August 2005
September 2004

Antique piano has mysterious history

Our Jones and Plummer Trail Museum has on loan from Ozella Bradley a beautiful piano built in the late 1800ís. Ozella will be playing this piano in the museum during the fair which is just a couple of weeks away. Joining Ozella and Geneva Harmon on the keyboard and the Mandolin, Gheene Heavilin on the Four String Tenor Banjo and Doyle "Moose" Cordes on the guitar. We donít know at this time who will be having the most fun, those providing the music or those listening, but our guess is that all will be enjoying themselves. The following article about Ozellaís piano appeared in The Guymon Daily Herald in 1974. Since the article was written Ozella has fully restored the strings and sounding board so the sound coming from it is as good as it gets.

It sings, but if it could only talk... that is the feeling Mrs. Paul Bradley has in regard to the antique grand piano which graces her living room. At first, she thought if she could just have it that would be satisfaction enough. Then she wanted it repaired and refinished to restore its original beauty. This has been done, but it is still not enough. She now wants to know the pianoís history. Unfortunately, this seems to have been swallowed up in the lost history of what was once the thriving town of Balko in Beaver County.

Ozella Bradley has known and loved that piano since she was a small child. Sometime in the mid 1920ís, her father, J.R. Pearson, purchased it from the I.O.O.F. Lodge of Balko when the Lodge disbanded. He paid $25.00 for the instrument. He too had loved it for years.

"I can remember that he used to go down to the lodge hall," Mrs. Bradley said, "and if no one came he would spend the evening alone playing the piano."

So, in time, the piano came to the Pearson home which was then a roofed basement.

"He took the legs off, put planks on the stairs, and lowered the piano down with ropes fastened to the tractor," Mrs. Bradley said. "Later, when the house was built over the basement the piano was too large to bring upstairs."

The piano spent 40-odd years in the Pearson basement. And it was used for more than music-making. Because of its height, sturdy construction and broad, flat top, it was found to be a useful work bench.

"You wouldnít believe," Ozella shudders, "but the top of that piano was used for cutting and salting meat for winter use."

But the piano, with its lovely lines and musical voice, always fascinated Mrs. Bradley. From childhood she loved it and dreamed of seeing it restored to its original destiny as a musical instrument and a fine piece of furniture.

"I never dreamed I could ever have it," she says. "After all, there were ten of us. Surely one of the others would want it and have a prior claim." But none of the others felt as she did. And about three ago Mr. Pearson gave the instrument to Ozella.

"We got it out of the basement in about the same way that Daddy got it in. We took the legs off, put planks on the stairway and Lee (her late husband) put some little wheels on it. Then he tied ropes to a pickup and dragged it out that way."

Now they had it, but what were they going to do with it? Over the years the varnish had turned black. Some of the Ďgingerbreadí trim was chipped. There was a spot on the lid where the meat curing ingredients had seeped through and damaged the wood. But that didnít matter. Someday Ozella would find a way to have her piano restored.

The answer to the problem came from an overheard snatch of conversation. Ozella was secretary in the office of the County Agent and Home Economist. One day a visitor from downstate was telling the Home Economist about the beauties of an old organ she had rebuilt and refinished.

"I couldnít sit still," Ozella said. "I bustled in and asked where she had sent the organ."

Now Ozella had the address of Oren Bradshaw of Ada, Oklahoma. Again the piano was loaded into a pickup. Oren Bradshaw was waiting. They were amazed to discover that the man who had agreed to work on their piano was blind.

"But you should have seen him," Ozella said. "Before we knew it he had it taken apart, strings, keys and all, and spread out over the floor. His hands simply flew over the pieces. He could see more with his fingers than I could see with my eyes. He noticed small cracks, pieces of trim missing and bad places in the wood that I had never noticed."

The piano spent over a year in Ada, with Mr. Bradshaw supervising his two workmen in stripping the wood and refinishing the instrument. The piano is now back in Beaver. The beautiful wood, mahogany and rosewood, gleams like satin. The damaged section on the lid has been so cunningly replaced that one must squint to see where it was inset. The music rack which had been removed and later lost, strayed or stolen, has been replaced with one which was carved in the same motif that enhances the massive legs. There are new felts and hammers, new ivories on the keys. "The black keys didnít need replacing," Ozella said proudly. "They are just as good as they ever were."

Now it awaits a tuner. Up to the present a tuner willing to tackle the job hasnít been located. "The last one who looked at it didnít want the job," Ozella said ruefully. "It seems he would have to lie across the top of the instrument to work on the strings, and he felt that was just too much."

Strings and sounding board lie flat in the case which is 83 inches long and nearly 4 feet deep from front to back. The lid opens toward the front, full length, and is supported by two braces when open. Inside, molded on the sounding board, are the letters, "Lindeman & Sons, New York." The date is 1873. And this is no home or cottage model piano. It is apparent it must have started life in the 1870ís as a stage or concert instrument.

How did it get to Balko? There is a vague rumor that it was once a fixture in a long-defunct saloon that operated in Balko in its heyday when No Manís Land was first settled. It has been said the Lodge acquired the piano from the saloon when that establishment closed its doors.

Ozella then questioned her parents. Neither could remember anything about names that might be connected with the piano. She has searched for the lost records of the Lodge and of the town of Balko itself, to no avail. She has gone through the Balko Cemetery tombstone by tombstone, listing names of old-timers and attempting to contact survivors who perhaps had heard their parents or grandparents tell of someone, anyone, who had a hand in bringing the piano to town. So far she has drawn nothing but blanks. The piano itself sings willingly when the keys are touched. It sings a tinkling song reminiscent of the old saloon piano of song and story. Its resonance is more that of a harpsichord than a modern-day piano. Hopefully, tuning it will restore some of its lost timbre.

Ozella isnít discouraged. "Someday Iíll find a clue when I am least looking for it." She is planning to start on the trail of ĎLindeman & Sons, New Yorkí by writing to an old and well known music publisher in New York where, at one time at least, fine instruments could be purchased and where old and valuable instruments were kept on display. She stood beside the old piano, her hand caressing the shining wood, the mellow ivory of the keys. "Oh, how I wish I knew who first owned it," she sighed, "and something about the road it traveled to reach Beaver County, Oklahoma."