To us it seems America is fast losing its traditional skills. One example is that at one time many towns across Ohio had horse collar shops. We have been told there is only one left in the state, Coblentz Collar Shop in Millersburg. Other disappearing trades (except for hobbyists) include tin making, pewter casting, rope making, barrel making and broom making.
I remember as a kid some 60 years ago, we used to go to Grandma’s house on Sunday’s. We’d drive thru Cuyahoga Falls and I often noticed a broom shop along the road. I don’t remember why it impressed me so, but by the time I could stop by myself, it had long since closed. In the years since I have stopped whenever I see a sign for a shop, but usually the sign is old and the shop closed. Occasionally a slightly older gentleman broom maker will set up at Zoar during their special events. And we’ve now and again talked with the same fellow at Roscoe Village at their yearly open houses. Richard Henson, the last of 3 generations of broom makers at Henson’s Brooms, Kentucky, passed away last April. S. Pritchard in Oregon has been promising a new way to contact her for 2 years now. Finding someone making handmade brooms just isn’t common any more. So I was very happy to have finally come across an Amish broom maker east of Berlin, in Holmes County.
Melvin Yoder has been making brooms for about 8 years now. Because he is one of the very few making brooms anymore, he gets contacted now and again to sell an old broom machine for someone who inherited one from a long since closed shop or acquired a machine some other way. Melvin will occasionally let me know another “new” old machine has turned up. We go down to Amish country fairly often for animal feed and ice cream, so we stopped by his shop after his most recent letter. His wife came out and said he wasn’t there.
She pointed to several barns over across the fields and said he was over to the paint shop. We drove over, a five minute drive by road, and the guy there said Melvin was done for the day and he had gone to get his gas tanks filled. He pointed across another field and said he was there. So on we went.
At the propane shop we saw a bicycle and pull cart over by the tanks, but no Melvin . But find him we eventually did. We loaded up his bike, tanks and cart and drove him home (saving him a good long peddle at the end of a long day). He said it was too bad we hadn’t come two weeks sooner because a German had just bought his three best machines, -a broom winder, a de-seeder and a broom clamp. But he guessed he remembered he had another in the barn he had forgotten about before we arrived.
We opened the barn doors and there was a really nice winder under a tarp. –And he was asking a very modest price. Then we went over to his shop and found a clamp with 3 sets of jaws, and a really unusual combination clamp & winder. The winder was quite small and quite ancient. No one knows, but I imagine it may have been used long ago by someone who had very limited space for making brooms. Because of its age it wouldn’t surprise me if its original owner lived in a small cabin and made brooms for extra income or trade.
So now we have added 3 more broom making machines to the museum collection. We have a rather complete shop, with 4 winders, 3 clamps, both big and small de-seeders, a shave horse and draw knives and one or two end choppers. From what I’ve been able to determine so far, it’s one of the bigger shops anywhere. So, stop on by, its a very interesting, and somewhat disappearing, art.