Original Oklahoma State Trooper honored

By: Emi FitzGerald Email
By: Emi FitzGerald Email

HUGO, Okla. -- Drive down any highway in the country and you'll likely see a State Trooper, an officer with the Department of Public Safety, but flashback 70 years when an Oklahoma rancher and teacher decided to start a career unheard of at the time.

The Great Depression hit the country hard in the 1930's, and many folks struggled to find work to provide for their families.

But in Oklahoma, several law enforcement jobs were created with the birth of the Highway Patrol, and one man who was there at the beginning recalls how it all started.

Back before concrete and pavement, folks got around driving on dirt roads. Then, 27-year-old Ed Vandergriff was teaching in Frogville when he received a unique opportunity.

"I received a telegram from Oklahoma City to come for this job with the highway patrol."

The Oklahoma State Legislature created the Department of Public safety. The job paid $150 a month, three times what Ed was making to teach.

"Everything was furnished but my underwear and socks."

He and about 120 other men became the state's first state troopers. Now 97 years old, Ed is the only living member of that first class.

Their cars looked different, and they had a $100 expense account.

"They called us the ‘Steak Eating Highway Patrol’ because we would buy steaks 90 cents and we would sit down and they would say, "There's the steak eating highway patrol!!" so we would fight and whoop the heck out of them and put them in jail."

But Ed says their mission was always to assist people, not just arrest them.

"Our superiors preached it to us. Anyone with a flat, any person without gasoline. We had a courtesy can. I have an old can in my garage. We would put a gallon of gas in the car, finally won them over."

Ed served in World War II, as Choctaw County Sheriff, and worked on a family ranch in his life. He now lives alone in Hugo, but some of his fondest memories come from a time when he helped pave the way for modern traffic safety.

The Oklahoma State Legislature honored Ed Vandergriff last week at the State Capitol. He says 97 years have snuck up on him. His advice for long life -- try to avoid dangerous situations, and watch what you eat.

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