Sweet Clover Special

Farm Forum

Politicians had been campaigning from the caboose of trains for years.

So why not promote new farm crops for South Dakota with a special train that would pause at whistle stops throughout eastern South Dakota?

That’s a plan the Dakota Farmer newspaper out of Aberdeen sponsored, in conjunction with South Dakota State University and the state’s railroads in 1927.

The road show proved to be a remarkable success, and alfalfa and sweet clover are now favored forage crops in this region of the country.

The five-car Alfalfa and Sweet Clover Special train left Brookings on Saturday, Jan. 8, 1927.

There was a dining car, complete with railroad cooks, a sleeper car and three cars for the displays and exhibits promoting alfalfa, including one car that extolled the virtues of International Harvester planting and harvesting equipment.

From Brookings the train chugged up to Estelline and over the next 25 days stopped at nearly every town in eastern South Dakota.

It was January and February and Dakota cold, so you really had to want to see the exhibit. Yet farmers, townspeople and even school children stood in long lines waiting to climb aboard the drafty rail car.

Towns got into the act, too. Town meetings were arranged, and in between short speeches by Extension personnel from SDSU, bands played and children’s choirs sang. Special cartoon movies were shown.

The crowds were huge. At Madison, for example, 2,556 people passed through the cars from 1 to 4 p.m., so they opened the cars for tours that evening, and another 753 walked through to learn more about alfalfa.

The train stopped in over 70 eastern South Dakota communities.

At a time when the state’s population was about 650,000, nearly 50,000 people viewed the exhibit.

The number of acres planted to alfalfa increased markedly after the train tour. But then the 1930s Dust Bowl arrived, and the acreage declined markedly.

But alfalfa was here to stay. Other special trains promoting dairying and other crops also toured the state, but none had the success of the Alfalfa and Sweet Clover Special.

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