Charlie Phfunder, a volunteer at the Antique Gas & Steam
Museum explains wheat harvesting equipment to students from San
Diego County schools during ‘School Days’.
Other displays viewed by the children were baking home made
bread, the gas and steam engines, a train ride and petting pens
with barnyard animals.
Travelers along the back roads of San Diego County are often
surprised to see an old fashioned farm in the city of Vista,
California. What appears to be acres of ‘old’ equipment is
actually the home of the Southwestern Gas & Steam Engine Museum
founded in 1969 by a small group of dedicated men with a common
interest. In 1975 land was acquired in the South Guajome Regional
Park and the museum was born. The museum’s activities include
collecting, documenting and preserving historical gas, steam and
horse powered equipment. The museum collection also includes
equipment used in the lumbering, mining, drilling, and construction
industries, as well as household items. In addition, the museum
operates a blacksmith shop, a 1/3 scale train
and a working country farm kitchen.
Currently the museum is expanding its education programs. During
May and October special mini presentations of the museum’s
Threshing Bees are offered free to local school groups. Over 1000
students from all over San Diego County are able to observe what
farm life was like during the 1900-1950s. Docents are trained on
all aspects of this time period.
This is a program any museum could implement. The cost of
operating such a program is very low. Currently a letter is sent to
the administrator of different school districts inviting students
in 1st-6th grades to the museum. When the class has reserved a time
slot, a letter of confirmation is mailed to the teacher. At this
time grants have been applied for, to improve ‘School Days’
by better labeling equipment, installing a petting zoo, and perhaps
even a video to be housed in the museum building to explain the
usage of farm equipment.
Over a two day period students arrive by private cars, school
buses and chartered buses. Many are city children and only have
seen pictures of farms and farming equipment. The teachers’
evaluations are always very positive, with such comments as
‘All presenters were extremely friendly and very well
informed.’ or ‘I really enjoyed the museum and thank you
for taking the time to have it available for our community.’
All evaluations are read and much consideration is given to
suggestions. One suggestion has been to prepare a booklet where
each child can write down names, sources of power, etc. in order to
encourage students to listen and observe more closely all aspects
of the museum. Junior High and Senior High students studying our
national history, or even engineering and body shops could also be
invited. Classes of severely handicapped have participated, and
have particularly enjoyed the ‘hands on’ exhibits. One of
the teacher’s comments was, ‘I appreciate the opportunity
my students had in visiting the whole museum. A large part of the
learning experience for them is being in public situations and
The most common comment from the students seems to be ‘the
whistle is too loud’. Of course they are referring to the steam
whistle from the 1912 Case steam tractor running the sawmill.
Usually the Corliss steam engine, grinding the grain, answers. One
girl wrote, ‘I liked the boiler. When he opened it up it looked
like a volcano. Last but not least I liked the horn by the boilers.
When the teachers pulled it, I jumped and so did everyone
else.’ Another student wrote, ‘I enjoyed learning about the
blacksmith shop and seeing how things were formed out of iron long
ago. Also I enjoyed the train ride. Sitting down with the breeze
against my face felt very good.’ Even when we feel the students
are comprehending the explanations of equipment, we get questions
like, ‘How do you make that whistle? Do you put a lot of wood
in it? Does all the steam make the noise?’ In the blacksmith
shop some lucky child will be able to help with the forge. Many are
surprised to learn tools had to be made by the village blacksmith.
They always are fascinated by watching horseshoes being made.
By offering these mini-threshing bees, the museum is educating
many students. Many return with their families to share with them
what they have learned. The community is very proud to have this
museum in their county.
Most students are using computers, learning about satellite
communications and space travel, but few understand how these early
machines worked and were a part of everyday life in this country.
By offering a ‘School Days’ program we are able to share
our knowledge of ‘By-gone’ days with many others.
The October Threshing Bee will be held on October 18, 19, 25
& 26. The Bees are regularly scheduled on the 3rd and 4th
weekends of June and October. An admission donation of $3.00 is
requested for adults, under age 15 free. The museum is open daily
10:00 A.M.-4:00 P.M.
Karen Goure-Harmon is a trustee and volunteer for the
Southwestern Gas and Steam Engine Museum who works as an
educational aide for the Long Beach, California school