Hands-on learning preserves rural history

Editor’s note: This is the first of a two-part series about the upcoming Murray County Antique Tractor & Implement Association 25th Annual Show. 

The Murray County Antique Tractor & Implement Association will be hosting its 25th annual show later this month and visitors will get a glimpse into what life was like in rural Oklahoma during the early 20th century. 

“It’s not just a field full of tractors,” club President Rick Pender said. “We’re really more about demonstrations and we try to make everything as fun as possible because our goal as a club is to educate and to preserve the past.” 

To make this educational opportunity available to as many people as possible, on Friday, Sept. 14,  area schools are invited to bring their students for a special event.

“We call Fridays our school days because we encourage schools to bring their kids up,” Pender said. “We take them around and we try to teach them about the past. There is no cost to the schools or any parents who comes along with them.” 

Once the students arrive, a multitude of activities and displays will ensure everyone has a good time learning.

The vintage village is set up on the club grounds and includes a jailhouse, a general store and a chapel. Another special building is the gas station, which was once an operating Phillips 66 station in Sulphur, that the club moved and restored for display. The village even has its own functioning post office.

“We’re officially a U.S. Post Office for 1.5 days per year,” Pender said. “You can mail a letter or buy a post card to send. Everything sent out of our post office shows our Murray County cancellation stamp.”

In addition to the village, there are numerous live demonstrations going on, including blacksmithing, lye soap making, and hay baling with antique equipment. Visitors can even get some hands on experience by making rope or trying their hand at quilting. 

Another excellent example of this hands-on learning takes into account all aspects of the corn production cycle. Children can shell the corn and watch vintage machinery grind it into corn meal. For many years, they could even pick the corn themselves from a nearby field, but unfortunately, this year’s corn crop was destroyed by wild hogs. Pender and his wife Jayne are in charge of the corn area and he shared the speech he usually gives the children.

“I always give them a little spiel,” Pender said. “I’ll tell them if you ate eggs this morning that field corn was a part of your diet because that’s what fed the chickens. If you drink a Coke, 90 percent of them use corn sweetener.” By telling the kids this, he helps them realize that corn can come in many varieties other than on the cob. In fact, there are five different ways corn can be processed. It can be turned into corn starch, high fructose corn syrup, corn flower, corn meal, and ethanol alcohol (otherwise known as moonshine). A friend of the club owns a still, and one year he actually brought a jar of the corn-based alcohol.

“I told the kids, this is what your mama uses to fuel her car and what your great granddad used to drink,” Pender said with a laugh. That year, there was one visitor in the crowd who instantly recognized the jar’s contents.

“There was an old veteran who came up and asked me, ‘is that what I think that is?’ I answered, yes,sir, and then he asked if he could just smell it,” Pender said. 

As soon as the man got a whiff of the jar he exclaimed that it smelled exactly the way he remembered it. Stories such as this are part of what makes the event so special for the club members. 

“We try to bring back the fellowship and get people talking the way they used to,” Pender said. 

He shared another story about a group of older men who were standing near the cotton field. When kids visit the show, they get to experience picking a cotton boll for the first time. For these older guests, it was once a way of life because they had to work in the fields when they were children.

“The old timers will gather up by the cotton field and start talking about how bad it was,” Pender said. “But before the story is over they’re all laughing about how they used to try to put rocks in the sacks because they were paid by the amount of weight they picked.”