Campers Get a Taste of Life in Old West

Forget video games and collecting Beanie Babies.

Panning for gold, making arrowheads out of black slate, grinding flour, spinning wool, stringing macaroni necklaces and washing clothes on a scrub board can be just as fun.

That’s what the 150 children attending Valley Trails Camp, an 11-week summer program at Woodcrest School, found out this week as they learned about life during the Gold Rush in

Stocked with props from the mid-1800s--such as cooking utensils, a ringer washer and grinding stones for arrowheads--the back lot of the Tarzana private school was transformed into a living history lesson.


“For an hour and a half, the kids take part in activities and live life as if it were the 19th century,” said Michele Carlin, camp director. “It’s very educational, but they don’t know it because they’re having too much fun.”

The materials were supplied by Pioneer Living Experience, an Oregon-based hands-on traveling museum that visits schools to demonstrate the ways people lived, worked and played in the Old West.

“The kids get to see things that they normally wouldn’t get to see, instead of just reading about it in books,” said Mace Hughes, a presenter for the traveling museum, which visited Woodcrest schools in Agoura and Newbury Park earlier this week.

The display that garnered the most attention from the Tarzana campers was “The Gold Center,” two 6-by-3-foot iron tubs filled with water, pebbles and “hidden treasures.”


“The gold that’s in there is actually iron pyrite, also known as ‘fool’s gold,’ ” Hughes said.

“Once it sits in the water for a while, the iron rusts inside the metal and turns it into a gold color.”

Woodcrest third-grader Brooke Eliis, 7, of Sherman Oaks, was one of the campers who “struck it rich.”

“I was looking through all the pebbles and saw a shiny rock,” said Brooke, displaying a small gold-colored nugget. “I’m going to keep it.”