer, you had to supply certain food. The Beach Boys only liked one kind of salad dressing, and it came from California, so we had to have it flown in."
Most of the time, Rice has more serious things on his mind, like flying around the world as president of the American Welding Society.
Grandson of Virginia Welding founder V.S. Rice, he also serves as CEO of industry wholesaler OKI Bering.
But when Labor Day rolls around, Bill Rice gets a little nostalgic about the glory days of the Charleston Sternwheel Regatta.
Rice and his brother, Joe, started selling balloons for the festival in the mid-1970s when it was a still a small event confined to the upper end of Capitol Street.
Launched in 1971 by Nelson Jones as a paddlewheel festival, the event expanded beyond the river when the Jaycees introduced coinciding land activities, Rice said.
"One year, I just thought it could be done differently. I asked to get more involved. They needed someone new to head up land activities, so the next year, I started doing that."
He wound up as executive vice president of the Regatta Commission during its heyday in the 1980s.
"I raised the money," he said.
He also kept track of it. "We never lost money. I have folders that account for every cent."
Along with a batch of souvenirs, he kept his records -- half a dozen boxes crammed with detailed reports on everything from beer sales to the number of Porta-Johns.
"I spoke at the Rotary Club one time, and someone ask me how many beers we sold. My answer was about 200 porta-potties full."
He can get a lot more accurate than that. Randomly plucking a report from one of the boxes stacked in his office, he notes that on this particular night in 1987, the Regatta sold 817 kegs of beer.
"I figure there's about 100 beers per keg, so we sold 82,000 beers. There were times when we sold more than 1,000 kegs a night."
Suds flowed freely from two 40-foot dairy trucks transformed into beer dispensers. "I went to Bill Martin at Valley Bell and begged two 40-foot refrigerator trucks," he said. "They were stainless steel on the outside. We took off the Valley Bell signage. I had a friend make two long stainless steel troughs, and we put 20 taps on each truck. You could pour beer forever from that truck.
"We had 40 volunteers manning each trailer and put in 100 to 200 kegs in each trailer, plus the cups. The logistics of this were incredible."
The festival had grown from a long weekend to 10 days, way too long in the eyes of some. "Yes, 10 days is a long time," Rice said, "but we couldn't put up a stage as long as a city block just for one weekend and dismantle it and put it back up the next weekend. The stage had to stay there. Also, the city blocked off streets and they didn't want to recycle traffic twice. That was a lot of work.
The Beach Boys, performing for the 16th annual Regatta on Aug. 31, 1986, attracted the largest ever Regatta crowd, followed by Willie Nelson in 1988.
For the Beach Boys, fans stood elbow-to-elbow for blocks, cramming the boulevard far above the Union Building and jamming side streets. Boats anchored in droves on both sides of the river. The crowd estimate was 200,000.
"It took me two hours to get from one end to the other to collect the beer money," he said.
The entertainment lineup that year included Lee Greenwood, the Commodores, Tanya Tucker and the Van Dells.
"Country entertainers cost a lot less, maybe $30,000 or $40,000," Rice said. "They drew people from Logan and Beckley and other places. And the people drank beer. So we liked them."
The Miami Sound Machine with Gloria Estefan topped the schedule for the 1987 Regatta and attracted a crowd of about 100,000.
"We had some big names here before they were big names," Rice said. "I've got a signed photograph of me with the Miami Sound Machine."