Wednesday, Oct 16 2013 01:32 PM

All the history, and Okie food, you can stand

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    By Photo courtesy of the Stiern Library at CSUB

    A young family hitchhikes on Highway 99 in California.

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    By Photo courtesy of Walter Stiern Library at CSUB

    Oklahoma refugees in California.

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    By Photo courtesy of Walter Stiern Library at CSUB

    A migrant is stalled in the desert in Southern California.

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BY SUSAN SCAFFIDI Contributing writer

Not willing to rely on memories alone, local residents who grew up in what is now known as the Sunset Labor Camp want to make sure there is a permanent memorial to the Dust Bowl era in which they grew up.

As children, they traveled with their families in cross-country trips from Oklahoma, Texas, Arkansas and other states to find work and a new life. Now senior citizens, most of them still live and socialize together. And once a year they gather for the Dust Bowl Days festival, a time to recall -- celebrate even -- the years during the Great Depression when they lived in the farm labor camp set up by the federal government while they, their parents, their siblings and other relatives worked in the fields in Kern County.

Related Info

Dust Bowl Festival

When: 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday

Where: Sunset School, 8301 Sunset Blvd., Lamont

Admission: Free

Built in 1935 and opened the following year, most of the original structures at the Arvin Farm Labor Camp -- what the migrant workers from that time called "the government camp" -- are gone. Three buildings, the library, post office and recreation hall, still exist, but are in poor condition. Fundraising efforts are focusing on the recreation hall, which hosted dances on Saturday night and church services on Sunday morning.

According to W.C. Stampes, who grew up at the farm labor camp and is one of the organizers of the preservation movement, the recreation hall needs a lot of work, including $50,000 for the roof alone.

"The floor needed work; we did that ourselves," Stampes said.

This year's festival includes a presentation by Mike Martin, "Confessions of a Migrant Okie Childhood," focusing both on Oklahoma and California experiences. Stampes' collection of photos and other memorabilia collections will be set up for viewing. The festival also includes book signings by authors and historians, including Lawton Jiles, who will be signing his book, "The Birth of the Bakersfield Sound."

Music figures large at the festival, with performers such as Red Simpson, Tommy Hays, Larry Petree, Jimmy Phillips and many others scheduled throughout the day. The menu features biscuits and gravy, cornbread, hot dogs and other traditional foods. It's all supposed to be a good time for adults and children, but it has a serious side to it as well, and a lot of gratitude for having a place to go when they were driven out of Oklahoma by drought and Depression.

"We were just glad to have what we had," Stampes said. "I think we learned hard work, and pride and your ethics to take care of your community."

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