Peabody Singing Tower

 NORTH MANCHESTER HISTORICAL SOCIETY
 North Manchester, Indiana

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Oppenheim-125 Yrs
Peabody Retirement
Peabody Seating
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NEWSLETTER
OF THE NORTH MANCHESTER HISTORICAL SOCIETY, INC.
VOLUME IV, NUMBER 2 (May 1987)
 
THE WHISTLES OF OUR FOREFATHERS

A story of the manufacturing industries of North Manchester
of the past and present.  Reproduced from an article
compiled by William E. Billings, 1950
 
The short and almost instantaneous toot of the whistle of the Peabody Seating Company is all that is left of the chorus of many a century or more ago.  Electricity has taken the place of steam power in the other manufacturing establishments.  It was during the war time days of planned economy that the late Thomas A. Peabody, head of the company, ordered that the long drawn blast of the whistle , the habit of years with local manufacturing concerns, should be shortened to a mere toot.  It is possible that consideration of late sleepers’ nerves as well as thoughts of economy may have something to do with the order.  Anyway, all that is left of that once active chorus of factory whistles has been shortened down to a hardly noticeable toot.
 
And in the old days, as if all these whistles were not enough to keep the community nerves on edge, there were twenty passenger trains through her each day, six over the Big Four and fourteen over the Wabash, whose long toot coming into town and toot-te-toot-te-toot going out kept life from being quiet.
 
Steam plants with whistles that awoke the sleepers and set the echoes re-echoing fifty years ago, about the Turn of the Century, included many of the real old timers.  There was the Jesse Miller Foundry and Pump Factory; the Ulrey Saw and Planing Mill; the Scott Dunbar Heading Mill; the J. W. Strauss Saw Mill; J. A. Browne Wagon Wood Factory; Browne-Mills Electric Company; Harry Townsend Wood Working Factory; the Eel River Creamery; Syracuse Screen & Grill Company; Tom Miller Gun Shop; the Big Four Elevator operated by H. Kinsey; the Wabash-Vandalia Elevator operated by I. B. Wright; the North Manchester Water Works, and a considerable number of others now lost to the memory of man.
 
Both the North Manchester Journal and the Rays of Light, from which The News-Journal of today is a legal and lineal descendant, for some time printed their newspaper editions by steam power, but there were no whistles attached to the boilers, and the papers had to depend upon their news columns to make what noise was needed.  Nor should forgetfulness take away the memory of the squeaky whistle of Dan Sheller’s popcorn wagon that steadily screeched through the Saturday afternoon hours.
 
A little to the east of town, down on the Banks of Eel River, the stillness of the summer mornings was broken by the whistle at the Michael Geik Tile Mill, and during the threshing season there was a good natured but nevertheless active rivalry between “Thresher Jake” Ulrey and Stephen Heeter as to which could blow the earliest and longest.  Even at that time advanced age had forced “Thresher Jake” from the footboards of his engine, but he was none the less an interested observer and attentive listener as his son, Joe, tooted the whistle to call in the hands.  And through it all, winter of summer, “Steve” Heeter was never seen without his red bandana handkerchief neatly knotted about his neck.
 
The whistle at the Water Works, along with a bell perched on an iron tower at the intersection of Market and Main Streets, constituted the fire alarm system.  By and by as electricity took the place of steam at the water pumping station a “Wild Cat” whistle was installed at the Electric Light Station.  It blew so hard and so loud that the sound went away up in the air to come down with more noise in the country than in town.  One calm peaceful and silent night it set up its howl.  The watchman at the electric station could not stop it.  The populace, urban and rural, garbed in nightshirts or less, turned out en masse.  And it still howled, though there was nothing still about it.  A slight shower earlier in the evening dampened the whistle cord, the shrinkage tightened the cord enough to set the whistle going.
 
However in those good old days plenty of noise was considered essential for a good fire.  The sound of a fire alarm was the signal for most of the whistles to blow themselves out of steam, and according to Si Walters, one of the old time firemen, the added commotion seemed to help a fire into being a grand success, which most of them were.
 
It was about midnight, Monday, April 25, 1898, that the Water Works whistle sent out a call that touched more homes than had ever been reached by a fire call.  That was when Company D of the Indiana National Guard was called into service for the Spanish-American War.  The call had been expected for several days, and arrangements were made that a long blast on the whistle should announce its arrival.  A little before midnight the call came, and John Colclesser, engineer, pulled the cord that set the signal going, bringing dread and sadness into several hundred homes about North Manchester.  Marked activity followed and early in the forenoon the company, under command of Captain B. F. Clemens, headed by the North Manchester band, marched to the Big Four station, there to take the train for Indianapolis.  On the following Thursday, The Journal said “fully eight thousand people were at the station to extend good wished and bid “fair”well to the war going soldiers.
 
The Saturday evening before there had been a public meeting at the opera house to pledge unqualified support to the cause and to the Company.  Charles A. Sala called this meeting, but no speakers had been secured, so brief talks were made by John W. Winesburg, D. W. Krisher and Jerome Wellman.  On Sunday members of Company D acted as escort to the Grand Army of the Republic to the Lutheran Church.  Monday evening the ladies of the Woman’s Relief Corps served a grand supper, the appetites of the young soldiers having been whetted by a strenuous drill on Main Street.
 
Fortune favored Company D, for fully loyal though its members were, they were not called to leave the United States.  In camp for some time as Company D of the 157th Indiana at St. Petersburg, Florida, the men were used to guard the water supply, a matter of considerable importance at that time.  Then one day the call came to “Board Ship,” but about the time the men were all aboard the Captain’s horse fell off the boat and the company was ordered to disembark.  Before the horse could be dried and another call issued, peace had been declared and the war was over.
 
Today all of these whistles, excepting that at the Peabody factory, have been permanently silenced.  Shortly after 1900 some of the users of smaller power turned to gasoline engines.  With the coming of an all day electric current, electricity generally took the place of the chug-chug engines as well as most of the remaining steam engines.  Most of these steam whistles blew their last note, if not in silence and unheard, at least without making of it an even recorded in history.
 
The whistle at the Scott Dunbar Heading Mill was an exception.  According to record, it was on Wednesday evening, June 28, 1906, that it tooted its last toot.  Next morning the machinery was being dismantled, loaded on cars, and shipped to Quigley, Arkansas, where the Joseph Bonner Saw Mill was located, and where timber for butter bug heading was more plentiful.  A. C. Willis accompanied the machinery to put it into service, and Dode Reed and A. Wiford with their families moved to Quigley to operate it.  Scott Dunbar had brought the factory here in 1881 and in the 25 years following, made many thousands of heads for butter tubs.  Twice the factory was burned, once in 1886 and again in the fall of 1897, but was promptly rebuilt after each fire.
 
Those good old days were long and busy.  The workday at the turn of the Century was generally ten hours, 6:30 in the morning to 5:00 or 5:30 in the evening depending on whether half an hour or an hour was taken off at noon.  Occasionally as a special concession, quitting time was set up to four o’clock on Saturday afternoon.  There were fewer vacations, less money, but people ate fully as well or better, had meat a little oftener, spread their butter a little thicker on their bread or real buckwheat cakes, and were supremely happy in not knowing any different.
 
There was no job insurance except personal ability.  No old age pensions; no social welfare.
 
In the last half century and more of industrial progress, the North Manchester community, like most others, has seen much of the old set aside for something new, for something often times before undreamed.  Changing from the swaddling clothes of a wide place in the countr4y road into the somewhat oversized and sometimes rather uncomfortable garments of a good-sized town has not been made without some losses.  Whether we could have kept all of the desirable advantages of a primitive community life and at the same time enjoy all the conveniences of the modern age may be open to question.  Certain it is that in these modern days we do miss the old time friendly spirit.  Not that we are intentionally less friendly or kindly to those about us, but because of our modern ways we have so little chance to know our nearest neighbors, or to form really neighborly friendships with them.  This is only one of our possibly many losses.  We would not want to go back to our old ways of living, but in our haste to grab for the new, we may have let slip many of the worthwhile features of the old.