Cub Cadet collectors try their hand at making sorghum, start to finish
Left to right: Tom Jeffrey, Tony Woodrum and Sam Woodrum (Tony's dad) keep busy skimming and moving the juice along in the pan. Below left: Jerry Bohm gets the crushed cane out of the way while Leon Ramey keeps the mill clear of debris.
I am very fortunate to have friends who believe in keeping traditions alive.
One of them, Tony Woodrum, Barboursville, W.Va., tries his best to make sure that the old ways are passed on to people who might not otherwise get exposed to those traditions. One of which is making sorghum molasses.
Tony works on a farm owned by family friend Tom Jeffrey, also of Barboursville. Tom's father, Millard F. Jeffrey, bought the farm in 1908 with his father and brother-in-law. Millard's stake in the 138-acre parcel was $900. Beginning at age 9, Millard worked in lumber-camp kitchens. When he was 11, the cook died and Millard took over, preparing meals for 27 men. He saved his money and by the time he was 22, he had saved $900 in $20 gold pieces. His father and brother-in-law raised their shares by cutting railroad ties, which they sold for 25 cents each.
Millard married in 1910, the same year he began raising cane. His was one of the only mills in the area, so after he completed his own 'make' of sorghum, he generated extra income by using his equipment to make the syrup at other farms. When he produced syrup for others, sorghum sold for about 10 cents a gallon; most of the time he'd work for one-third of what his customers sold. Millard quit making sorghum molasses in 1939 when he lost his equipment to a flood after the season had ended.
Cub Cadets help revivedecades-old operation
Half a century later, in 1988, Tom Jeffrey resumed the operation. He bought a mill that year, and a new pan in 1991. Tony was familiar with the mill, having worked on it as a boy of 9 or 10, when a different man owned it. Today, Tom is showing Tony the ropes, but the master doesn't give up working the pan easily, even if sitting in front of a fire all day at 85 years of age is starting to get a little harder to do.
Under Tom's watchful eye, a group of volunteers manage to have a little fun with the process. For one thing, it's not as hard as it used to be with horses and walking plows. The old International Harvester-built Cub Cadet is our tool of preference for plowing and maintaining the fields. It doesn't take much to get a few of us together. We put 10-inch plows on our stout little tractors and spend a couple of hours plowing the field. It's amazing how a 45-year-old garden tractor with a 7 hp motor can plow a furrow in second gear all day long. After a few hours it's a little hard on the back and the butt (don't forget to take your wallet out of your back pocket), but it's a price we gladly pay.
We throw a cultivator on one of our Cub Cadets and lay out the field for planting after running discs over the field with Tom's Massey or a friend's Super C. We've proved that Cub Cadet tires are just a little too small to disc a plowed field and none of us have the 'yellow fever' that bad.
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