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Column: A trip through Org's history (try not to get lost)

WORTHINGTON ­— “Ray, what’s the story again with Org? How does that go?” The thing that prompted the question is Gordy Moore’s photo of the Org elevator on the cover of the spring issue of “Worthington Community Classes & Activities.”

Well, I said, this would be a good question for you to take to Gordy Moore. You know, Gordy did an internship at the Daily Globe through the summer. He knows how to find stories, and he did his work well. Gordy is off to studies at Macalester College at St. Paul, however. Hard to get to during a coffee break. I agreed I would try to bring one or two Org stories to mind.

The accepted account of how Org got its name is that W.A. Scott, a general manager for the Chicago & North Western Railway, changed the little town’s name from Sioux Falls Junction to Org in 1890. Why Org? History has always shrugged: “No one knows.”

Orrie Obermann, who was a longtime Org resident, told a story of Org’s name that I like best. W.A. Scott had a girlfriend, Orrie said. The girlfriend: Olive Rinehart Gossamer. Initials ORG. You can believe it or not.

John Taylor, whose family once lived at Org, tells the story of the three switches, one switch named Org, one named Trent and one named Agate. A joke was that Minnesota has not only twin cities but triple cities. Trent, Org and Agate. The Org sign, the sign which once was on the west wall of the depot, is now at Pioneer Village. The Agate sign was still posted on the site until Union Pacific Railroad took over the old C&NW in 1995. A workman threw the Agate sign on a scrap heap in the Worthington rail yard.

In the earliest days, when the Org site was only a water stop, it was named Iselin for Adrian C. Iselin, a director for St. Paul & Sioux City Railroad. Iselin became Sioux Falls Junction in 1876 when the first rails were laid for the track to Sioux Falls.

The depot: one of Org’s true distinctions is that nearly a century ago, in the 1920s, Org had one of America’s few female depot agents. Agnes Peterson. Her name deserves to be remembered. Agnes Peterson could sell you a ticket, check your luggage, arrange for a boxcar or sent off a telegram for you.

The elevator. The depot. For a dozen years (1895-1917) Org had postal service. Maybe most of all, Org had Charlie King’s general store. Charlie King had a store known widely. Some Worthington people shopped there occasionally. Across the gravel main street from Charlie’s store was a plum tree unlike any plum anyone in the region seemed to know. Speculation was that someone once bought maybe a bag of California plums and spit a pit which grew into the fabled Org plum tree.

Org has a distinction of being the highest point on the railroad between Minnesota’s Twin Cities and Omaha, about 1,657 feet. Locally, especially among railroaders, Org also was known as The Summit. Oh — and Org, in a time gone by, might have staked a claim on being a Hay Capital. Thousands of tons of hay were harvested on unbroken prairie north and west of Org. Org’s great hay shed was a landmark.

“Where is Org?” someone asked. Well, Org is 3.5 miles southwest of Worthington on the north side of Highways 59/60. Look for the elevator.

Everett Hughes, a Worthington native, wrote a memoir which recalled the summer of 1918 when he was 14 and when he accepted a job shocking oats and wheat for an Org farmer. The railroad fare, Worthington to Org, was 21 cents. As he left the train, Everett realized the farmer “had forgot to say which way to walk.”

“A group of farmers at the elevator told me the direction, and it struck them very funny that someone had actually got lost in Org. The more they thought about it, the funnier it got. I became known, far and wide, as the kid that got lost in Org — ha, ha, ho, ho. Also the only one that had ever bought a ticket to Org.”

Ray Crippen is a former editor of the Daily Globe. His column appears on Saturdays.