Education Day

Sixth graders at Education Day

Club members Ken Bates and Chuck Wolgamott sawing cedar shingles on the shingle saw for sixth graders at Education Day.

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Western Michigan Old Engine Club 5443 S. Custer Road Custer, Michigan 49405

The Western Michigan Old Engine Club of Scottville, Michigan, hosted their fourth annual Education Day last September for the sixth grade students of the County of Mason, on the western shores of the state. This daylong event is an unique look into the everyday chores and happenings from days gone by. Many demonstrations and displays give the students hands-on experience that they will never learn from a textbook.

The beginnings of this yearly event started in 1990, when local Scottville teacher Terry Hankwitz was looking for a way to show his sixth grade class things of the past and ways people did their fall harvesting. He met with engine club member Jean Stickney, and they asked the local engine club that has its show grounds in Scottville River Park if they would get together for the day and show his class some of their history. The first year was for Scottville students and now it had been expanded to include all of the Mason County sixth grade classes. Over 450 students and 80 teachers and chaperons attended in 1993.

It has been a learning experience for the engine club members as well as the students, as 11 and 12 year olds can ask lots of questions. How do you know if it's good water to drink, one boy asked the gentleman from the Health Department who was explaining water well drilling and windmills. The threshing crew were caught unaware when a student asked what was the difference between hay and straw? They all knew, but how do you explain that to a whole group of kids when they wanted a short quick answer. The hands-on exhibits are the most popular, such as washing clothes on the wash board with lye soap or using the modern wringer washer. The steam engine expert was busy explaining where the steam comes from and how it can work without gas. When students can see the progression of working exhibits from years ago to now, they better understand. The basic milk cow being milked by hand, by the old Surge milker and now by the new modern methods was a novelty to the kids.

Cranking the handle of the cider press, and seeing the apple juice squeeze out, the big concern seemed to be when is it cider and when is it vinegar? Also, they wondered if that was the same stuff they buy in the grocery store.

Displays like the actual old-fashioned sawmill and the new portable handsaw sitting side by side and both working; cutting shingles on the shingle saw and showing how to cover a roof; grinding corn into meal on the burr mill; cutting logs with a drag saw; old fashioned tools and antique fire equipment are all hits with this age students. Most of them have never seen a shock of wheat, or watched a grain binder tie knots. Imagine what they thought when they watched the threshing crew finish the load of wheat and then baled it on an old stationary baler with wire ties. Things of folklore, like the local expert at Water Witching, showing his tricks of the trade. The type of displays is endless. The local County Clerk set up a courthouse and showed the large paper ballots versus the new voting machines; while down the road rope was being made from the back of a pickup truck.

The local rural electric company, Western Michigan Electric, puts on a very detailed 'hot line' display that is as informative to the adults as to the students. This exhibit leaves a very lasting effect on these 11 and 12 year olds.

The big yellow buses arrive at 9:00 and stay for the day leaving with a load of better informed young people, perhaps some future engine club members. They bring a sack lunch but enjoy the home ground cornmeal muffins and apple juice served at the old-fashioned kitchen during their tour. Watching butter being churned along side the kitchen cookstove, ice box and sink with a pitcher-pump. How did Grandma ever get a meal fixed with all this stuff?

For other clubs wanting to expand their activities, try an Education Day. You won't regret it. Contact Club President Andy Hegedus of Montague, Michigan at 616-893-4135 for more information.