by Heather Burson
Photos courtesy of OSU Archives Library and Oregon Wheat Growers League
An Oregon pioneer usually brings to mind the image of someone who’s travelled the Oregon Trail. Itself, a 2,200 mile wagon journey from Missouri to Oregon that brought settlers westward. Marion T. Weatherford was a direct descendent of one, his grandfather William Washington Weatherford, but the term ‘pioneer’ means so much more. A pioneer is also someone who helps create or develop new methods, ideas, etc. This is what Marion T. Weatherford would go on to do, creating a rich legacy in Oregon agriculture.
Born to Marion Earl Weatherford and Minnie Clara Weatherford, on October 9, 1906, Marion T. Weatherford began his life near Arlington, Ore. on his family’s wheat and cattle farm. Marion T.’s grandfather was the first to plant wheat in Gilliam County, a practice his family continued. In an original publication “The Weatherford 16 Mule Team,” Marion T. describes how his father cut costs hauling wheat to the railroad in Arlington. A task that required a lot of help.
The farm used a 16 mule team to haul seven wagons both ways. A round trip The Oregonian’s “Pioneer Family to Mark Harvest” describes as being “26 miles each day, hauling 270 sacks of wheat.” Marion T. recounts his own duties in “The Weatherford 16 Mule Team” as a 16-year-old boy whose job was to “load, harness, feed and water, unharness, and act as general flunky on the job.” This lasted until 1924, when paved roads forced them to switch to hauling wheat in Model T Ford trucks.
Marion T. would remain on the farm, except for two decades from 1922-1942. A time period best described in another of Marion T.’s publications, “Things I See,” where he recounts the following. “During those twenty years, I first rebelled against parental authority and the Establishment and gave the world a whirl ‘on my own.’” Until, he adds, he “came to his senses” and went to college to get an education. Oregon State University’s archives reveal that this journey began at Pasadena University, a small liberal arts school, where he began studying industrial arts before transferring to Oregon State College (later known as Oregon State University) to do the same.
Graduating in 1930, Marion’s own biographical sketch shows he went on to teach industrial arts at Marshfield Wisconsin High School, returning in 1937 to pursue his masters in industrial education at Oregon State College. Upon receiving this degree in 1938 he became an associate professor at San Jose State College, remaining there until his parents’ death in 1942. At this point he returned to take over the farm with his wife Leona. Something that went fairly smooth given his accounts in “Things I See,” where he states “…even during those twenty years ‘outside,’ I came home frequently and always kept in touch with current events in this community.” A practice that would serve him well.
Armed with this knowledge, Marion T. quickly found ways to get involved. In 1945 he became a board member of the Bank of Eastern Oregon, serving until 1962, and a Gilliam County Fair board member, serving until 1953. The following year, 1946, Marion T. became Eastern Oregon Wheat League’s vice president. From this, he became one of three wheat growers to found the Oregon Wheat Commission. The first wheat commission in the nation. This would become one of his most well-known accomplishments.
The commission’s formation came about through a wheat surplus, with Marion T. selected to serve on a three-person committee. This committee was tasked with writing and passing a bill to assure a steady supply of money in the future, to deal with these and other problems that may arise. Ever the orator, Marion T. Weatherford’s written account of these events reveals the following. “In later years I have come to view this assignment as an incredible one,” he says, “…so far as I know, neither one of us had ever even read any part of the Oregon laws, and I’m sure we didn’t have the slightest idea of how to go about getting new legislation drawn up.” Despite these challenges, the committee worked connections throughout the Legislature, the House and the Senate to get the bill drawn up and passed, founding the Oregon Wheat Commission and assuring the wheat industry’s prosperity for years to come.
In addition to founding this commission, and serving as its founding chairman to boot, Marion T. went on to become president of the Pacific Northwest Grain and Grain Products Association from 1950-1957. A position, once again, served simultaneously along with various others. An OSU Foundation trustee since 1947, Marion T. became one of the founders of the Oregon 4-H Foundation in 1957. Serving as vice president and later its second president, in 1960, he was influential in the development of its business practices and its ability to accept gifts for 4-H. One of his accomplishments was finding a location for a 4-H center, something he would see come to fruition when he was president again in 1967 and 1968.
While all of this was going on, J.F. Short, state director of agriculture, had proposed the formation of an Oregon Agri-Council to be “one voice for agriculture.” A February 1965 edition of the Eugene Register Guard recounts that the decision was proposed in 1964, and that preliminary feasibility studies would continue during the next year. Another article, written in an October 1965 edition of the Heppner-Gazette Times, discusses a September meeting where four subcommittees were chosen as part of a larger steering committee headed by Marion T. Weatherford. He would become the council’s first president from 1966-1967, and this council would become known as the Agri-Business Council of Oregon.
A 1968 article in the Bend Bulletin would quote Marion T. as saying that the council’s purpose would be “to provide a medium of communication between the urban public and the farmer.” An aim that continues today, as it approaches its 50th anniversary next year. It would also quote him as saying the council’s challenge was “essentially one of communicating the significance and importance of this agriculture business and to do it in a business-like way.” Something Marion T. had always done and would continue to do through various pursuits the rest of his life. One might say that no one did this better than Marion T. Weatherford. An original pioneer who forever left his mark on Oregon agriculture.