Early agents use trains to bring education to rural areas

Linda Benedict, LaBauve, Randy  |  6/9/2014 7:20:14 PM

Randy LaBauve

In 1908, W.R. Dodson, director of the Louisiana Agricultural Experiment Station, purchased train tickets for farm boys to travel to Moreauville, La., for the state’s first corn club meeting. These clubs (later called 4-H) were originally a concept of Seaman A. Knapp, an early agriculture educator. He wanted youth to teach improved agricultural practices to parents and adults. The success of boys’ club work was the primary motivation behind Louisiana’s initial use of “agricultural” trains in 1910. State Club Agent V.L. Roy, who was present at that first corn club meeting, began the demonstration tours to recruit more boys.

These rail-bound educational excursions were used off and on until the 1940s, bringing information to people in remote parts of the state. The trains had exhibit cars filled with the latest farming tools and technologies, as well as displays of model crops, fruits, vegetables and livestock. LSU Agricultural College faculty and selected members from several state agencies taught farmers the latest science-based agricultural developments, including information for preventing crop and animal disease. Home economics teachers taught from their “lecture cars” about food preservation, food safety, nutrition and health.

These steam-powered classrooms travelled more than 1,000 miles in the first year, 1910, reaching nearly 55,000 people. In the second year, 1911, the trains spent a full day at each destination. Every railroad company in Louisiana became involved in the effort. The distinguished team of presenters lived on the train for three months and had their own dining and sleeper cars. The railroad operators spared no expense, providing a full staff of porters and cooks to serve the travelling teachers.

The agricultural demonstration trains were a cooperative effort among the State Bureau of Agriculture, the Experiment Station and railroad companies statewide. According to extension historian Frederick W. Williamson, the idea of the agricultural train had already “originated in Northern and Eastern sections of the country, but in Louisiana at this time (1910) it was developed on a scale that transcended anything previously attempted anywhere.”

Randy LaBauve is an associate communications specialist in LSU AgCenter Communications.

(This article was published in the spring 2014 issue of Louisiana Agriculture magazine.)

View the 1:31-min video, Agents of Change: Vehicles of Information.

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