The olden days are closer than ever. When Great Bend third graders visited the Barton County Historical Society Museum & Village on Wednesday, landline phones were as historic to them as scrubbing clothes on a washboard or attending a one-room school.
“I showed them a dial telephone and asked who had a landline in their home,” museum director Beverly Komarek said. The children didn’t know what she was talking about.
Many of the children were born in 2010, the year the iPad and Google’s driverless car were invented. The list of things that had become obsolete by that decade includes dial-up internet, public payphones, VCR and VHS tapes, film and film cameras.
The annual field trip for third graders goes much further back in time. It is called Pioneer Day, but the lessons did cross into the 20th Century occasionally. Rose Kelly, one of approximately 20 volunteers on hand to talk about Barton County’s past, mentioned famous local residents such as Jack Kilby, who invented the integrated circuit, and Skip Yowell, who cofounded JanSport company and sold backpacks by the millions.
In the one-room schoolhouse, Paul Maneth talked about starting first grade at a similar school in 1943.
His grandparents helped build that school and took his parents there by wagon, Maneth said. By the time he was ready to start school, his parents had a car.
“Sometimes we would walk home, about a mile and a half, and the minute we got home we had farm chores,” he said.
He was the only student in his grade, but the school had children in grades 1-8, so there were usually around 14 students.
Instead of a drinking fountain, the school had a jar with a spigot and someone filled it with water from a well every morning. They shared a common cup.
“Our life was pretty simple,” he said. “We had a lot of fun together,” which is something he figured children from the past had in common with children today. “It’s a lot of fun to see you out at the village and having fun.”
Leslie Helsel, office manager at the museum, said Barton County once had 105 one-room schoolhouses.
“The way they had it set up, nobody walked over 2 miles to school,” she said.
The day was cool and overcast, perfect for activities throughout the museum, its buildings and outdoor. By the time it started to rain on Wednesday, the children had returned to school.
Children had some hands-on activities, such as making dolls from yarn. Real water was added to wash tubs where children could try out both a washboard and a hand-operated wringer. Volunteer Rickee Maddox said the children also enjoyed discovering how to hang the wet laundry on a clothesline. “They wanted to use the stick clothespins, not the spring-hinged ones; that’s always fascinating,” she said.
Children also got to enjoy an old-fashioned recess, with gunny sack races, tug-of-war contests and rides on the old merry go round. They stepped inside a metal cage with a sign that read “Jail.” While the buildings at the village are mostly historic structures, the “Jail” is just for fun. But the kids love it.
Asked about their favorite things at the museum, the children also mentioned the vintage cars and the historic church.