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4-H embraces technology at Robo Shack: Clubs show off innovations at fair

Gabe Anderson, 16, of the Beltrami County 4-H Robotics Club, demonstrates a sign wave generator that allows visitors to “see sound.” Molly Miron | For the Pioneer

BELTRAMI COUNTY FAIRGROUNDS -- Poultry and ponies, rabbits and robotics -- these features and scores of other projects have their place in the 21st Century 4-H.

"This is our Robo Shack, all the techy stuff," said Tom Lembrick, coach for the Beltrami County 4-H Robotics Club.

"We like to mess with things that look cool, like this," said Gabe Anderson, 16, of Bemidji, as he manipulated a sine wave generator, which allows those visiting the Robo Shack to "see the sound."

"We just kind of show (visitors) what we've been doing and tell them about our future plans," said Ryan Speck, 17, of Bemidji, 4-H Robotics ambassador.

Some of the areas the 4-Hers demonstrate at the Robo Shack include last year's Sea Perch robots, which they used to steer around tanks of water, the robots they designed to follow a course during the Northome Robotics contests and a photo board of the team's tour of Hunt Technologies in Pequot Lakes, Minn., offering navigational, electromedical, and control instruments manufacturing.

"To keep (club members) thinking of the future," said Lembrick.

The Robo Shack hours are 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. today and noon to 4 p.m. Sunday.

New this year, a solar panel on the south side of the Robo Shack feeds into the Beltrami Electric Cooperative electrical grid. Nickhil Gupta, 16, a former member of the 4-H Robotics Club, who recently moved to the Twin Cities, read the solar power meter. He said since Monday's hook up, the panel had generated enough electricity to save 10.5 pounds of carbon from the atmosphere and feed in 6.2 kilowatts of power.

"The power we're saving the county fair," said Lembrick.

Gupta said he wanted to return during fair week to visit the Robo Shack and his robotics friends, but he will join the Arden Hills Mounds View High School Robotics Team in the fall.

"They compete against quite a few schools -- Bemidji High School might be one of them," he said.

Hollywood comes to town

Another new addition to the Robo Shack is the Hollywood Theatre Projection Booth, a donation of drive-in movie equipment from Bud Woodard, who owned theaters in Bemidji and the drive-in that was situated just west of the current Bemidji Theatre building. Robotics Club members, who think nothing of taking videos with their phones, learned about the mechanisms of projection, the rewind table, film splicing and other mid-20th century movie technology. They offer tours of the Hollywood Theatre to visitors, as well as of their own projects.

"To show the history of the drive-in theater," said Lembrick. "The kids can't imagine this. It's really low-tech, but we thought it was cool."

Woodard also loaned the club an original movie marquee depicting Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh from the 1939 classic film "Gone with the Wind."

David Quam arranged with Woodard for the donation of the projection booth equipment. Quam heard from Duane Black that Woodard's equipment was stored in the old drive-in theater building. As he was setting up the display, Quam said the rumor started that he was working on a drive-in theater revival. He had to disabuse callers about that idea, but it got him thinking: maybe something like that could happen. He had salvaged a 30-foot screen and Bob Moore of River Cinema Theater in East Grand Forks, Minn., provided a projector.

"I've got it in my mind," Quam said. "I've got the sound system. I've got the screen. I've got the projector."

He said he plans to ask the Beltrami County Agricultural Association -- the fair board -- about possibility setting up in the fall at the fairgrounds and showing movies for small audiences of about 25 cars.