Batesville, Indiana, volunteers share traditional farm life practices with students.
The front end of the trailer shows (at bottom left) a blacksmith-made wheel for a wheelbarrow. It is one of Denis’ favorites. “I pestered a man about that wheel for 15 years,” he says. “It runs pretty true; that blacksmith did a heck of a job.”
Every September, Denis and Pat Schrank’s rural Batesville, Indiana farm is overrun by fourth graders from local schools. For five consecutive days, 50 to 75 students a day come for an up-close look at traditional farm life. They are introduced to everything from tractors and steam engines to basic carpentry and food preservation (separating cream and churning butter, making cider, hulling walnuts) to laundry with a washboard and wringer. There are tractor rides, chats about antique tools, sawing, brief lessons on natural history (counting rings in a cross-section cut from a log) and introduction to household chores of the past, like carrying wood for the kitchen stove to heat water.
After 25 years, the Schranks and a small army of 16 volunteers have the event down to a science. “We keep a tight schedule,” Denis says with no small understatement. “You can’t lollygag or you won’t get through it.” At noon, the dinner bell rings. The kids break out sack lunches for a picnic under a tent while a volunteer plays a musical saw and sings.
Hands-on activities like husking and shelling corn, rope-making and broom-making focus youthful energies; wispy threads of history tie the package together. “My wife tells them about the history of our farm and our family,” Denis says, “and we talk to them about Indiana history, which they’re studying. Poplar is the state tree, so we cut some boards from a poplar log and talk about how lots of barns around here have poplar siding.”
Each day ends with a group photo (with a copy of the photo for each student) and a chorus of goodbyes as the kids board familiar yellow buses. “When I was a kid, we made butter and we made cider and we carried wood,” Denis recalls. “Kids today never get a chance to do those things. You can’t believe how excited these kids are to be here." FC
Learn about Denis' hobbies and the history of the wheel in Wheel Collection Goes on Tour and The Invention of the Wheel.