The Better Farming Train

On Campus News, 15 November 1996


"But whether the work of the University be conducted within the boundaries of the college campus, or throughout the length and breadth of the province, there should be ever present the consciousness that this is the University of the people, established by the people, devoted by the people to the advancement of learning and the promotion of happiness and virtue."
- President W.C. Murray, 1908

The idea of bringing the University to the people was one of the founding principles of the U of S. In 1910 the Saskatchewan Department of Agriculture turned over the responsibility for the development and delivery of agricultural and women's extension programs throughout the Province to the University. To fulfil this mandate, the Department of Agricultural Extension (1910) and Women's Work (1913) were established within the College of Agriculture. Initially the activities of Agricultural Extension focused on services to the Agricultural Societies, short courses, institutes (meetings and conferences), ploughing matches, field crop contests, stock judging, etc. From 1914 to 1922 a Better Farming Train (BFT) toured the province providing lectures and demonstrations and presenting exhibits on matters pertaining to agriculture.

The use of trains to deliver extension programs was not new in 1914. A decade earlier special excursion trains brought rural residents to the Dominion Experimental Farm at Indian Head from as far away as Prince Albert. With the establishment and growth of the University farm, it too began hosting excursions and tours. The BFT simply reversed the process.

Funded by the Agricultural Instruction Act, equipped jointly by the Department of Agriculture and College of Agriculture, staffed by the University, the BFTs were operated free of charge by the railways. Consisting of between fourteen to seventeen cars they toured the province for several weeks each summer. During part of one summer two trains operated.

The train was divided into five sections: Livestock, Field Husbandry, Boys' and Girls, Household Science, Poultry, and Farm Mechanics. A converted flat car acted as a platform for the display and demonstration of the "well-selected" horses, cattle, sheep, swine and poultry. Each section usually contained a lecture car accompanied by one or more demonstration cars.

Specific regions of the province were targeted each year. The train made two or more stops daily, advertising that programmes were "to begin promptly according to Railway Time" and "to be on time". "To prevent confusion and to insure the greatest benefit to all in attendance three distinct programmes" were designed specifically for men, women and boys and girls of five years and older. Children four and under were cared for by "competent nurses" in the Nursery Car. Despite the strict schedule, lecture programs were designed to give visitors ample opportunity to view exhibition coaches and query staff on specific concerns.

The trains attracted large audiences because they focused attention on the problems of agriculture during years of rapid development on the prairies. The train was designed to help in every phase of farm life. Live stock topics, field crop problems, mechanization and the work of the home and the school were all given attention. In 1914 over 40,000 people attended over a five week period. By 1922 over a quarter of the province's population had visited the BFT.

The development of extension's short courses and meetings programs had superseded the BFT by 1923. For the next five years a scaled down touring train program still existed with single subject cars. The BFT had been something special. In 1916 Director of Extension, F.H. Auld, noted "no form of extension work seems to make the same appeal or to do any more useful service."

Patrick Hayes