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 P&O Band of Canton, Illinois

28 March 2015

The 34 musicians of the P & O Band have shiny golden instruments, including the band leader's gold baton. But these bandsmen probably handled cast iron more often than brass. They are factory workers from Canton, Illinois, members of a company whose trademark two letters separated by ampersand were once familiar to every farmer. This was the band of the Parlin & Orendorff Plow Company, once considered the largest and oldest plow and farm implement manufacturer in the world. 

Source: Farm Implement News 1904 Buyer's Guide
The factory was established in 1842 and proudly stated that it had the most complete and comprehensive series of Riding and Walking Plows, Cultivators, Harrows, Drills, Stalk Cutters, Corn and Cotton Planters, Potato Diggers, etc. made by any one factory in the country. There were between 1,500 and 2,000 workers at the Parlin & Orendorff Co. which made it Canton's largest employer. The factory's products were used on every size farm and with every type of agriculture.

Source: Farm Implements, Vol 26, Jan. 31, 1912

The P & O Band was the pride of the city as well as the company. According to this article from the January 31, 1912 edition of Farm Implements, Vol. 2, published in Minneapolis - St. Paul, the P & O workers established their first band in February 1851 as the Canton Brass Band. With the outbreak of war in 1861, it served as the regimental band for the 55th Illinois Volunteers. In the years later it became the musical representative for both the company and the town at many county, state, and even world fairs. In Canton it played concerts on every Saturday  throughout the summer. This 1912 article used the same photo of the band as the colorized postcard and identifies the band director with the gold baton as Frederick D. Walker, who it says received his musical training at the Boston Conservatory of Music.

The postcard was sent on July 30, 1914 to Master James Siffle of Pekin, IL from Claude.

Source: The Harvester World, Vol. 11
November 1920

In May 1919, the International Harvester Company, a kind of General Motors of agricultural equipment, bought out the Parlin & Orendorff factory and product line. The P&O brand name continued for a time on International Harvester machines and its factory workers still enjoyed a regular lunch time concert by their band as described in this article from a 1920 edition of The Harvester World. The company band was admired as a symbol of the plow workers pride and solidarity with their community and their farm equipment products.  The band continued under the IHC name until 1985 according to this webpage on the Canton Band history

My interest in this postcard of the P & O Band was due to a cast iron seat made by the Parlin & Orendorff Co. that I have in my workshop. The plywood stand is my own design and I have made several stools like this using other iron implement seats, often erroneously called "tractor seats". My choice of color is perhaps not the correct P & O hue, but it is a very stable and solid stool.

In this advertisement for the latest 1908 P&O Riding Cultivator, the seat is shown hanging precariously on the left side. The name Jewel Hammock implies a embellished level of precision and comfort that only a non-farm worker might believe. According to my dad who knew far more about farming than I ever will, on a full day in the field these seats are best experienced with a gunny sack of hay to pad the tailbone.

* * *

I very occasionally collect interesting non-musical photos and this one seemed appropriate for a story about farm implements. It shows a monstrous harvester machine being drawn through a wheat field by 33 horses, all carefully arranged according to color. The photo is actually a pair of images from a circa 1902 stereo view card produced by Underwood & Underwood Publishers of Arlington, NJ. The card has the must wonderful title:

(54)-6226 Evolution of the sickle and flail —
33 horse harvester
at Walla Walla, Washington

The back of the card has a very detailed summary  of the geography and 1902 agriculture of the mellifluously named Walla Walla, Washington, and includes this description of the multitasking machine in the photo:

A "combined harvester" like this here at work includes in one machine a header, thresher, separator, fanning-mill, and sacker; it will cut from 60 to 125 acres and thresh from 1700 to 3000 bushels in a day. Sometimes a traction engine is used in place of horse-power.

The stereo view card's title is repeated in 6 languages including, Swedish and Russian.

* * *

I do not think any book on physics could explain the term horsepower any better than this photo.

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
click the link for more stories of farm machinery.



Wendy said...

I guess a story about a parade with a band on a flatbed pulled by a tractor would have been too easy.

Postcardy said...

I looked at the 1934 International Harvester booklet (linked in my post) after I read your post. There is a small aerial view of the Canton, Ill. Works which lists theses products: Plows, tillage implements, planters, listers, cultivators, beet pullers

Barbara Rogers said...

Enjoyed your combo- bands and harvesters...still couldn't get my eyes to work with the stereo thing blinking...maybe I blinked at the wrong time!! Tee hee.

Helen Bauch McHargue said...

So interesting. Now China is the largest producer of wheat in the world - 122 million metric tons in 2013, Next in rank is India at 94 million metric tons and we are third at 58 metric tons. I guess the Chinese manufacture tractors - I wonder if they have any factory bands?

Anonymous said...

Apart from everything else that "sickle and flail" is wonderful. That image is worthy of framing. The "tractor seat" also reminds me of the swing my husband made for the children which had similar seats though perhaps not quite as heavy.

Nancy said...

Wow! This is such an impressive post, Mike: you've managed to combine music and farm implements in one fell swoop, and done it very masterfully and enjoyably, too. Your "tractor seat" is beautiful. Thanks for a fun and an enlightening post.

Sharon said...

Well done on combining music and farming!

Lorraine Phelan said...

Oops. Mucked up the first try.
Another excellent post Mike. I like the effect of the final image.

Anonymous said...

33 horsepower! I love those pictures. Your seat looks great and I believe they are quite comfortable with some padding, whether natural or not. I have seen a swing made out of an old tractor seat, like boundforoz says.

La Nightingail said...

I love the way you always manage to find a way to incorporate music into any Sepia prompt - & again, you don't disappoint! And that harvesting machine pulled by 33 horses! All I can say is "Wow!" Neat post!!!

Barbara Fisher said...

Good Lord, I’ve never seen so many horses employed in such a way – amazing.
I remember my dad putting padding on tractor seats. He was of very slight build, and I can just imagine how uncomfortable they became at the end of a long day. I really enjoyed your post and all the images.

Unknown said...

You wouldn't happen to know where I can get the names of the band members from that postcard, would you? My great great grandfather was a member of the band but I have no photo of him. you can contact me

Mike Brubaker said...

@Unknown - I tried contacting you but your email address didn't work. I regret that I have no information on the names of the musicians in the postcard of the P. & O. Co. Band. Occasionally for town band concerts a local newspaper would print a list of musicians , but I've not found any for this band. The local Canton, IL public library or historical society would be the best places to inquire if there are any records of the band members. Good luck.


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