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By Ed Moreth 

Club gives log schoolhouse new look


Ed Moreth

SCHOOL FACELIFT – Glenda Wolverton, president of the Plains Woman's Club, sprays timber oil on Horse Plains school, an old log schoolhouse that the club takes care of.

The one-room schoolhouse on Railroad Street is a community relic and perhaps the oldest building in Plains, and over the last two months it received a facelift that will extend its life 60-70 years, according to Kirby Matthew, a restoration specialist.

It took nearly two months and 250 hours of labor from 15 volunteers to refurbish the old logs on the 18-foot wide by 30-foot long Horse Plains schoolhouse, located on the corner of Railroad and Clayton streets in Plains. The school was built in 1886 and used for 12 years. The Plains Woman's Club is responsible for the building and has kept it up with the help of government grants, private donations and volunteer labor. A new roof was put on the building last year and over the last three months, volunteers gave the school a new finish. To help pay for the materials, the Woman's Club used some of the funds they received last year from a Montana History Foundation grant.

Club member Ellen Childress, the chief coordinator of the project, said the volunteer labor added up to a value of $5,475. The men and women removed the old daubing, applied timber oil on all the logs, and put on new daubing material. Daubing is similar to chinking and is a mixture of sand, lime, cement and water that goes between the building logs, said Matthew. The retired Forest Service staff member believes the old and brittle daubing had been on the building since it was moved to the present location in 1976. Much of it was cracked and some had already fallen out, leaving a gaping hole in the building.

Volunteers started chiseling the old daubing material off in late April. In early May, Matthew gave members of the Plains Woman's Club and other volunteers a two-hour lesson on how to properly daub and oil the building. Due to inclement weather, it took nearly two months to remove the old material, oil the logs and install new daubing, completing the job last week.

Matthew is no novice when it comes to refurbishing historical structures. He worked on numerous buildings and several lookouts, including the Big Hole Lookout, which was completed last year and will become a Forest Service rental cabin. While on temporary duty in Maryland, Matthew helped with the restoration of some White House windows.

Helping with the log school restoration was Brad Stacey, Marc Childress, Rob Seli, Marv Tanner, and Shelley Olson. Plains Woman Club members included: Deb Cleveland, Lores Porter, Jo Carpenter, Shirley Nettleton, Shirley King, Michele Furry, Debbie Heckman, Pat Farmer, Ellen Childress, and club president, Glenda Wolverton, who heard that of about 650 one-room schools in Montana, there are less than 200 left.

"Volunteering at this school helps me be a part of and take pride in this community. I think preserving this part of our history is important. Seeing what conditions were like and seeing that education was important even to those settling here trying to make a living in a new place," said Stacey, a Plains resident.

The Plains Woman's Club, a nonprofit organization, has been taking care of the schoolhouse for more than 40 years. It was moved from a spot near Old Airport Road to its present location so it would be more accessible to the general public. The club opens the building several times a year. "Students make regular visits to the school to experience the atmosphere of early education presented by a school marm dressed in period costume," said Childress.

"I am excited that we have members who care enough about this schoolhouse to volunteer in a number of ways to ensure that we honor the history as well as the current condition of the building," said Childress.

It took several days to chisel the old daubing material from the building. Once that was done, the volunteers inserted hardware cloth, a screen type material, between the logs to help make the daubing material stay in place better. None was used the first time, said Matthew, who believes the volunteers did a better job this time around. Volunteers taped the windows, doors, concrete foundation, and gables prior to applying the oil, most of which was sprayed onto the logs. There were a few places inside the school that had to be plugged with various paper products to keep the oil from going inside and some daubing was done inside.

The oil had to set 48 hours before new daubing could be applied, said Childress. It took 15 gallons of timber oil to cover the logs. On the final daubing day, the club rented a portable cement mixer in order to make the daubing material faster and in larger quantity. In all, it took 368 pounds of lime, 150 pounds of cement, and 960 pounds of sand. A big portion of the school's restoration is done, but there's more work to go. The club plans to replace windows next year, paint doors, window frames, gables, and two of the wall logs are rotted and need be replaced.

"The log school house is a significant point of interest to residents and visitors to the Plains area and has a long history of being a site of community activities," said Childress, who added that the school is very visible to residents and people passing through, and that makes it even more important to keep it sound and preserve the attractive appearance.

Wolverton said restoring the old schoolhouse lets people know that Plains is a vital community that cares about the town history and how the community appears today. "It is a tangible link to the ancestors of generations of people who have called Plains home," she said.


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