4th of July: Freedom In Enid, Oklahoma

Today, more than ever before, the freedoms celebrated by Americans on Independence Day appear to be at risk. Among the most important are some freedoms I remember growing up with in Enid, Okla., during the ’60s and ’70s.

The people of Enid had the freedom to feed the world.

Because my “forever hometown” in North Central Oklahoma was known as the “Wheat Capitol of the World,” its residents could have boasted about having some of the tallest buildings in the world if not for the fact that those buildings, known as grain elevators, were lying on their sides. Still, they were proud of those structures and what they represented as the largest inland grain storage center on the planet, visible from miles away to visitors as they made the flat-land approaches to the city via U.S. Highways 64 and 81.

Every year without fail, those grain elevators were filled as a result of hard work and a lot of prayer put in by farmers, aided by caravans of combines and a large labor force of willing-and-able teenagers and others who counted on “The Harvest” for extra income.

The people of Enid had the freedom to defend freedom.

When I was a kid, Enid served as home to some of the busiest air space in the Midwest, thanks to Vance AFB, a pilot training base since 1941 that has served as a launching pad for thousands of Air Force pilots and, more recently, Marine Corps and Navy pilots.

As a kid, I can remember going to annual Open House events at the base to see aerobatic wonders executed by members of the U.S. Air Force Aerial Demonstration Squadron (a.k.a., “The Thunderbirds”), the U.S. Navy’s Blue Angels and others in the sky above my head. I also remember watching T-37 “Tweets” and T-38 Talon aircraft flying overhead almost daily during the first two decades of my life. In addition to influencing my decision to become an active-duty Air Force officer and serve on three continents, I suspect the presence of the air base might have influenced other Enid boys, including Owen K. Garriott, the first Enidite — yes, that’s what we called ourselves — to fly into space as part of the Skylab 3 mission in 1973.

The people of Enid had the freedom to fuel freedom.

In addition to agriculture and defense, Enid was home to a large number of individuals — including my dad, an independent petroleum geologist — and companies involved in the exploration, production and refining of oil. In fact, I grew up about three miles across town from a facility known as the Champlin Oil Refinery.

Just like the Oklahoma state song says, “the wind comes sweepin’ down the plains” on a regular basis in Enid. On rare occasions, however, the wind blew from the East instead of the West. As a result, it was often accompanied by sulphur-tinted vapors emanating from that oil refinery.

Did the people on the West Side of Enid panic upon smelling the refinery fumes from the East Side? No, they didn’t. In Enid, that vapor wasn’t regarded as “air pollution”; instead, it was respected — albeit in an odd sort of way — as the aroma of jobs, money and economic vitality.

The people of Enid had the freedom to enjoy freedom.

Even after the refinery was shut down in 1984 and relocated to Corpus Christi, Texas, the “dots” of agriculture, defense and oil remained connected by the “glues” of patriotism, sacrifice and rugged individualism that shaped the community. And nothing said “community” more than Independence Day celebrations at Meadowlake Park.

Each year, tens of thousands of people descended upon the 110-acre city park for the annual Fourth of July fireworks display. For hours before sunset, they would spend time coaxing fish out of the lake, playing baseball and softball games, enjoying picnics and riding rides operated by a local civic club, the Enid Kiwanis Club. Among the best rides at the park was a train.

The “City of Enid Express,” purchased by the club in 1963, includes an engine that’s a replica of the 1863 C. P. Huntington and three open-air passenger cars. Most incredibly, the train was manned by volunteers and operated without any federal government support.

According to the club’s website, the train carries an average of 15,000 passengers a year over 1.2 miles of track, through a tunnel, and over two bridges.

Thanks to online resources, such as the The Enid News & Eagle website and my Facebook friends in Enid, I’m able to keep up with hometown news and have been assured of several things that give me hope as I enjoy the Fourth of July with my family in the St. Louis area:

~ The sound of freedom still roars loudly in Enid, thanks to the people at Vance AFB;

~ The combines are gonna run in the fields this summer;

~ Oil wells are still being drilled;

~ Kids are still climbing aboard that slow-moving train when the conductor can’t see them in his side-view mirror; and

~ Weather and fire danger permitting, the South side of the park is gonna shut down Monday evening so that the annual fireworks display can be enjoyed one more time by the good people of Enid.

Editor’s Note: E-N-I-D is the answer to any crossword puzzle clue asking for the name of a four-letter town in Oklahoma.

.