Heartland Flyer passengers get history lessons during trip

Monday, June 17th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Passengers on the Heartland Flyer don't just get a ride and some concessions during the southbound trip to Fort Worth, Texas. Now they get some history, too.

A National Park Service program puts narrators on trains a few days a year to educate riders about sites along the route.

The Trails and Rails program is staffed by volunteers recruited by Chickasaw National Recreation Area officials. The volunteers work in pairs, with one narrating and the other roaming the train to answer questions.

``We are getting glowing reports,'' said Susie Staples, an official with the Chickasaw National Recreation Area who coordinates the program. ``People really seem to love it.''

Staples said she has a waiting list of volunteers. About 100 people responded to a National Park Service search for volunteers during the spring.

``We had training in the end of May in Norman,'' she said. ``About 38 people showed up, and we only needed 28.''

The volunteers point out sites throughout Oklahoma, including the path of the deadly May 3, 1999, tornadoes when they swept through Moore, the Williams Refinery in Wynnewood, the Healy Brothers' Ranch and the town of Gene Autry.

``We talk about everything,'' Staples said. ``Historical tidbits, the history of town names, animals. They even try to work in the oil history of Oklahoma.''

The narrators take their cues from landmarks in the southern part of the state and speak in 45-second clips around the theme, ``Changing Landscapes, Changing Lives.''

``The most scenic part is from Pauls Valley to Ardmore,'' Staples said. ``You get to travel along the Arbuckle Mountains and the Washita River. It is beautiful.''

The program has 12 remaining dates through Sept. 15. The Heartland Flyer travels the route daily, with stops in Norman, Purcell, Pauls Valley, Ardmore and Gainesville, Texas, but the Trails and Rails program occurs only Saturdays and Sundays, Staples said.

According to route officials, more than 185,000 people have traveled the Heartland Flyer route.