They're Playing Our Song - Part 5
Community Bands in Kansas
In an attempt to spread goodwill and instill pride among workers, many businesses and industries in Kansas organized bands.
These groups entertained workers at company activities, marched in community parades, and performed concerts for the town. Probably the best-known industry bands were the railroad bands.
Union Pacific Railroad Band
1890-1912 and 1923-1924
One of the earliest railroad bands was the Union Pacific Band organized in Ellis, Kansas. An early member was Walter Chrysler, later a leading figure in the automobile industry.
"Our uniforms were simply overalls and caps with long bills so that when we marched with red bandanas around our necks, we looked like locomotive engineers."
The Union Pacific Band (top, left; courtesy of Ellis County Historical Society) performed at the Ellis County fair every year and at concerts along the Union Pacific line. Occasionally, the band performed in night processions, and children would be paid five to 25 cents to carry torches by which the musicians could read their music.
Although popular, the band dispersed in 1912. An attempt to revive the group met with little success in 1923.
The band established by the Missouri, Kansas and Texas Railroad--popularly known as the "KATY"--was formed in Parsons. Members provided their own instruments and rehearsed weekly on the top floor of the town's depot.
The KATY Band had the honor of playing in many military funeral processions for Kansas soldiers killed during World War I. These soldiers often were fellow KATY employees or local men known to band members.
One of the KATY Band's memorable events was marching in the 1921 American Legion parade in Kansas City before General John J. Pershing, who awarded the group third place out of 175 bands performing that day.
Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Band
1911-1919 and 1924-Present
Early rehearsals of the ATSF Band were in the apprentice school room of the railroads' shops in Topeka, as most of the musicians were railroad apprentices. As the band grew in number and the apprentices graduated, the name was changed to the Topeka Shop Band (bottom, left).
Today the group is known as the Topeka Santa Fe Band. It is believed to be the only railroad concert band still active.
Sid Long played these instruments (bottom, right) as a member of the Topeka Santa Fe Band. He was with the band for over 20 years until his death in 1983.
They're Playing Our Song: Community Bands in Kansas is an online exhibit developed by the Kansas Museum of History.
- Military Bands
- Town Bands
- Music in the Schools
- Fraternal Bands
- Railroad Bands
- Cowboy Bands
- Ethnic Folk Bands
- Circus Bands
- Bandwagons and Bandstands
Contact us at KansasMuseum@kshs.org