The Woodward News

August 18, 2012

The Dust Bowl: Screening of Ken Burns' film draws large crowd

Brandi Thomas
Woodward News

Woodward, Okla. — A packed house was on hand for a preview of the Ken Burns' "The Dust Bowl" documentary on Thursday night at the Conference Center in Woodward.

Though the crowd of almost 350 people only saw a 40-minute excerpt of the film on Thursday, the entire documentary will air on OETA on Nov. 18th and 19th.

The film features stories from Oklahomans who survived the Dust Bowl.


Pauline Hodges, of Beaver, was one of the survivors interviewed in the film.

The Dust Bowl was the setting for much of Hodges'  childhood as she was just 2 when it began and 12 when it ended.

"We lived 14 miles west of Forgan, in Beaver County, and lost our farm to the bank," she said. "My dad then went to work for the WPA (Works Progress Administration) or we would have starved to death."

Hodges was impressed with how Burns' documentary turned out and encouraged everyone to watch OETA when the full film airs in November.

"When people see the entire film, they will be really impressed on how thorough it is on the Dust Bowl," she said.

Hodges said she appreciated being able to participate in the making of the film, which went beyond just sharing her own memories.

"My job on the film, not only as a survivor, was to check the accuracy of the people in the film and that it was historically accurate," she said.

As someone who lived through the Dust Bowl, Hodges said she thinks it's even more important for those who didn't to learn all they can about it.

She said more teachers should teach the history of the Dust Bowl and educate their students on what they can do to help prevent another devastating drought like that.

"Right now it is just up to the FFA and 4-H advisors to teach conservation," she said.


Hodges was just one of many survivors from the area who were on hand for Thursday's screening and a panel discussion that followed after the film.

The panel was led by Clay Pope, executive director of Oklahoma Association of Conservation Districts (OACD).  He was joined on the panel by  Greg Scott, state soil scientist with the USDA-NRCS office and Bill Collier, a former Dewey County judge.

The panelists shared the stories they had heard about the Dust Bowl as well as the soil conservation practices that arose following that dry era.

Collier talked about how when he was practicing law, the people that grew up in the 1930s all had the same mental picture.

"Not one of them was in debt, because to them that was the worst stigma," Collier said.

He also shared his memories as a kid in Taloga of how the North Canadian River would coming roaring down and today it stays in ponds in part due to conservation efforts.

Scott shared some of his own memories as well.

"I've heard all the stories about the dust bowl from my parents and grandparents and I remember when we had a drought in the 1970's and for 3 days the sun looked like a stop light," he said.

Scott then discussed some of those conservation efforts that have been taken to prevent another ecological event like the Dust Bowl from happening again. He said it started with rebuilding the soil by replanting grasses and trees to protect from further erosion and then grew into practices of no-till farming, which helps keep vital nutrients in the soil as well as prevent wind erosion.

The panel was asked questions from the audience about conservation and if enough is being done to prevent another Dust Bowl.

Both Pope and Scott said that despite what all has been accomplished in a relatively short amount of time, there is still more that needs to be done in soil and water conservation.

The panel agreed that there were many similarities between the weather patterns of the 1930s and today, which leads to concerns about how much water we actually do have left.

Collier also expressed concerns about


John McCarroll, with OETA, said that "The Dust Bowl" premiere in Woodward was just the first public screening as additional screenings are slated for September and October in other Oklahoma cities.

But for the first screening, McCarroll said Thursday's event went even better than he was expecting, thanks in large part to the staff of the Woodward Conference Center.

In addition to being impressed with the setting for the first screening, McCarroll said he was impressed by the large crowd that attended.

"It was great to see so many survivors there," he said, "You could just look at their faces and know they had dozens of stories just like the ones on the screen had."

McCarroll spent some time Thursday evening listening to several of those other stories as he met with survivors form Northwest Oklahoma following the screening event.

McCarroll said that it is just nice to be involved in such a great piece of history and to get the stories out to the public.

"I wish we could do a documentary on all of the survivors," he said.