The Murals of Alva Oklahoma
My wife and I like to take day trips around Northern Oklahoma. So far we have visited Bartlesville, Woolaroc, Pawhuska, Kaw City, Blackwell, Stillwater, Morrison, Pawnee, Cleveland, Hominy, Ralston, Burbank, and Shidler among others and now we are starting to head out towards the western part of the state. Isn't it true that if you go to a city to visit, you see things that local residents may not have seen or noticed even though they have lived there all their lives?
Last week we went to Alva. I worked in Alva in 1968. My father was a telegrapher for the Rock Island Railroad in Ponca City and he helped me get a job working on the railroad during the summers while I attended Oklahoma State University during the school year. The work was interesting and the main advantage was that it paid well. Everybody got union scale and during the harvest season, I would get called out on weekends to Billings and Garber to write waybills for grain shipments and would get time and a half on a minimum of three hours according to union rules so I could earn enough working all summer to pay my college tuition, room and board, and books during the school year.
The hardest part was writing train orders. I had to drive down to El Reno every Saturday for 12 weeks and spend all day in class learning to write waybills and train orders. Back in those days, the network of trains wasn't automated so if you had two trains coming down the same track in different directions, you had to have some way of making sure they didn't run into each other. A system was developed and perfected over the preceding 100 years for controlling the trains. You don't just tell a train to "stop at siding 831 and wait there until Train 534 passes by." You write "trains orders" in a special language using special words in special syntax and read and confirm them in special way to ensure that there was absolutely no ambiguity about what the trains were supposed to do.
There is a good article on train orders on Wikipedia that explains: "They were conveyed to telegraph operators at outlying stations along the railroad via Morse telegraph or telephone; the receiving operators would copy the order onto onionskin forms designed for that purpose and would repeat the order back to the dispatcher so the dispatcher and other operators concerned could confirm correctness. As each operator repeated the order correctly, the dispatcher would give a complete time, along with the initials of the designated railroad official for that territory. After the order was completed, it was delivered by the operator to the concerned trains as they arrived or passed the delivery point. The operating time table indicated locations at which train crews could expect to receive train orders."
My job was to work at one of the small railroad stations as Station Master and write waybills and train orders. I was working the vacations of the full time railroad employees so I would only stay two or three weeks in each town. I worked at Ponca City, Enid, Garber, and Billings in Oklahoma and Elbing, Peabody, and Whitewater in Kansas. But I also spent three weeks in 1968 in Alva, Oklahoma.
Last week my wife and drove to Alva to see what I remembered after almost 40 years. As Wikipedia states: "Alva is a city in Woods County, Oklahoma, along the Salt Fork Arkansas River. The population was 5,288 at the 2000 census. It is the county seat of Woods County. Alva was established in 1893 as a land office for the Cherokee Outlet land run, the largest of the land rushes that settled western and central Oklahoma. The site was chosen for its location on the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railway and likely named for a railroad attorney, Alva Adams, who had become governor of Colorado. Today, the city council is actively soliciting murals -- one of the most recent is of the storied Castle -- and trying to attract businesses and tourists to keep people in town, important as the population of Woods County has been dropping since the 1930s. Alva lost 200 people between 1990 and 2000 according to official census figures."
I am always interested in seeing what other small towns and cities in Oklahoma are doing to retain their character, history, and identity. Alva is using art in the form of murals that celebrate its past. Take a look at my photographs of the Murals of Alva.
There is nothing wrong with taking ideas and borrowing them or expanding on them. "The Murals of Alva" is something that would work in Ponca City.