Trying to Stay Afloat


Joe Radtke

My fascination all started with an Omni Magazine article with an interview with John C. Lilly and his float tank. Omni magazine had great a bunch of interesting articles.

Omni, Jan 1983

Omni, Jan 1983

 It seemed that everything I was interested in like fasting, wheat grass, out of the body travel, health food and fasting have been considered "strange" by the average American.

It is odd now that  these things are now common place or at least generally accepted. I am thrilled that people are now discovering these cool ideas and products.

As a young drummer I had the desire to make a living as a "session" drummer like Steely Dan's drummers  did. I only needed 20 years of slow but steady practice. With a float tank, I figured I could considerably lesson the time it would take and I would theoretically improve my ability in the shortest time possible.

State College PA. - Float tank Heaven

I played many cool places all over America and one city in particular a college town called "State College", Pennsylvania had a float center. In fact it seemed everybody in State College had a float tank ... it was a Float Tank oasis. I was in Heaven.


One of the people was a Chiropractor.

So as soon as I learned about this Chiropractor who rented out a tank to clients, I went to see him. I had my first float there.

WOW!! The effect was stupendous. I could feel like little springs in my hands and feet uncoiling, from all the tension they get from drumming. My back felt great and I could not stop smiling once I got out.

That night at the show ... I was on fire ... I played 5 times above my level. It seemed all so easy. As I played the best show of my life, my brain felt so free that it seemed I could also play a fiddle at the same time. Everything became effortless, ha ha.

I quit the band a few months later with the idea that I could retire to a log cabin with my drum set, work a shit job to pay rent, and float and practice drumming. 

Welcome to the Real World

My plan did not transpire as I'd imagined.

A month before joining my last band, I had graduated from Pittsburgh Beauty Academy (I know what your thinking, ha ha ... think more like Warren Beaty in the movie "Shampoo).

So once I gave my two week notice to the band, I figured I'd return to Pittsburgh, start my career as a hairstylist in some trendy shop, then buy a float tank myself. Have a normal life, not be on the road.

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Instead I met a girl in Boston and decided to stay in New England because it had a boom economy. I moved to New Hampshire.

I then built my first a float tank. 


My Very First Home Made Float Tank

My apartment was in a rooming house. A house mate in the apartment building was named Ray. He was French speaking Dry Waller from Quebec, Canada (as my relatives were also).

Ray was an expert Carpenter. He said he could build me a tank in an afternoon. Most of the guys in our apt. building wanted to try floating just out of curiosity. So did Peter. He was way over worked and wanted to try.

It turns out that a guy in State College wanted to sell me his home made tank.

The only thing that was salvageable from his tank was the salt water and the pump/filter and the pool Vinyl and water bed heaters. The body of it was almost leaning over so it would require building a box. Well for whatever reason, the entire crew of house mates wanted to try it.

So Peter who was older, got a hold of some (100 gallon) industrial containers and insisted that I take his pick up truck to Pennsylvania to pick up the tank from Roger who was expecting me.  Ray said " Joey, I've got the tools, if you can get the salt water, pump and filter, we'll build a light proof box for you. No problem". So off I went on a 30 hour trip to western Pennsylvania, State College, PA.

When I came back, Ray built the light proof box in like ten minutes; I dropped the pool liner and connected the filter system; Peter pumped the salt water out of the containers in the truck below my window and into the tank. It took a couple of days to get the temperature up again. But soon we were all floating.

Many other float projects happened in NH. Three different houses, three different tanks. I never did get that log cabin, or a place to practice the drums.