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 }

Driving to the Beat of a Different Drummer

22 September 2018

Jumping on the bandwagon makes perfect sense.
What musician would march if they could ride?
And how else would you keep up anyway?

But hopping onto a band automobile?
That doesn't sound very safe at all.
Especially if the only seat available
for the tuba player
is astraddle the car's radiator.

But once upon a time
one band decided that two automobiles
were better than any old old horse cart.
They were the Melrose Band
of Melrose, Wisconsin.

This postcard image was produced
using a half-tone newspaper pressing.
It likely commemorates some patriotic parade,
but unfortunately there is no date.
There is a proper photo version
in the internet's image archives
with a suggested year of 1918,
but I think it dates a few years earlier.

The car on the left
has the manufacturer's brand badge on the radiator.

It was made by the REO Motor Car Company
out of Lansing, Michigan.

In 1909 the REO was a popular model
sold by dealers around the country
whose advertisements
were illustrated with automobiles
very like the two in the Melrose Band's postcard.

Brownsville TX Herald
07 January 1909
The Reo Motor Car was just one of many new brands competing for the public's attention in the 1900s. In March 1907 the Pittsburgh Auto Show had 60 makes and 150 models on exhibit. Most of the car company names are now long forgotten, but at the time the Reo was very well known. It was started in 1905 by Ransom E. Olds after he left his first company the Olds Motor Vehicle Company which he had founded in 1897. The Oldsmobile company, also based in Lansing, became part of General Motors Co. in 1908 and lasted until 2004 when GM closed down production on what had been the oldest American automotive marque.

Pittsburgh PA Press
31 March 1907

The Reo company manufactured a number of automobiles and truck models and was one of the more successful brands in the early years of the 20th century. But competition was tough in the automotive industry and the Reo Brand struggled to beat Ford and GM production lines. The Reo company ceased making passenger cars in 1936. It continued to produce commercial trucks until 1975 as the Diamond-Reo truck brand. 

In 1911 the REO Foredoor Touring Car was promoted in newspaper advertisements. It had a 30 horsepower gasoline engine and cost $1,350, including the wind shield. The price would be roughly equivalent to about $34,000 today, though wind shields are no longer optional.

I think both cars that the Melrose Band are sitting in are Reo touring cars from about 1911. The earlier and later versions have features that I don't see on these cars. The postcard was published early in the century and I don't think it dates much after 1918, more like 1915-16.

Today Melrose, WI is a small town of around 400 citizens which is about what the population was in 1910. The bandsmen squeezed into the two cars seems a quaint old-fashioned image to our 21st century eyes, but in 1911 there were likely more horse drawn wagons and buggies in Melrose than automobiles. Most of these men probably had never ridden, much less owned, a gas powered vehicle, and it must have been an exhilarating thrill for the bass drummer and the tuba player when the Reo reached its top speed of 35 mph. So this photo is not about jolly antiquated vehicles. It's about modern technology and the future of speed and power.  As the Reo motto says, "You Can do it with a REO."

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where there is always time for a Sunday drive.


  © Blogger template Shush by 2009

Back to TOP