Tuesday, August 10, 2010

A Clean Sweep

My lighting umbrella brushes the ceiling fan as I move it about the old 1740’s era building that the Broom Place in Boykin, SC, calls home. I manage to dislodge at least a centuries worth of dust; if not older. Susan Simpson jokingly tells me that I’ll have to come back later to clean up the mess I’ve made. At least I hope she’s kidding.

About 40 years ago, fed up with her job in a stuffy office, Susan Simpson answered a newspaper ad selling some old broom making equipment. On a whim, Simpson replied and soon found herself the owner of some not-so-brand-new broom making equipment. In fact, the few companies that sold broom making equipment had long been out of business. The equipment was at least a hundred-years-old.

Simpson didn’t know how to make a broom. To make matters worse, neither did the woman who sold her the equipment.

She realized she’d have to teach herself.

Broom making is a lost art. It’s gone the way of, well, think of when your grandparents used to start of by saying “Back in my day....” 

It’s the period of time before that. 

Not many people make brooms by hand anymore. And the ones that do, aren’t jumping at the chance to teach others. Besides, brooms are mass produced today. Machines spit out a hundred brooms faster than Simpson can make one. 

But that’s what makes Simpson’s sweepers so special. Each one is made by hand. The way your grandmother, actually, your great-grandmother would have made them. From the dying of the broomcorn on the outside of the broom, to the stitches that hold them in place, they’re made from scratch using equipment that you can’t find replacement parts for anymore.

But if you fancy one of Simpson’s colorful brooms, you better get your name on the list. It’s about a three month wait.

Gravely Nature Preserve

The Gravely Nature Preserve is a 75 acre park located along the Smith River in Henry County, Virginia. There’s a two mile path through the woods that takes hikers through a 19th century plantation and some old tobacco barns.

An old cemetery reminds visitors of those that were there long before them. But if it weren’t the cemetery, you’d hardly be able to tell people had even settled here.

Daniel Boone Slept Here

Daniel Boone was about 16 when his family moved south from Pennsylvania to the banks of the Yadkin River in North Carolina.

History still isn’t sure on which side of the river the Boone family lived, either the Rowan County or Davidson County side. And a nearly two year court battle starting in 1965 failed to write or rewrite history.

Regardless, the Boone family lived in the general area. It’s just that nobody knows exactly where. 

A young Daniel Boone started earning his reputation as an excellent marksman at a very early age. He’d often enter shooting contests and outshoot just about everybody in the area around Salisbury, NC. As a professional hunter, he scoured the country along the Yadkin River. And it was during one of his hunting trips that we learn the significance of Boone’s Cave.

Boone’s Cave is an 80 foot long cave with a very narrow opening, measuring only about two to three feet. In this cave is where Boone reportedly hid from hostile indians. It’s also the namesake of Boone’s Cave Park, dedicated in 1909 and encompassing over 100 acres along the Yadkin River.

On a recent visit, I hiked down to Boone’s Cave. It’s only a short distance from the parking lot at Boone’s Cave Park. As I ventured inside the mouth of the cave, claustrophobia started to set in. I couldn’t verify the length of the cave, but I can attest to the very shallow opening.

I’m not sure I would have picked this as my hiding spot. But then again, I’ve never been chased by hostile indians. And for that matter, not even non-hostile ones.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Never Accept a Ride From a Stranger

It ranks right up there with “Don’t take candy from strangers.” It’s one of those mandates your parents gave you when you were a kid; the one that comes along with the story about Suzie who got in a stranger’s car and was never ever never heard from nor seen again.

Well, I broke that rule.

I just wrapped up a week of taking pictures in Indiana for the new Indiana Farm Bureau magazine called “My Indiana.” The magazine launches at the end of September and the website will be live in November.

One of the stories in the upcoming issues is on the small town of Shipshewana. A town of about 550 residents located near Goshen, IN, and home to collection of Amish and Mennonites. There’s even a center that teaches visitors about the faith and life of Amish and Mennonites.

As I was walking around town, a voice called from behind. “Would you like a ride?” I turned and saw a man sitting atop one of the many buggies cruising around town. It was a guy with one of buggy ride companies that takes tourists on a short ride around Shipshewana. It’s a very small town, so the rides couldn’t be that long. I graciously declined. And besides, I had a shotlist to work on and I was wasting precious daylight. 

“Come on,” he said and applied the pressure. “I’ll take you to an Amish Dairy Farm” At this point how could I refuse. 

I joined my new friend Kenny and his trusty steed Bob. And off we went.

Kenny is a very enterprising individual, as are most of the residents of Shipshewana. He has a popcorn stand and runs his buggy tours, www.buggylanetours.com. There are three tours for visitors to take: One is a short trip around town, the second takes visitors to the dairy farm and the third takes visitors to the dairy farm and then off to an Amish dinner.

The dairy farm we visited is run by Kenny’s son and gives visitors the opportunity to observe life on a traditional Amish Farm, milk a cow, sample some fresh-from-the-cow milk and top it all off with a little ice cream.

Kenny was there to pick up a nice couple from Illinois that had just taken the two hour tour of the farm. We all piled into the buggy and headed back to town.

As we made our way back to Shipshewana, I discovered that cars weren’t the only vehicles to pass a buggy. If you’re not going fast enough, the other buggies won’t hesitate to pass your slow one. Maybe they’ve got a newer model buggy or a little bit more horsepower under the hood. But, they will blow your doors off. That’s if your buggy has doors.

Round and Round She Goes

The 1920's era carousel at Sunset Park in Rocky Mount, NC, was severely damaged by hurricane Floyd in 1999. The carousel spent several days under 8-10 feet of water and completely devastated the ride. 

Estimates for repairs went into six digits. Only with the help of private donations could the city of Rocky Mount even fathom the idea of repairing the ride instead of just scrapping it. To raise money, individuals and groups were given the chance to adopt a horse for restoration. People throughout the area responded. Some with fond childhood memories of making the trip to Rocky Mount just to ride the carousel. 

One group in particular, a local elementary school, plunged head first into raising funds for the restoration. They held candy sales to raise the money to nurse one of the injured animals back to health. 

In the end, the children were able to name their horse, which they unanimously, and appropriately,  named “Hurricane.”