WARREN — This year, the third-grade students who attend Westview Elementary School in the Fitzgerald Public Schools district used the textbook “Meet Michigan.”
On June 13, they met the author behind the educational material when the book’s writer, David McConnell, visited the students along with his wife, Janice. McConnell is the president of Hillsdale Educational Publishers, a Hillsdale-based company his father started.
“Meet Michigan” covers several topics, including the state symbols, the Great Lakes and the automobile business. McConnell is the author of several textbooks for elementary, middle and high school students. He uses books and magazines and visits museums to conduct his research. He has been writing since 1981.
During his Westview visit, McConnell dressed as a historical Michigan logger and took the students back to the year 1877. He donned period clothing and showed the students several historical pictures. A logger, also known as a lumberjack, works in the logging industry and performs the cutting down and transport of trees for manufacturing purposes.
“I’m dressed up like a lumberjack as someone that would work in the woods and cut up trees,” McConnell said. Loggers, he said, earned $1 a day. He added that lumberjacks primarily worked during the fall, winter and early spring. One reason for working in the winter was because the lumberjacks needed to haul the logs they cut down on sleds.
“We needed to have snow on the ground for the sleds to move,” he told the students. “Michigan was really exciting back then because it was growing so fast.”
He said that in 1860, there were 749,113 people in Michigan. Twenty years later, there were approximately 1.6 million individuals living in the state.
“They needed lots of lumber,” McConnell said. “That’s why there was a demand for people like myself. We would have to work really hard, 10 hours a day, six days a week. We only got Sundays off.”
Back then, loggers used axes or crosscut saws to saw the wood that would become logs. “Timber” was heard a lot during work hours.
“We used the river like a big highway to send the logs to the sawmill,” McConnell said.
McConnell also noted that once the trees were down, nobody thought to plant more trees.
“We were so busy cutting them down, and people thought they would last so long,” the textbook author said. “When the trees were gone, the jobs were gone.”
Janice McConnell also dressed in period clothing and played a guessing game with the students as to what they thought her job would have been 140 years ago. She was a cook in the logging camp.
“If I didn’t do a good job, the boss would probably fire me,” she said. “I had to be to work at 3:30 in the morning. I had three young men help me. It took several people to make sure (the loggers) were fed every day.”
If it was 1877, the group would have made breakfast, lunch and dinner for 40-50 loggers in the camp each day. Janice McConnell shared with the students some of the slang words the loggers made up for different food items.
“‘Shoot me some mud’ meant coffee,” she said. Swamp water was tea, red lead was ketchup, morning glory was used for pancakes, sand was sugar, cackle berries were eggs and axle grease was butter.
The McConnells’ visit left an impression on the students.
“I liked it because I got to learn about back in the old days,” Makenna Cobb said. “It looked kind of hard. You would have to walk a lot and stuff.”
“I thought it was good,” Rahim Uddin said. “I learned a lot.”