By CLAIRE ST. JOHN
Most kids receive high letter grades after completing a well-researched essay.
But after writing fictional histories of the life of a gold miner, seven Soulsbyville School students earned an invitation to a camping trip last week, replete with mules, horse-drawn carriages and a headless rattlesnake.
Camping at the Mother Lode Ranch in Tuolumne presented many activities for the seven fourth-graders, most led by ranch owners Don and Laurel Rumsey. If all goes well, the camping trip will be open to all fourth-graders in the county, said Tuolumne County Superintendent of Schools Joe Silva.
After setting up camp in horse trailers, the kids, some wearing Gold Rush-period costumes, prepared to learn about the many wagons and carriages owned and maintained by the Rumseys.
First, they were presented with an impromptu lesson on rattlesnakes when Don Rumsey beheaded a baby snake and threw it on a barbecue grill.
While students stroked the squirming snake and examined its undeveloped rattle, Rumsey explained how to tell a poisonous from a non-poisonous snake.
After the lesson in reptiles, students entered a big barn and were introduced to chuck wagons, a doctor's wagons and "people movers."
"This wagon here is to haul people in," Don Rumsey said. "I could haul a whole bunch of you boogers in this one."
Next, students got to go down to the corral and make a tough decision between mules or horses to pull the wagon they would ride in.
After much petting and patting of the tall animals, the kids chose two large paints that had made the Sonora Pass Wagon Train trek last year.
Leading the large animals back to the barn, students chattered about how worthwhile all their research and writing had been.
"I wrote about taking the Oregon Trail to California and I struck it rich," said student Sami Rice.
But were they having fun? A circle of heads nodded.
What really got the seven lucky students talking was how much fun they had setting up camp in horse trailers.