Visitors to Brownsville who turned the corner at Main Street and Park Avenue on Saturday may have thought they'd taken more than a wrong turn and instead time-traveled to the year 1865.
A mule-drawn wagon blocked the roadway and the sidewalk had become a flour mill with men hand-cranking wheat into a fine powder used to make bread. Just across the lawn, in the shadow of the Linn County Historical Museum, a pioneer town sprang up with a cider mill, logging operation and photo studio while townsfolk milled about in bonnets and top hats.
Brownsville is still firmly located in 2019, but on Saturday, a piece of it did make the journey back to the 1800s for Hands on History, a free interactive festival in its second year.
“Our benefactor, Randy Tripp, says a big reason behind it was to give kids something else to do besides this,” said organizer Wendolyn Molk as she gestured with her fingers and tilted her head to see the imaginary cellphone in her hands.
And cellphones generally were imaginary during the festival, making appearances only when parents snapped photos of children washing laundry by hand, forging horseshoes or grinding apples for cider.
Tom Pierson was not one of those parents. He watched as his 11-year-old son Derick learned to forge metal. Pierson had a fur-trading booth at Saturday’s event and said he thought it was time that his son get in on the action.
“He’s the next generation of reenactors,” he said. “One piece of history at a time and I thought it was time he learn to do this.”
Elsewhere, Musa Stone, 2, and his sister Bernadette, 3, learned the fine art of washing clothes by hand as grandmother Regina Bumstead oversaw the operation.
“We came last year and said we have to do this next year and come a little earlier,” Bumstead said. “It’s such a great experience. I’m reading them ‘Little House on the Prairie’ and they get to see these things in real life.”
The classic pioneer tale was a popular reference. The band Crazed Weasels, a duo of Judy Arter and Loren Ford, played tunes from the plains on fiddle and guitar and received their fair share of requests.
“We’ve had people very excited that we were playing songs from ‘Little House on the Prairie,'” Ford said, noting that the duo has been part of Hands on History for the two years it’s been running.
Also back was Jerry Grulkey and his 55-inch, 1885 Singer Road Racer high-wheeler, which he rode around to shock and awe from bystanders.
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“I saw this bike when I was about 5 years old,” he said. “The gentleman who owned it rode it in a parade in Richmond, California, and when he sold his business he left the bike in one of the buildings. I asked about it and restored it.”
In the 1970s, Grulkey rode that bike from Detroit to Philadelphia, accompanied by his wife, Sandy, in her one-of-a-kind dress from 1867.
“That dress came across the plains in a covered wagon,” Grulkey said. Sandy noted that she paid just $10 for it in exchange for the promise to preserve it.
The Grulkeys are regulars at festivals like Hands on History, but it was all new for Troy Tate, who played Brownsville icon Minor Jackson for Saturday’s event, just two blocks from where the African American pioneer had his barbershop in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
“Minor Jackson was a barber here in Brownsville,” Tate said. “The Oregon Black Pioneers work to highlight that blacks were here and we made contributions to the area and Minor Jackson was one of those people.”
Also setting up shop at the festival for the first time: occasional museum volunteers Nolan Streitberger and Jeff Smith. On Saturday they manned the photo booth.
The camera, from the late 1800s, usually sits inside the museum but was on full display, offering a peek into history and a keepsake for the future.
“Period-correct photos would have been taken on tin,” Streitberger said. “This is paper-positive; we’re taking it on the paper you actually hand someone the photo on.”
Molk said she wasn’t sure how many people were expected for the event, but two attendees who didn’t care about the numbers were Lizzie and Leslie, the sister mules tasked with pulling a wagon through the streets of Brownsville with festivalgoers.
“I’ve been working with them since they were 20 minutes old and still wet,” said handler Tom Marquett, who built the wagon to resemble one from the 1800s. He’s had as many as a dozen second-graders in it at once.
“We enjoy it,” he said of taking part in Hands on History. “We do a figure-8 around town for about 15 minutes and the kids enjoy it.”