In this age of advanced communication technology and electronic devices, a student without so much a cell phone or a calculator is regarded as deprived. We place so much value on our devices it’s hard to imagine what would be left if they were suddenly taken away. A peek back at the culture of Linn County’s one-room schoolhouses through the eyes of someone who regarded his time in two of them as some of the most precious moments of his life reveals what would remain. In the absence of all the gadgets we take for granted the students and teachers of yesteryear still possessed a pair of essential resources: their ability to innovate with whatever was at hand and their connection to one other.
The journal of Basil Bert Stratton discloses how little Linn County’s one-room schoolhouses possessed in the way of material resources, and how invaluable a resourceful educator available to lead willing students could be. As the following journal entries reflect, a game of baseball at Sunny Point School (Little Red Schoolhouse) couldn’t be played until a bat and ball were fabricated on the spot:
[In 1923] school boards did not allocate funds for trivial things like...balls and bats.
At the close of one school day, the subject of a ball—or lack one—was brought up. The teacher, Mr. Potter gave the situation a proper thinking over and said, “Ladies and gentlemen...we will have a ball and a bat to use tomorrow, and this is how we will do it.”...He went to his car [and] came out with a five-gallon can of loose wrapping string...He said, “Ladies and gentlemen, the string has to be untangled and rolled into this little ball, about three-quarters of an inch in diameter...The [older] boys and I will be back shortly.” He and the four boys went past his car—he took an axe out of it—and they went across the road, over the fence, and up toward a small pond up the hill a ways. The pond had willow trees around it. [Meanwhile], everyone else got a small handful of string from the rest and went to untangling it...[It] seemed to me the ball building went along real fast...Before we knew it, though, Mr. Potter and the four boys were back with two lengths of willow, about three feet long and three or four inches in diameter...Out of his car, Mr. Potter [retrieved] a draw knife. Mr. Potter had the boys hold the stick for him, and he used that draw knife to whittle out as nice a ball bat as anybody could have wanted. The rest of the kids had untangled enough string that Francis Wade had a real neat, tight-wrapped ball.
That ball and bat served the Sunny Point students for many baseball games to come, but there was never any shortage of challenges, and Robert Potter always seemed to find a way to resolve them.