Contacts with the
One of the nice things about being an educator is that you
can learn from students. Particularly after Ms. Deane’s
report, Dr. Smith knew as an historian that these surviving
family members deserved to be interviewed. But there always
seemed other projects that needed to be completed first.
And St. Clairsville, located in the southeastern portion
of Ohio, seemed to be a long ways from California. To his
later regret, Smith was not able to visit St. Clairsville
and the farm site (near Warnock) until July, 2000. By that
time, the last of the Parkinson children had passed on.
Indeed, all four of the surviving Parkinson children died
between 1995 and 1997. Even the Parkinson farm compound
was no longer standing; indeed, the site, to Dr. Smith’s
chagrin, was virtually unrecognizable.
his initial visit in 2000, Dr. Smith made contact with John
W. Parkinson, one of Bip’s sons, and with John W.
Parkinson III, a nephew of Bill and Hazel Parkinson. (John
W. Parkinson III’s father and Bill Parkinson were
brothers.) Over the next four years, Smith completed videotape
interviews with Ruth’s husband (Tom Brannan, now deceased),
four of Ruth’s children (Sara A, Thomas L., David,
and Rick Brannan), and two of Bip’s children (John
W. Parkinson and James L. Parkinson). None of the children
(now grown adults) had known their grandmother Hazel Parkinson;
she had died in 1950. Only Tom L. Brannan (one of Ruth’s
three sons) had known his grandfather Bill Parkinson. The
latter, having turned day-to-day operations of the farm
to his son Jake, remained in the residence with Jake and
his wife Della. Bill survived Hazel by seven years and died
But all of the Parkinson grandchildren shared
what they had learned from their parents about Power
and the Land. Jim Parkinson (one of Bip’s sons),
also showed Dr. Smith two additional films made by Joris
Ivens for the REA featuring members of the Parkinson family.
These two additional REA films, Bip Goes to Town
(10 min.) and Worst of Farm Disasters (5 min.),
directed by Ivens and edited by Lora Hays, had seemingly
been lost to film scholars for decades. Indeed, they were
not even included in Ivens’ published filmography.
Clearly, the making of Power and the Land and these
two additional short films as an important story that had
been largely forgotten.
This is the story told in Power for
the Parkinsons (2005) This is the story of life on
a small farm in America before electricity, of the very
early years of the Rural Electrification Administration,
of an Ohio farm family who did their duty when country called,
of two very important filmmakers - Joris Ivens and Pare
Lorenz, of a talented production team - that included an
Oscar-winning cameraman, a Pulitzer prize-winning poet and
a Pulitzer prize-winning composer, and of a film that helped
to electrify the American farm and brought life in the country
into the modern age. And had it not been for rural electrification,
as historian D. Clayton Brown notes in Power for the
Parkinsons, we might not have been able to succeed
with the coming challenges of World War II and the Cold