August 8, 2000
The debate about passenger train service in Oklahoma is likely to continue for many months before a final solution evolves. Current dialogue in this part of Oklahoma is focusing on a proposed gasoline tax to subsidize Amtrak rail traffic, but there are other considerations. Since passenger service was discontinued in Oklahoma years ago, many of the old train stations have been allowed to disintegrate and a number have been demolished. Perry used to have a Frisco depot south of the present location of the Noble County Family YMCA, but it was torn down years ago. The Santa Fe station escaped demolition, but I'm not sure it could be restored to service - if we ever have passenger traffic through here again.
Our Santa Fe station was a reasonably comfortable facility, if you didn't have to wait too long for a train. The old wooden benches had no padding of any kind so many patrons chose to stroll around the building or on the broad brick sidewalk adjacent to the tracks in preference to sitting on those benches for long periods. Years ago, before the civil rights legislation took effect, there was a separate waiting room (with equally hard benches) for African-Americans. That seems shameful to admit now, but it was an accepted fact of life then, just like the separate drinking fountains and rest rooms found in most public buildings.
You could buy a ticket to just about any destination in the U.S. at the old wooden counter in the Santa Fe station. The station agent sometimes doubled as telegrapher and if messages were incoming or being transmitted to the outside world he had to ignore customers at the counter to take care of that clickety-clacking key. The agent also was responsible for freight service and there were times when he had to load and unload parcels himself. The big green baggage carts with those large metal wheels were standard equipment. Outgoing mailbags had to be loaded onto a train's mobile post office cars, and incoming bags had to be received. A number of northbound and southbound trains came through here both day and night and all of them required attention.
At one time our Santa Fe depot had a covered porch, euphemistically called an outdoor waiting room, on the south end of the station. It was pleasant enough to wait there when the weather was OK, but the concrete seats were even harder than those indoor benches. The porch also was a fine place for roller-staking. Kids who liked to watch the trains come and go usually headed for the station with their skates in the summertime. No one had to tell them to stay clear of the tracks.
Passenger train service brought a lot of people to Perry and served as transportation for those who were outward bound. Because of them, taxicab service was needed and they were always on duty. When passenger trains no longer came to Perry, all the taxi drivers found other jobs, retired or just simply went out of business.
Perry was lucky to have both east-west train service on the Frisco line and north-south service on the Santa Fe. Stillwater had NO passenger rail service, so many Oklahoma A.& M. athletes traveled to games by driving to Perry to board a train. Stillwater parents brought their children over here to let them see the trains, and the engineers always provided a special toot on the steam whistle to please the kids. It was fun just to drive down to the station and watch all the activity. Someday, maybe, we'll have something of the sort once again, but don't hold your breath. Truthfully, it really could never be just the same as we remember it now.