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 acting appropriately.'
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 district.