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1950's Grammar School Field Trips

I've always liked to see how things work the inner workings, not just the outside package. I want to see what makes that little tick noise inside a clock. What exactly happens when you wind it up? I never had enough curiosity to take a wrist watch apart and try to put it back together. With everything digital these days I don't even own one that ticks, but I'm sorely tempted to dismantle my super-loud bedroom wall clock sometimes in the middle of a quiet night...

And I wonder, how do they install the ice in the Civic Center hockey rink? I'd rather watch them do that than see players zip around on top of it. I want to see them paint the team logo between layers of ice. What happens when it melts? Does the paint dissolve and run down the drain, painting the inside of the drain hole as it goes?

I want to see them dump all that dirt in the Civic Center arena for the monster truck show, or the rodeo. Do they melt the ice first, or just layer it on top? I want to watch them clean it all out of there afterward. How do they do that?

My how-do-they-do-that curiosity started long ago, probably with our grammar school field trips. One bright and early morning our class piled in a big yellow bus and headed to the Florence Morning News printing plant. One by one we filed in, welcomed by thunderous clanks and zooms and swishes and thunks. All those huge machines! All that paper! All that ink! All those flashes of movement! It was wonderful watching those massive rolls of clean paper became newspapers.

The teachers' constant warning us not to wander too near the equipment was frustrating. I wanted to get really close. I asked if they could cut a printing press off and start it up again, so I could see exactly how the paper went in one end and came out neatly printed, folded and ready to read on the other end. They wouldn't do it, darn it. But I could have stayed all day, asked a multitude of questions and tinkered with some of the machinery myself, if they'd let me. I read the morning paper with fresh eyes after that, smelling the ink and remembering the sights and sounds of the presses.

Another time we visited the Coca Cola Bottling Plant on South Irby Street. Rows and rows of bottles on snake-like assembly rollers went round and round, into and under machines with little nozzles that went shzzzzst now they're empty, now they're full and other machines that applied a metal cap nice and snug. The noise was different, tinny clink-clink sounds of glass on glass instead of thunk-thunk of paper on paper. The workers' clothing was different too, no inky uniforms, just neat coveralls and hair nets. But all that machinery, all that ingenuity, all that genius! How did those things work?

Our field trip to the Charleston Zoo and Museum didn't feature fascinating machines with multiple moving parts. But the animals turned out to be interesting, especially one lonely buffalo. I'd never seen a real live buffalo before. If he hadn't been so shaggy, broad and tall I'd have wanted to examine him a little better and figure out what made his shape so different from a cow. Row after row of cages and caves displayed exotic birds and tigers, bears and alligators. I felt sorry for them all, locked up in "jail" like that.

The Museum trip was the same day. Florence was so far from Charleston I guess we had to cover both places to save money. I wandered from room to room glancing at statues and skeletons and paintings and sculpture. I found an item of interest in a mummy case, but it was locked tight, unfortunately. There didn't seem to be any way to open it and unwrap that figure to see how they preserved a body for hundreds of years. Every time I wanted to pick up something to look at the back or underside of it, I got a sharp "Don't touch, don't touch" from the teachers or tour guides. Finally we clambered back on the bus and headed home.

I hoped we would tour a power plant like Santee Electric one day, or maybe a factory with big loud machines making stuff. For some reason we never did. In later years I operated office machinery, offset printers, addressographs and postage machines, that sort of thing. I even learned how to take apart and fix some of them when needed. Now and then I read an article about nuclear power plants or robot-operated assembly lines and think to myself I'd love to see how those work. I should sign up for a tour!

But given half a chance I'd still like to watch an old Linotype turn clean white paper into newsprint. I'm sure news companies welcomed the computer era that replaced all those mechanical monsters, but they'll never replace the excitement of a school child watching that wonderful noisy printing process.


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