Great State: OSU Extension Celebrates 1st Century

WELLSTON, OKLAHOMA — Heading east from a changed central Oklahoma landscape, a train carrying the freight of knowledge and history set out for rural Oklahoma April 12, 2014.

One of the men riding that train and wearing period costume was Dr. James Trapp.

He runs the Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service these days.

He is also the latest in a trainload of agricultural agents who stretch back a whole century.

“The Extension service has always used the technology of the times,” he explained.

“We’re celebrating 100 years of extension and we thought a good way to do that would be to re-enact some of the things that went on with the extension service back in 1914.”

In the early 1900’s agricultural agents carried the latest farming practices only as far as the rails could reach.

They loaded animals and seed on demonstration trains and carried what they knew out to farmers.

“Furthermore,” says Trapp, “railroads at the time had a close working relationship with agriculture. They shipped a lot of goods so they were willing to give us free passage on those trains.”

The special re-enactment train came to its first stop near Wellston on a Saturday afternoon, celebrating the end of the train era and the beginning of the modern extension system.

“This isn’t a typical train carrying passengers,” announced a speaker from the podium. “It’s the extension demonstration train delivering education.”

In 1914 the Smith-Lever Act set up extension agents in every county.

Decades later, in the 1970’s Joyce Sherrer got her start as an extension educator.

“38 years later I’m still enjoying that opportunity,” she said.

A century ago not many farmers were familiar with boll weevils let alone GPS tractors.

But if you ever wonder how research finds its way from college halls to red dirt and back again this is it.

The cooperative extension service is the envy of the world.

“Our mission,” said Dr. Trapp, “take the university to the people.”