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Prairie Pioneers sign comes home to roost with its family
 
Wrenching Tales by Cindy Ladage 
 
Signs are one form of memorabilia often sought by collectors. This is especially true when the sign is of the collector’s favorite equipment brand, a seed they use or a name that has meaning to them.
In the case of the Bourne family of Divernon, Ill., the sign that has come home to them is one more of sentimental value than economic; the cast aluminum sign carries a Bourne family legacy that continues today.
Marc Bourne could not have been more surprised when he received a phone call from retired local farmer Nelvin Sloman telling him that Kevin Miness of Palmer, Ill., while trying to dig a post hole for a squirrel feeder, dug up a long lost family sign.
“It was a God moment,” Marc’s wife, Marla, said about the find, since Miness could very easily have dug a little more to the left or the right and the sign would never have been unearthed.
“He continued digging, I think,” Marc said, “because there is an old mystery that there was a stolen cash box in the area, instead he found a sign. He dug a hole as big as a car trying to find more, and he found this sign and part of another one.”
While no one is quite certain when the sign was made, its story begins in the 1930s or so when Fred Oliver, Marc’s grandfather, and his mother Lois (Oliver) Bourne were part of a band called the Prairie Pioneers.
Marc, who has been a member of the bluegrass band the River Ramblers since 1987, has a picture circa 1950 of the band sitting in an old fire truck his grandpa owned – and the two signs Miness found are on display. These two signs have not been seen in 50 years or more.
“In this picture Mom would have been about 21 or so, about Rylie’s age,” Marc said, indicating his daughter, who is a country music artist in her own right. “The truck was used for promotional purposes and sometimes a stage. Grandpa played at the ‘Hoosier Hop’ in Fort Wayne and he hosted that show.”
“Hoosier Hop” began broadcasting on WOWO Fort Wayne in 1932, and eventually boasted a cast of more than 30 performers. A postcard donated by Fred’s son to the Indiana State Museum is of the Hoosier Cornhuskers from 1943. It features a picture of the group, and Fred is among them – prior to having his own band, he was part of the Cornhuskers and played bass for them.
Information states the band was founded in Logansport in the early 1930s and by 1943 had gained national exposure, appearing at state fairs and the like and as regular performers on the “Hoosier Hop,” which was “Indiana’s answer to the barn dance-style radio programming of the time.”
Fred Oliver was a vocalist and yodeler for the Prairie Pioneers, and Lois was also a vocalist and guitar and mandolin player. A story on Hillbilly-Music.com mentions the band and the WLDS radio show of which they were a part: “One of the ‘cleanest, fastest and funniest’ radio shows in the Midwest in the late 1940s-early 1950s was put on by the Prairie Pioneers. Their popularity at WLDS can be shown by the fact that on Oct. 18, 1951, they were celebrating their sixth anniversary there.
“The leader of the group was none other than the ‘Old Man of the Mountain’ who had achieved some fame previously on the ‘Hoosier Hop.’ Other members included Fred’s daughter, Lois, known for her singing and instrument sound effects.”
“My mom was born in 1928. She started playing as an early teen. She learned when she took sick – appendicitis, I think,” Marc added. “She was bedridden for six months and she learned to play then.”
Lois passed away in 2011 leaving a music legacy to her children. She had a daughter, Vicki, by her first marriage and three sons by her second marriage to Leo Bourne – Marc, Randy and Rod, all of whom listened to their mother play throughout their lives.
Marc and Rod both picked up instruments and Vicky and Randy enjoyed the music that filled their house through their growing years.
Next week the story will continue and tell just how the sign Kevin Miness found was reunited with the family, stirring up memories of the Prairie Pioneers.

Readers with questions or comments for Cindy Ladage may write to her in care of this publication.
5/20/2015