Homeschooling: It's not what we do, it's how we live.

A View From Space

On Friday, our homeschool group met for a field trip to the Texas Energy Museum. The TEM focuses on ‘the fascinating world of petroleum science from the formation of oil to the geology surrounding it.’ One of the coolest features is the holographic characters that are dressed and set in a scene to tell the story from a first-person perspective of what the early days of oil drilling were like. When the museum first opened, there were 5 or 6 of them, but over the years they’ve apparently not been maintained or serviced and only one is working now, which is sad because that was such a neat way to learn about what their work was like.

One of the newer sections of the museum focuses on oil refining and the manufacture of gasoline and other petroleum products. The kids got lessons in viscosity and the properties of different types of rubber via a ball demonstration in which one ball bounced and the other just plunked to the ground.

Another really interesting part of the tour (to me, anyway) is the history of Spindletop as told by ‘Patillo Higgins’.

Patillo Higgins, a one-armed mechanic and self-taught geologist, was one of the few at the time who believed that, in the future, modern industry would switch from coal to oil. But where to get all that oil? He believed it lay beneath his feet at Spindletop. He had a feeling that drilling a well on top of this salt dome (and others like it) would produce oil, and lots of it. In an attempt to turn his dream into a reality, Higgins organized the Gladys City Oil, Gas, and Manufacturing Company in 1892. Years of frustration followed, with most members of the petroleum and geologic communities proclaiming Higgins’s ideas to be silly nonsense. Nearing the end of his rope, Higgins ran an advertisement in a local newspaper, and one man, Captain Anthony F. Lucas, replied.

That’s not the word-for-word, but close enough. They used to have another holographic robot to play the role and recite Lucas’ involvement, but he’s been broken for some time.

Incidentally, Spindletop, the Lucas Gusher and oil refining play a really big part in the lives of a great many of us in Southeast Texas. Most of us have at least one family member and several friends who work at one of the big plants (Motiva, Exxon Mobil, Total – which is pronounced ‘toe-TAL’, emphasis on the second syllable and short /a/, not ‘total’ like the cereal) not to mention the many smaller plants and contracting services who provide employees to them. The history of our city flavors several of our many and varied sports teams, even our ‘health’ type events are flavored with Texas oil… In a day and age where reliance on the petrochemical industry is falling more and more out of favor, I’d like to put the reminder out there that there are certain portions of the country where the citizens whole lives are so firmly rooted in this industry that change, while necessary, will be a monumental undertaking. And from where I’m sitting, that change is still a long way off.

Moving on… upstairs, a special presentation of  A View From Space was on loan from another museum (The exhibit is already gone from our museum, but that’s the same one). It was really neat! The kids got to examine about 11 different stations with hands-on activities and things to see and read and learn. They watched the seasons change over North America in mirrors, how a satellite moves and takes pictures, experiment with how high into the atmosphere different things go, what the Grand Canyon, deforestation and city growth looks like from space (and through time, from the 70’s -2001-ish) and the temperatures of the oceans and what the hole in the ozone looked like in the past and now.

After our tour, we went down to Riverfront Park for lunch and some tomfoolery before we got sprinkled with rain and each went our separate ways.

It was a great trip! The boys came home talking about limestone and sandstone and salt domes. I think they learned quite a bit… and evil homeschooling mom that I am, we’ll be doing a review of what we learned Friday as soon as we get settled in this morning. {insert maniacal/sinister/evil laughter here}

Warmly,

~h

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