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Carring On The Art Of Broom Making
When Harry Leonhardt watched his blind violin teacher make brooms nearly 80 years ago, he had no idea he'd become a broom maker himself one day. At 89, he makes broomcorn brooms the old-fashioned way at the Broom & Basket Shop at the Amana Colonies in West Amana, Iowa.
  "Natural broomcorn beats them all," Leonhardt says. "Broomcorn is a sorghum, from Asia and Africa, developed thousands of years ago." Broomcorn for his brooms is grown in Texas, and 6 to 8-in. thick bundles of the broomcorns' long and stiff tassels are baled in 150-lb. bales. Leonhardt soaks the bundles in warm water for about 20 minutes before layering them and wrapping them securely with wire to the broom handle with a winder.
  "The winder is 100 years old and will last another 100 years," Leonhardt says. Powered by foot pedals, an old cast iron chain turns the spindle. The bearings are made of wood. There are no new parts made for broom making winders, so if something doesn't work right, he fixes or modifies it.
  Leonhardt notes that the machine he uses is different than most, as it was made by Amana Colonies residents for Philip Griess, the blind broom maker. The art of good broom making is to use enough fibers to make a good broom, but not so many that the wire can't hold them securely.
  "I make 5 to 35 brooms a day if the machine doesn't balk," Leonhardt says. It also depends on how many people visit the store and how many children he helps make witch brooms - a job he enjoys. He's also teaching a blind Amish man to make brooms.
  In 1990 the retired salesmen made his first broom under the direction of Broom & Basket Shop owner, Joanna Schanz, and has been making them ever since.
  He makes 26 different brooms, including a golf broom he designed for cleaning irons. Whiskbrooms come in a variety of sizes and lengths. A sidewinder broom, with the handle on the side, gets into corners and cleans edges.
  Regular household brooms sell for $13.75. Warehouse brooms sell for $18.75. Visitors can watch Leonhardt working during the summer on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, but the shop is open year round. Brooms are also sold via the Internet and can be shipped anywhere.
  "Customers like the way broomcorn brooms perform," Leonhardt says. "The performance is what counts. Plastic just doesn't make it."
  Contact: FARM SHOW Followup, Broom & Basket Shop, 618 8th Ave., West Amana, Iowa 52203 (ph 319 622-3315; www.broomandbasket.com).

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2008 - Volume #32, Issue #2