Uinta Basin Group Trekked to the 1933 World’s Fair

Miriam B. Murphy
History Blazer September 1995

In December 1932, in the depths of the Great Depression, eighty-seven Uinta Basin residents made plans to attend the 1933 World’s Fair, Century of Progress, in Chicago. They were Future Farmers of America members from the Toyack Chapter, Central Union High School, Roosevelt, Utah, and their goal was nothing less than the longest journey and largest project any chapter of the FFA had yet undertaken. The idea for the trip was born when Harold Behunin, 1932 president of the Toyack Chapter, told advisor Walter E. Atwood that he “would like to do something big for our chapter, something different and worthwhile.”

Most Toyackers had never been out of the Uinta Basin. “I was a well-traveled man. I had been to Vernal, Salt Lake City, and the High Uinta Mountains,” Walt Redmond, a 1933 Toyack member said. “Most of the kids going on the trip had only been to Vernal, if that far from home.”

Each boy had to pay $12.50 for food and transportation and the rest of the money would come from “On to Chicago” fundraisers. These included local dances where the orchestra played for free or a small fee. The Toyackers also put on boxing matches in the various communities. Not too popular with the women of the Basin, the matches—in which Toyackers fought each other—proved popular with the men, however, and Walt Redmond remembered that the group made most of their money that way. “The room would always be filled,” he said, “and it cost twenty-five cents to watch.”

Group fundraising was the easy part. The $12.50 each individual had to contribute was difficult. It represented a lot of money in the depression years. And the Uinta Basin, an area that had been open to homesteaders for only twenty-three years, was especially poverty stricken. Walt Redmond raised two calves as an FFA project to earn his money. He had to raise two calves in order to keep the profit from one. It was enough to pay his $12.50, buy clothing for the trip, and have $10.00 spending money. Victor Brow, another Toyack member, recalled earning his quota, as did four other Toyackers, by working for his father harvesting hay.

Each boy was required to buy a “ten-gallon hat” as a symbol of coming from the West and also as a means of identification—-it made spotting the boys in a crowd easier. J. C. Penney offered the hats for a reduced price of $5.00. Each boy also needed a blanket, a tarp, and a pillow.

The Toyackers and their advisors started the 21-day journey August 11, traveling in two buses and a flatbed truck known as the cook truck. Advisor Atwood, a World War I veteran, ran everything in a military manner, and bugler Fred Gagon sounded his horn every morning at 5:00. Martha Shanks, a former Army nurse, accompanied the group. Her only medical emergencies were boils on the young men’s feet and homesickness.

The Toyackers traveled through six states and saw land they had not known existed. The farther east the boys went, the bigger novelty they became. They performed a special march to the sound of the bugle in towns were the American Legion hosted them. The boys visited two state fairs and a rodeo in their travels. The fat cattle, the likes of which they had not seen in the drought-stricken Basin, awed them. They repeatedly praised the farming techniques they saw.

Often the boys would have to spend the night in a stockyard. They doubled up to sleep so they could put one blanket under them and cover themselves with the other. “Wood and I spread our beds together,” Redmond remembered. “The ground felt like the cobble rocks of Bennett. It was so cold that we shivered up a sweat until we passed into the land of happy dreams.”

For three nights the Toyackers stayed twenty-seven miles outside of Chicago at Maple Lake, a resort area formerly owned by Al Capone. When he was imprisoned he gave it to the American Legion. The Legion helped the Toyackers all along the way with lodging, meals, movies, and swimming.

The size of the World’s Fair impressed the boys, but these young FFA men, used to entering their livestock in fairs as a form of competition, were surprised that the fair did not include much livestock. It did have exhibits from every country—everything from a Chinese temple to Admiral Byrd’s ship. Light from a star turned on the lights at the fair, a wonder sponsored by the electric company. The Chrysler building demonstrated automobile construction. The boys also experienced the city of Chicago, riding streetcars and driving through the black ghetto for miles. Imagine how this opened the eyes and minds of rural farm boys who rarely saw a black person let alone the conditions they lived in. The experience of going to the World’s Fair was not only educational with regard to the exhibits, it also broadened the minds of these young men racially, culturally, and economically.

The Toyackers were as excited over the start homeward as they had been at the beginning of the trip. James F. Secome wrote: “The country over which we traveled was much different than the west. The cornfields of Iowa were a sight to behold. Then there was Kansas with wheat stubble or plowed ground as far as the eye could see. I recall fertile valleys, wooded areas with many trees, huge rivers, but nothing looked as great as the Rocky Mountains as they appeared on the journey homeward.”

The Craig, Colorado, American Legion post prepared the final breakfast for the travelers, after which the boys held a chapter meeting and decided to do something special to commemorate the journey—build an FFA chapter house, the first one in the nation.

After the meeting the boys started the final lap of their journey. The last one hundred miles seemed endless, but at dusk the party pulled into Roosevelt where they received a hearty welcome. They marched down Main Street and were invited to a free picture show by the Basin American Legion. Their 3,400-mile journey was over, but a new project—the building of the chapter house—would absorb their youthful energies for the next few years.

See: Michelle Miles, “How Utah’s Toyackers Made It to the 1933 World’s Fair in Chicago,” Utah State Historical Society Newsletter, August 1992.