Raising Cane

Cub Cadet collectors try their hand at making sorghum, start to finish

| September 2008

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.