Oklahoma celebrates its centennial year in 2007
In 1939, 32 years after statehood, the Panhandle, along with the rest of Oklahoma , much of Texas , Kansas , and New Mexico was in the tight grasp of the Dustbowl, and the Great Depression. Many had lost their farms, most had lost their courage. But in Kenton, one rancher took on nature hand-to-hand, as told in Alma Cryer's Trails of Old Kenton.
TUCKER DAM NEAR COMPLETION CREATES STATES” LARGEST MAN-MADE LAKE FOR IRRIGATION.
Strange as it may seem, Oklahoma 's largest privately owned man-made irrigation lake is in its Panhandle, the so called “dust bowl.”
The lake, being constructed from a smaller lake built on 0. W. Tucker's 3,200 acre farm in 1932, will hold 900 acre feet of water, is to be 35 feet deep and will furnish enough water to irrigate the largest alfalfa field in the state. The dam will be 45 feet high.
The farm is located in the northwestern tip of Cimarron County , in the western most portion of Oklahoma . It is a land of many mesas, hills, and buttes, their slopes covered with grama and buffalo grasses, which hide many records of ancient civilization in dinosaur pits, Indian arrow heads and petrified forests.
In this perfect setting for lakes came Farmer Tucker in May, 1905, to build up a ranching program to be envied by any great plains farmer. About 450 of his 3200 acres were in cultivation.
Until 10 years ago, his main farming enterprise was livestock, with some alfalfa for pasture and feed.
He learned that to grow good alfalfa a farmer must have moisture and that there wasn't much chance on the average to get enough rainfall there during the year to grow a good yield of alfalfa.
It was then that he decided to use his natural setting for construction of a lake for irrigation purposes. His first irrigation system consisted of a sand earthen dam across north Carrizo Creek. This was unsuccessful, since the loose sand dam had to be rebuilt after every rain.
It was then that Wm. E. Baker, Cimarron County extension agent, came to the assistance of Tucker. “Uncle Bill” and extension Service engineer of Oklahoma A and M College, helped construct a dam which was used for 2 years.
Extension workers then recommended that a break which had occurred in this dam be repaired, that the slopes of the old break be leveled off to solid footing, that new construction be installed and the new unit of dirt be puddled.
The dam held water successfully for 2 years, but Tucker decided it didn't impound enough to irrigate the flat fertile land lying below his lake.
Again engineers were summoned. Preliminary surveys were made for a new lake and it was found the best place on the ranch was the same location as the small dam then being used.
The shore line was raised 10 feet, so the lake could impound 900 acre feet of water, covering 100 acres, 35 feet deep in places. It was necessary to move 90,000 cubic yards of dirt.
Tucker purchased a 35 horse power crawler type of tractor and moved about 25,000 yards of dirt before receiving assistance from outside agencies. Through the cooperation of Mr. Baker, Tucker obtained the assistance of the water facilities program.
A few minor changes are being made in the counties, and the upstream side of the dam will be riprapped.
The original conduits were designed for reinforced concrete with the intention of installing large pipes to carry the water through the conduits in the future. However, these pipes are being installed and the old stone and concrete conduits will be used. The water will flow through the steel pipes out into the head ditches that will carry water to the numerous fields and orchards on the ranch.
Today, Tucker is producing everything from good prime beef whitefaced cattle to luscious mushmelons, peaches, and other fruits. Alfalfa hay and alfalfa seed and beans are his major crops.
His plans for the future? Tucker hopes to continue to plant more of his fertile acres to alfalfa. He is stocking his lake with fish.
This farmer is convinced that enough rain falls in the Panhandle each year to furnish sufficient moisture for the average farm, if it is harnessed.
At last, Farmer Tucker, who has spent one-third of a century on one ranch in the same county which each year averages the lowest rain fall of any county in the state has been successful in harnessing enough moisture for the largest alfalfa field in Oklahoma, and believe it or not, it's in what was once the “dust, bowl.”
While O.W. Tucker fought to hang on, nearby the county and a nearby state were mezmerized by a discovery of antiquity.
Several in the Kenton community are much interested in the dinosaur excavation under way northwest of Springfield , Colorado where the Colorado Museum of Natural History at Denver , has a party at work. A number of vertebra and other bones have been taken out to date .and a good portion of the specimens is hoped to be recovered.