It was exactly like pioneer days - except that the plastic horseshoes whizzed across the polished gymnasium floor instead of thudding into dirt, the bread dough came out of a grocery freezer, the candle wax was melted on an electric hot plate and the "campfire" was a set of stairs where children gathered to hear cowboy poetry.
Even if the setting smacked of modern life, for the 101 fourth-gradersin Tooele's West Elementary School, Friday was a great occasion and as close to pioneer times as they're likely to get.
Pioneer Day capped the children's study of Utah history. Teacher Colette Williams started the event for her class several years ago, and this year she was joined by Karen Powell, Maryanne Johnson and Angie Gillette in providing special events to reinforce five weeks of classroom study.
"If students love the subject, they retain the knowledge," said Williams, a Utah history buff. Her telephone number, coincidentally, ends in the digits 1896, a constant reminder of Utah's birth year.
Parent and grandparent volunteers entered the spirit of the day, helping the children with activities that harked back a hundred years.Shawnee Nash, a grandmother, brought her accordion and conducted a sing-along that showed the children pioneer youngsters didn't need a television for an entertaining time.
Brad Richman, whose daughter, Amber, was one of the West Elementary pioneers, demonstrated what has almost become a lost art - reciting poetry. He writes some of his own cowboy verse and also has a reservoir of such old favorites as "Rain on the Range." He kept the kids perched on the edges of their stairstep "logs" as he recounted the tale of two cowpokes who spent a day and a half trying to rescue a cow from deep mud only to find the critter had been dead all along.
Carving soap - with plastic knives - was an activity that resulted mostly in soap chips on the gymnasium floor. Richard Speakman declared he was making "a letter A," which looked a whole lot like the auto his neighbor was carving.
"We did half of our work today on slates," said Nicole Gonzales, and she thought it was more fun than computers.
Dustin England, Tyler Rydalch and Geoff Turner were still joggling baby food jars where small amounts of whipping cream and salt had long since turned to butter. The butter came in handy when the boys took their turns at the scone stop, where ready-made dough came out of the frying pans hot and brown - just like it did in Grandma's day.
Making candles is simple - if you know how. Jared Shields appeared to have spent too much time in the wax, too little in the cold water between dips and ended up with a candle that was much thicker at the bottom. "I'm going to save it," he said. Stuart Black, a West Elementary teacher, helped the children hone their candle-making skills.
Other activities included leg wrestling, quilt tying, ice cream making, tug-of-war battles and candy pulling.
A special guest for the afternoon was Tooele School Superintendent Michael Jacobsen. Principal of the 650-member West Elementary student body is Steven Lawrence, whose assistants are Deborah Fujita and Kent Tonioli.