Each year, the men and women keeping the memory of the Gaston School alive invite local middle schoolers to peek back in time at the oilboom.
Amidst all the history, docent Stephanie O’Steen says, the vintage push mower always proves a big hit – case in point, Wednesday’s Education Day in Joinerville saw one seventh-grader after another grunting at the handle of the contraption, shouting gleefuly as the spinning blades sent grass flying.
“The Education Day is an effort to teach those kids, to show them hands-on what it was like to live in the early ‘30s,” she said, “that time frame of the oilboom, the early days of the East Texas oilfield: the struggles those people had to go through, the way they lived and the oil, when it was discovered, what it changed.”
This year’s Gaston Museum Education Day included about a dozen visitors each from Laneville ISD and Full Armor Christian Academy along with 80 students from West Rusk CCISD descending on 6562 State Hwy. 64, in Joinerville.
“They had a blast,” O'Steen said. “That lawn mower is always a hit.”
The museum’s volunteers divide their time travel experience into five stations: in addition to the museum exhibit, the October events spotlight faith, family, chores and education.
“We got started because of keeping memories alive from the old Gaston school,” docent Rosemary Whitten told the students, dressed in 1930s-era clothing: “Before that time, most of the people here were farmers, they didn’t have much money, they didn’t have a lot of stuff.
“We want you to think about how different your life would have been if you were born 100 or 80 years earlier and were living in Rusk County.”
Life changed when the Daisy Bradford No. 3 discovery well became a gusher on Oct. 3, 1930.
“When that oil well came in it changed the life here in East Texas,” she said, welcoming the 21st century schoolchildren to the museum. “New schools were built, new homes were built, lots of new people moved into East Texas.”
Education Day helps the local students remember their roots, O'Steen added.
“A lot of you kids had grandparents who went to one of those schools,” she reminded the West Rusk students before sending them off with the docents: “Each one of them is going to bring you a lot of information about the past.”
In addition to trying their hands at the lawn mower and touring a carefully-maintained tent house, the students also went elbow-deep in Gaston’s “old school” washtub this week
“Those kids, when I started doing this, they went wild,” docent Barbara Vinson said, putting her charges to work at the oilfield-era laundry and reminding them, “They didn’t have all the stuff that we have.”
The students truly enjoyed the experience, Laneville ISD instructor Jean Kelly said.
Granted, seventh-grader Deandre Thomas found the oilboom-era outhouse a bit underwhelming.
“They had a bathroom like that?” he said incredulously.