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