WELLSTON — In the early- and mid-1900s, agents of the Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service traveled around the state by train, bringing with them the latest developments in agriculture and technology, and tips for making life in the young state easier.
When the train reached a town, the extension workers would host a whistle-stop to demonstrate the latest advances. It has been many years since the last stop, but for one day, the whistle-stop returned to Wellston.
On Saturday, Wellston celebrated the centennial anniversary of the extension service by recreating one of the historic stops.
Whistle-stops were often called ‘county fairs on wheels,’ and the Wellston stop captured the gala attitude with dozens of activities, food, and fun for the whole family.
In keeping with the spirit of the classic stops, there were also demonstrations on modern farming techniques, as well as gun and ATV safety classes.
Although the Centennial Whistle Stop and Festival wasn’t dependent on a locomotive as it would have been in the 1900s, the event was held at the Rock ’N Rail yard, and there was a train on site. Small groups of passengers rode the train around Wellston, Stroud, and Oklahoma City.
In the morning, whistle-stop volunteers in historical costumes got off the train to give a reenactment of what one of the early stops would have looked like.
Joyce and Gary Sherrer were two of the actors. Both also are involved with the extension service. Joyce is a director of staff and programs, and Gary works at Oklahoma State University’s Division of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources. Extension is a state agency that is part of the university’s agriculture division.
“A lot of the displays here today are modern,” said Joyce Sherrer. “We always want our extension service to be on the cutting edge, whether in agriculture or robotics.”
In the past, children often were encouraged to attend whistle-stops for the educational experience. Wellston’s festival also proved itself popular with the younger audience. Jenkins Peek, 11, of Stillwater, said she had a great time learning how to grind corn, make butter, and best her sister in a sack race. Peek also said the historic activities gave her a better understanding of the state’s past.
“I think it would have been hard to live back then,” said Peek. “You would have to do a lot of chores.”
Other kid-friendly events included decorating button cookies and making handkerchief dolls. On the more modern side of things, a tent run by the 4-H program had a bicycle-powered blender to make healthy fruit and vegetable smoothies.
Although the whistling of a train no longer heralds its arrival on wheels, the extension service still plays an important role in the lives of many Oklahomans. Counties have local educators who offer science-based education programs, ranging from family development to environmental responsibility. The material they teach might have changed, but the educators’ goal has not.
“Extension’s mission today is exactly the same as it was in 1914,” said James Trapp, associate director of the extension service. “We take the university to the people, and help them understand technology and research and what it can do for them.”