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 }

What did you think it meant?

29 July 2016

It looks like a joke.
But the snare drummer,
he's not smiling.

His companions on bass drum,
bass and tenor saxhorns,
they don't seem
to see anything funny.

The rest of the brass band,
they're dead serious too.

It's right behind them
hanging in the store window.
But not one musician is laughing.
That sign in the window.
It says (snicker)

Ain't that a hoot?
Nudge, nudge.
Wink, wink.
Know what I mean?

The back of this cabinet format photo
has a penciled note.
Youngstown, Pa.
Town Band
(note wooden sidewalks)

I'm not convinced this note is contemporary with the photo's age,
as it looks like a description added by an antique dealer.
(An indifferent dealer too, that didn't know how to properly treat historic ephemera.)
This brass band of nine musicians,
two cornets, two altohorns,
two tenorhorns, a basshorn
and two drummers.
are holding a set
of top action rotary valve brass instruments,
a design of American brass band instruments
used from about 1860 to 1885,
and roughly equivalent to a consort of brass saxhorns.
The men are dressed, not in military style uniforms,
but in ordinary civilian clothing.
All are wearing hats
with a few in winter fur caps.

If the note is correct,
the photographer took this photo in
Youngstown, a borough (town)
in Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania
about 45 miles east of Pittsburgh.
With a population in 2015 of 316
Youngstown's population has little changed from
when it was incorporated in 1831.
The band stands in front of a kind of general store
built in heavy stone block and unidentified.
The store's wooden boardwalk
may have seemed important to note,
but it is the single indecorous word
next to the kerosene lanterns in the window
that attracts a modern prurient eye,
and ironically helps date the band.

Trademark registered on March 31, 1874

Pittsburgh Post
15 June 1878

The ‘Vibrator’ was a threshing machine manufactured by the Nichols, Shepard & Co. of Battle Creek, Michigan. In 1878 it was advertised in the Pittsburgh Post as the Matchless, Grain-Saving, Time-Saving, and Money-Saving Thresher of this day and generation. Beyond all Rivalry for Rapid Work, Perfect Cleaning, and for Saving Grain from Wastage.

Nichols, Shepard & Co. Battle Creek, MI
Vibrator Threshers and Horse Powers

It was Perfectly adapted to all Kinds and Conditions of Grain, Wet or Dry, Long or Short, Headed or Bound. 

Nichols, Shepard & Co. Battle Creek, MI
Vibrator Threshers and Horse Powers

Not only Vastly Superior for Wheat, Oats, Barley, Rye, and like Grains, but the ONLY Successful Thresher in Flax, Timothy, Millet, Clover, and like Seeds.

Two years later the Nichols, Shepard & Co. advertisements advised:   

CAUTION! The wonderful success and popularity of our Vibrator Machinery has driven other machines to the wall: hence various makers are now attempting to build and palm off inferior and mongrel imitations of our famous goods.

Be Not Deceived by such experimental and worthless machinery. If you buy at all, get the  “ORIGINAL” and the “GENUINE” from us.

New Bloomfield, PA Times
16 March 1880

The farmers in the Youngstown brass band
surely knew about the Vibrator.
It was heavily promoted
in Pennsylvanian newspapers
with illustrated adverts like these from 1874 to 1881
when the Nichols, Shepard & Co. sales strategy abandoned
its verbose marketing campaign
and The Vibrator disappeared
from the regional papers in the 1890s.

And as any farmer knows,
you reap what you sow,
and yet you still need to
bring in the sheaves and
separate the wheat from chaff.
What man wants to flail around
over old fashioned threshing,
When you can belt up
your steam engine
to a Vibrator.
That's the way to do it.

What did you think it meant?





This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where no one is ever in the dark about old photos.


Alan Burnett said...

As always a magnificent detective story. When you collect your volume of posts together into that book we all want to see, this one can be called "The Case Of The Advertised Vibrator"

La Nightingail said...

A strange name to give a threshing machine - "The Vibrator". What I find equally interesting is why the instrumental group deliberately lined up so the "Vibrator" sign would show up beside them? Perhaps they thought their music vibrated their audiences, therefore the sign was perfect advertising?

Wendy said...

Now THAT's a vibrator.

Little Nell said...

No wonder those poor musicians are unhappy, everyone is focussed on that sign and ignoring them! A fun post, where we learned something new again.

Unknown said...

I read this post a quarter hour ago, and I'm STILL laughing!

Barbara Rogers said...

Nothing like hind-sight as they always say. I'd sure want my wheat/chaff separated so well, as advertised! Poor men must have been concentrating on making some music, they sure didn't seem to enjoy a thing!

Kristin said...

I was waiting to see what the vibrator mentioned actually was as I was sure they weren't advertising sex toys in the shop windows way back when.

Jofeath said...

Vibrators were probably called something else back then and only advertised in small print, Perhaps the bandsmen are standing by the sign with the implication that their music would vibrate or resonate with their audience, but I'm sure they didn't mean to imply it would send them into ecstasy! Or perhaps they and the photographer just didn't notice what they were standing in front of.

Tattered and Lost said...

These guys look like the Chicago mob. I'm guessing the Valentine's Day Massacre could have been really different if they'd shown up in the parking garage.

Tattered and Lost said...

And I have to say I spent several hours at thrashing machine fairs with my grandfather in Pennsylvania. Of course there was always a chicken that played a piano which impressed me much more than the thrashers.


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