The P and O Band, By Charlie Wright

Canton was the hub of plow-making in the Spoon River Country from 1842 to 1985, a period of 143 years. The plow-makers were music makers, too. For nearly 90 years plus or minus a few notes. It was know by several names including the:

  • Canton Brass Band, Canton Silver Cornet Band 1861-1879,

  • Fourth Regiment Band, Illinois National Guard 1879-1884,

  • The Parlin and Orendorff Company Fourth Regiment Band 1884-1891,

  • Parlin and Orendorff Company Fifth regiment Band, Illinois National Guard 1891-1910

  • Parlin and Orendorff Company Band 1910-1920

and the
  • International Harvester Company P and O Plow Works Band.

When Abraham Lincoln made his address in Lewistown August 17th, 1858, the Canton Brass Band played for the occasion. Their uniform caps were decorated with a handsome plume in front. For playing after dark, the band members would remove the plume and replace it with a nickel plated torch which had a spectacular effect and provided extra illumination in the days of kerosene lamps. During the Lincoln-Douglas Senatorial campaign of 1858, the Canton Brass Band toured Central Illinois with Lincoln.

Whatever the name of the band at the time, natives seemed to think of it as the P and O Band. It traveled thousands of miles in the central part of the nation and played every Saturday night from the bandstand in Jones Park. After the depression, musicians were hard to get and the dwindling interest played “Taps” for the band that had done more to promote Parlin and Orendorff, International Harvester and the City of Canton, than anything else, according to Ed Lewis, Jr. in his classic “Reflections of Canton in a Pharmacist’s Show Globe” © 1967.

That was the end of an exciting and colorful era in Canton that lasted almost a century and featured a host of superb musicians. The P and O Band still lives in the hearts of people. Many times bands have been organized to perform on the new band stand in the form of a gazebo. The audience that has gray hair or maybe none at all, sometimes thinks this is the way it was when the P and O Band played.

And so it was.