This is a blog about music, photography, history, and culture.
These are photographs from my collection that tell a story about lost time and forgotten music.

Mike Brubaker
{ Click on the image to expand the photo }

The Mason City Band

03 January 2014

Why march in a parade when you could ride? No sensible musician would pass up a spot on the band wagon. But for a parade vehicle of 1910, horse power had a new meaning when the Mason City Band rode on a motorized touring bus.

Fifteen musicians plus a driver, direct their attention toward the camera in this postcard from Mason City, Iowa. The front of the bus has the marque The Overland for the Overland Automobile Company, of Terre Haute, Indiana, which began building motorcars in 1903. The company was sold in 1908 to John North Willys  who renamed it the Willys-Overland company, which became best known in World War 2 as the manufacturer of the all purpose military vehicle, the Jeep.

The model number for this bus is not known, nor is the horsepower, however notice that the rear wheels are chain driven.

Source: Library of Congress

This photograph is titled Seeing Chicago, auto at Monroe near State, Chicago, Ill. and comes from the archives of the Library of Congress.  The photographer was Hans Behm and it dates between 1900 and 1915. The radiator grill is not visible, but many details like the shape of the seats and the running board are so like the Mason City vehicle that I believe it is also an Overland touring bus.

The photographer of the Mason City brass band was standing opposite a building with a sign for
W.J. Daly Co. ...UMBING. This was William J. Daly, whose plumbing company specialized in steam and hot water heating and was located on 314 N. Main St in Mason City. Some years later the street was renamed to N. Federal Ave. Unfortunately Google Street View has not yet mapped downtown Mason City for us to see if the building is still there.

1910 Mason City, IA city directory

The back of the postcard shows a postmark of OCT 22, 1910 and is addressed to Mr. Harold Hazen of Garden City, Kansas.

Dear Son  I am at Mason today it has been raining for some days but it is clear this morning I have been trying to start home for a week but have not got started yet but I am going to start Mon shure am going back to Rockwell this afternoon going out Home tomorrow and start home at 6 Mom ur.. love

In the 1901 census, Harold Hazen, age 17, lived on a farm outside of Garden City, KS with his parents Henry D. and Rhoda J. Hazen and 4 sibilings. 

1910 Mason City, IA city directory

The population of Mason City was approximately 16,800 in the 1910 city directory which listed six bands and orchestras, including the Mason City Band of 25 pieces. It was directed by Harry B. Keeler who also was listed as the president of the Mason City College of Music on 744 E. State St. Mr. Keeler believed his town could be the equal to any of the big cities back east, and he promoted the band as a way of developing Mason City as a center of culture. He must have been a perceptive music director because he recognized talent in a young boy who would one day put Mason City on America's musical map. With 76 trombones.

Today, not far from where Mr. Daly had his plumbing office, is the Music Man Square, a museum and community center devoted to Mason City's favorite son, the composer Meredith Willson (1902 – 1984) who wrote many songs and Broadway musicals, the most famous being The Music Man. Willson developed his early aptitude for music on the piccolo and flute, and in 1918 went off to New York City to study at Frank Damrosch's Institute of Musical Art, now called the Julliard School.

At age 19 he left the school to join John Philip Sousa's band. After working with the premier band in America for a couple of years, he returned to New York to play flute and piccolo with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra under Arturo Toscanini. In 1929 he left for California to pursue a career in Hollywood composing music for the new media of radio and movies with sound. The Music Man was Willson's first musical and was produced in 1957 based on material from his 1948 memoir There I Stood With My Piccolo. 

Meredith and Rini Willson from their weekday NBC radio program Ev'ry Day.
Source: Wikipedia

According to a biography, Meredith Willson, America's Music Man by Bill Oates, Willson got his professional start by playing the piccolo with the Mason City Band under Harry Keeler. Did he ever get to ride on the Overland touring bus? If he did, the most sensible and less deafening place to seat a piccoloist would be on the back right. You have to watch where you point those things!

For another band that might have influenced Meredith Willson, read this post I wrote in 2011 on  The Orphans Home Band of Mason City, Iowa.  There will be another installment on that story in the near future. 

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
click the link for more stories on wheels.


La Nightingail said...

What a wonderful post. The pictures were fun, and the information about the band and Meredith Wilson was very interesting. "The Music Man" is one of my all time favorite musicals. The music is so happy and lively. I tried out for the part of Marian once, but lost out to a gal with more experience. Shucks.

Karen S. said...

Gee whiz, what a great source of info and photos, only sad thing when I first saw Mason, I was hoping, yes, Mason, Michigan! But I do know the city in Iowa too, it's just that I was born in Michigan and my daddy right in Mason!

Little Nell said...

Really interesting to read the background to The Music Man (I'll have 76 Trombones as today's ear worm now!), and that first photo of a busload of musicians is wonderful.

B. Rogers, Living in Black Mountain said...

Great historic data that flows very easily in your narrative. Good job...a real winner.

Anonymous said...

That first photo. WOW ! They look great. And I love the graduated seats. Thanks.

Bob Scotney said...

What a super bus load of musicians. Even I have heard of The Music Man and now you have extended my knowledge further. Great post, Mike.

Postcardy said...

I would have imagined Meredith Wilson with a trombone, not a piccolo.

Ruckus Eskie said...

Postmarked 1910..!

Joan said...

Bands, sightseeing in Chicago and Overlands -- wow, just can't get much better than that. Of course, my uncle who was inordinately proud of the Overland he traded a team of horses for when he was sixteen -- he would have foregone the bands and the sightseeing, just to gaze at his Overland.

Anonymous said...

Old photos bring nostalgia. I wonder what was the life of my grandparents that time.

Wendy said...

Well shoot, now you got me humming "76 Trombones." I can see how Willson's musical was inspired just from reading the history you have provided here.

ScotSue said...

Great photographs to match the theme. But what a heavy load (men and instruments) in that first car. I wonder how fast it could travel.

Alan Burnett said...

A total pleasure to read and to look at, as usual Mike. Blogging at its very best. A Happy New Year To You. From Alan.

Kristin said...

The touring cars resemble the little trains that run through some zoos. I wonder were the engine is with that flat front.

Alex Daw said...

Magnificent post. Lots of lovely research and so beautifully presented. I always learn so much from your posts. Such as where to seat a piccolo player on a bus. You might enjoy this from the QSO in Brisbane - they arrive in a more modern bus....

Tattered and Lost said...

As soon as I looked at the first image I was thinking Music Man. So how perfect for the feeling come to fruition with the end of the post.

Wouldn't you love to know how fast those buses went? No doors and sitting up high. What happened with a sudden stop?


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