On any given weekend throughout the year, Livonia resident Duane Harer steps into a time machine and pokes around the roots of his family tree.
Harer's time machine contains no circuit boards, wires, blinking lights, bells or whistles. It is a low-tech contraption made of wool, leather, wood and steel.
Harer is a Civil War re-enactor and his "time machine" is the uniform, weapons and equipment of a Union, or northern, soldier.
He participates in re-enactments of historic Civil War battles or gives "living history" demonstrations at schools and local events.
Harer does it largely to better understand how long-departed relatives lived during that era. His great-great-grandfather on his mother's side, Zachariah
Truckenmiller, and his great-great-great uncle on his father's side, Jacob Harer of Liberty, fought in the Civil War.
Harer credits his mother, Beverly Truckenmiller Foust, with spurring his interest in history.
"My mother is a big historian. She's done so much family history, you wouldn't believe," Harer said. "It kind of rubbed off on me."
Mother got him started
Through his mother, Harer learned about Zachariah Truckenmiller.
"I learned about that from her," Harer said of his mother. "I'd known about it my whole life. I did some research on Zachariah and learned about him."
After deciding to become involved with re-enacting, Harer joined Co. C of the 148th Pennsylvania Volunteers, a group representing a Civil War regiment from Centre County. It also was the unit to which Zachariah Truckenmiller was attached, Harer said.
The group, which consists of about 50 soldier re-enactors, plus civilians who dress in period clothing, attend re-enactments of famous Civil War battles or participate in demonstrations designed to educate people about the Civil War.
After joining the re-enacting group, Harer wanted to find out if there were any Civil War veterans on his father's side.
That led to research that revealed Jacob's Civil War service.
Jacob, who hailed from Liberty, served in the 107th Pennsylvania Volunteers, according to Harer.
Duane Harer said he found the information through an online database of Civil War-era military units.
Before he could portray his ancestors as a re-enactor, Harer had to outfit himself with the uniform and gear of a Union soldier.
During the Civil War, uniforms and equipment usually were issued to soldiers by the government. Re-enactors, however, have to pay their own way and that can require quite an investment, Harer said.
Harer said he spent about $2,000 for his rifle, a reproduction of an 1861 Springfield, cartridge box, uniform, shoes, hat and other "accoutrements," which he bought from a supplier specializing in re-enacting gear.
He stopped short of buying Civil War-era underwear, however.
The wool uniforms worn year round by Civil War soldiers are ill-suited for hot summer days, which typically is when much of the re-enacting is done.
"I didn't go that far," Harer said. "The underwear they wore back then was not very comfortable. Even the wool uniform isn't very comfortable. You really wonder how those guys did it on hot days."
Particularly uncomfortable are the stiff, ankle-high shoes worn by Civil War soldiers, Harer said.
"They are very uncomfortable," Harer said of the shoes, called "brogans." "They feel almost like hard cardboard. The sole feels like it almost has a metal horse shoe in the back, plus they have metal tacks on the bottom so they don't wear down."
The discomfort is worth it, Harer said, because it allows him to experience a small part of what his ancestors experienced.
"You have to wear what they wore to appreciate what they went through," he said.
During weekend encampments, re-enactors camp in canvas tents and cook using the same methods and utensils used during the Civil War.
Re-enactors try to keep everything they do and use as authentic as possible, Harer said. That means using kerosene lanterns instead of flashlights at night.
Munching on granola bars or other modern snacks - at least while the public is around to observe that behavior - is prohibited, as well.
"We'll have cookies but hide them under our cots out of sight," Harer said.
Although Harer knows little about Jacob, he was able to learn about him by tracking the battles in which his regiment participated.
Some of those battles, such as second Bull Run, Antietam and Fredricksburg, will this year mark their 150th anniversaries.
Major re-enactments are scheduled for all three events, and Harer plans to attend each one representing Jacob. Jacob also fought in battles at Mine Run, Wilderness, Spotsylvania, Cold Harbor and Petersburg, he said.
Jacob was captured by the Confederates at Weldon Railroad. He first was sent to Belle Isle Prison in Richmond, Va., then to Salisbury Prison in North Carolina.
He was incarcerated for about a year. After being released, he was discharged on June 3, 1865.
Because Zachariah Truckenmiller and Jacob Harer participated in some of the same battles, including the battles of Gettysburg and Chancellorsville, Duane Harer said he would represent both men during re-enactments of those battles.
He has visited the national park at Gettysburg and found markers denoting the positions each of his ancestors' units held during the battle.
"I immerse myself at that place," Harer said of the battlefield. "There is so much to see and do. It's a special feeling to walk around that place, especially when you go to the places my ancestors fought."
Harer's great-great grandfather George Harer did not serve during the war.
Although the reason for that is unknown, Harer has his theory about it.
"He was a younger brother. I don't know if he was too young," Harer said. "My opinion is the family felt one son off to war was enough.
"Jacob did go and he went through so much, I thought somebody should tell his story," he added.
Harer said his wife, Barbara, has taken a supportive stance regarding his new passion, which he plans to continue doing as long as he can.
"She is really glad I have a hobby I really enjoy," he said. "Every kid who ever played army would love this. It's a good time."