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On The Hunt: Women Making History at the Antique Gas & Steam Engine Museum

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Suze Diaz — Vista, CA …Nestled in the outskirts of Vista lies 55 acres that focuses back to early American life and technology from the late 1800s to the early 1960s. Since 1976, the Antique Gas and Steam Engine Museum (AGSEM) permits a unique perspective to those yesteryears of crafts and mechanical ingenuity as one of North County’s premier educational and recreational facilities. This past weekend, the AGSEM collaborated with Smithsonian Magazine to host “Women Making History” for Museum Day. What was unique in their presentation was the thrill of a Scavenger Hunt that allowed participants access to 21 locations around museum grounds with exhibit demonstrations, train and tractor rides. Visual mentions of the fourteen women celebrated were distributed throughout the grounds—a unique way to get to know the history of each woman and the focus of their contributions. Each participant received a map including a list of names to find. Once all the names were found, the participant can turn in their map to the museum gift shop for a cool prize!

“Little Egypt” flanked by her Bedouin guards at the West Coast Clock and Watch Museum.

One of the first stops on the hunt was the Assembly Building, home of the West Coast Clock and Watch Museum. Docent John Ginzler has been part of the AGSEM family since 2013. John is filled with knowledge of incredible stories regarding the various clocks in-house. This portion of the museum has been opened for only two years. The spectacular clock collection is originally from Bellingham, Washington. When collectors from Seattle needed to find a new home for the clocks, they put the word out and as the previous director at AGSEM was a clock aficionado, a bid was put in to bring the collection to its new home in Vista. The oldest clock in residence is from England, dated 1710. Back in those days, a clock was owned as a status symbol to show wealth, not for practicality as in these modern times. There is a mini scavenger hunt (solely for the clock museum) and an interactive screen for kids to learn about the various styles and fascinating designs of these clocks, each one with a short unique story behind its creation. Hidden lightly among the clocks was a visual mention of one of the celebrated ladies. Fahreda Mazar Spyropoulos, also known as “Little Egypt”, is the famous belly dancer from the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair. She is responsible for introducing the “belly dance” to American audiences. Her appearance caused quite a stir as part of the “Streets of Cairo” exhibit. An incredible multi-colored bronze clock, along with two candelabras flanked with Bedouin guards made by Japy of Paris, is housed in the museum. It’s easy to spend hours exploring the clock cases and for a moment be transferred back in time.

Blacksmithing class in process by The Vista Forge of the California Blacksmith Association.

A quick stop by the Blacksmith and Wheelwright Shop to notice the blacksmithing class provided by the Vista Forge of the California Blacksmith Association in process as the Scavenger Hunt directed momentum to the Weavers Building to see if another visual mention could be found. The largest collection of weaving looms in the entire country can be found in this building. Looms from 1840 to recent computerized looms filled the barn and is the meeting place for the Palomar Handweavers Guild. Weavers Rosa and Robyn graciously showed a demonstration using meticulous technique on

their own projects giving those in attendance a greater appreciation for the detailed intricate work that goes into creating a rug or a blanket. October 6-7, 2018 is the Vista Fiber Arts Festival where a gathering of artists and guilds will be representing the fiber arts: Weaver, Basket makers, Spinners, Felters, Knitters and Gourd artists. There will be vendors, demonstrations, food and music!

(L to R) Miss Teen Pride Of Vista Jessica Heatherly, Pride of Vista Pageant Director Anita Hutchins, Junior Miss Pride of Vista Princess Raquel Perez, Junior Miss Pride of Vista Elizabeth Perez.

Before enjoying quick fun rides on the train and tractor wagon, the Scavenger Hunt made way to the turn of the century Farmhouse filled with antique furnishings to give a peek of what living was like back then with a cast-iron/enamel wood-burning stove, a butter churn, an ice box, a work table and a wash board. An eat-in kitchen with an inside-pump next to a parlor with a velvet tufted settee, a Victorian pump organ and needlepoint covered side chairs surrounds the museum’s collection of treadle sewing machines and an antique quilting rack. Some of the visual mentions found here were of innovative women whose fantastic ingenuity created some of the household items and ideas that modern women are truly grateful for today.

Learning the ins and outs of the weaving loom from one of the local weavers

Melitta Bentz, a housewife from Minden, Germany, was in search of a better way to make a cup of coffee with no coffee grounds. So she punched holes in a brass pot and used a piece of blotting paper to create a two-part filtration system. She put the pot on a cup, filled it with ground coffee and poured in hot water. The coffee filter and drip coffee were born. In 1908, Melitta Bentz registered her company for her innovative idea and the company still remains thriving as the best coffee experience worldwide. Sarah Boone was an East Coast dressmaker who wanted a better way to iron ladies clothes. In 1892, the only way to iron clothing was to balance a piece of wood between chairs or tables. Sarah secured the patent for her creation of a device that would make ironing out sleeves and bodices of ladies dresses more convenient — the ironing board. Josephine Cochrane had been hosting a dinner party in her home and noticed that when some of her heirloom china dating back to the 1600s were chipped after being washed, she went about to find a way to design a safer way to wash dishes. With mechanic George Butters, they designed the first dishwasher to use water pressure instead of scrubbers. In December 1886, she received her patent and won the highest prize at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893. In 1897, she opened a business with her husband and today, the company is now known as KitchenAid.

We were able to try the most delicious handmade vanilla ice cream made by this machine!

After sampling delicious homemade vanilla ice cream made the old fashion way, the Scavenger Hunt led the way to Museum Building II where it showcases the antique truck and auto exhibit filled with collectible models of automobiles from the 1920s and ‘30s and host to more visual mentions. Mary Anderson was a rancher, a real estate developer, a viticulturist (grape grower) and the inventor of the windshield wipers. In 1903, she was granted a 17-year patent for her invention. Trying to sell the patent rights through a Canadian firm, the car industry skyrocketed and her design became standard. “Iron Woman” Eldorado Dora Jones was an Illinois factory owner who invented the airplane muffler, lightweight electric iron, travel-sized ironing board, collapsible hat-rack and anti-damp salt shaker. In 1917, she converted an automobile muffler for airplanes for which the design was also used for exhaust systems in piston-powered engines.  These inspirational women were highly notable in their male-dominated fields and paved the way for others to follow suit.

Take a trip to the Antique Gas and Steam Engine Museum and engage in the fun opportunities to see history up close. Each moment on the grounds gives you a chance to imagine what life was like in the early years. It is a wonderful time for you and your family to expand on educational knowledge together. The time spent brings an appreciation to where we have been and an appreciation to where we are now.

For more information on exhibits, events, private rental opportunities and educational programs at Vista’s Antique Gas and Steam Engine Museum, please visit their website at http://agsem.com/

For information on attending or participating at the Vista Fiber Arts Fiesta on October 6-7, 2018, please visit www.VistaFiberArtsFiesta.com

Photos by Suze Diaz

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  • Published: 4 weeks ago on September 25, 2018
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  • Last Modified: September 25, 2018 @ 2:43 am
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