Behind the “M”

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The “M” is a Platteville landmark owned by the University of Wisconsin-Platteville. The “M” is made up of rock, cement and lime wash. The lighting of the “M” is one of the most anticipated events during UW-Platteville’s homecoming weekend. Except, due to forecasted thunderstorms and high winds, it was cancelled this year.

Brent Pursifull, the “M” coordinator, and Austin Keehan, president of the Society of Automotive Engineering, are the men in charge of the lighting of “M”. Both are in charge of maintenance and suppling manpower for these operations. The lighting of the “M” could potentially be rescheduled but they both stated that they can’t make that call.

Pursifull is the “M” coordinator and what he does is work alongside James Almquist, lecturer of general engineering, to work on the maintenance and the lighting of the “M”. The position of “M” coordinator originated from a club called Vector, which no longer exists and has now associated the position within SAE.

As president of SAE, Keehan is in charge of getting volunteers from SAE to do the majority of the manual labor to prep the “M” for the lighting and for the lime washing to maintain its bright white color.

“The history of the ‘M’ goes back to students from UW-Platteville, when it was originally a mining college and has always been maintained by college volunteers since it was created,” Pursifull said.

SAE is keeping that tradition alive by asking club members to assist with the lighting of the “M” and its maintenance. The lighting of the “M” preparation starts off a week or two ahead of the event in October by knocking down weeds to prevent any potential natural fire hazards. Around 5 p.m. they fill up tin cans with kerosene, place a particle board in each to soak up the kerosene and then they place the cans six feet apart from one another. This starts with a two hour set up of 500 plus cans of kerosene and ends with groups of people walking up and around the “M” to light it.

Part of the safety precaution for the prep work is proper clothing attire. People that help with set up wear gloves, safety glasses and carry one tin can at a time. During the lighting and set up, there are fire extinguishers at several points along the “M” and the fire department is on standby.

Another portion of “M” maintenance is in April or May, where SAE gathers to assist with lime washing the “M” to keep it white. Pursifull works to coordinate with the City of Platteville to get their water truck to mix water with Masons lime. They have approximately 50 pound bags of Masons lime that they mix with the water to coat the “M” where it hardens and creates a white base.

“The students behind the ‘M’ are members of SAE and these are the students behind the volunteer hours and giving back to the community,” Keehan said.

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