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- This time on Tennessee Crossroads we go to Springfield where Willie Mae's Barbeque scores a home run. Then, we'll visit a one-of-a-kind museum in Chattanooga, all about tow trucks, we'll go to a west Tennessee shop known for it's fine work with pewter, and, finally, meet a Nashville artist who specializes in man's best friend. Well, hi friends, and welcome to another edition of Tennessee Crossroads, I'm Joe Elmore, and I'm sure glad you made it. What first comes to mind when you hear the name Willie Mays? Why, baseball, of course, but for some folks up in Springfield, well, there's another B-word that's high on the list too, barbecue. Miranda Cohen has taken us to a place where, by all accounts, Willie Mae's Barbeque knocks it right out of the park. - [Miranda] From the minute you walk in the door at Willie Mae's Barbecue in Springfield, Tennessee, you just know something is a little different. - Okay. - Mac and cheese. - You got it. - [Miranda] First, you smell the unmistakable aroma of hickory smoke and then see the same two smiling faces always there to greet you. - We're 100% hickory smoked, start to finish. I think the fact that we keep it old-school. Everyone, for the most part, has gotten away from that, you know, with gas and electric and I don't have anything against those, that's just not what I'm looking for in the barbecue world. - [Miranda] Joe Tuten and Gail Norman are the owners of Willie Mae's Barbeque on 8th Avenue. A name that is easy to remember and food that is impossible to forget. - Joe mentioned that he'd love to name the restaurant after his late grandmother, and we tossed about a hundred names around, and I said nothing sounds better than Willie Mae's Barbeque. - [Miranda] In a style of cooking people often consider male-dominated, it was the strong women in Joe's life that taught him the secrets to great Southern food. - She was pretty much my best friend all of my life, until she passed, so that's really why it was so important to me. She could cook anything and everything. That was my mother's mother, and my mother was a fantastic cook also. I learned how to make something from nothing. My mom was married at 14 and they didn't have much money, so she had to figure it out, and both of them could make a great meal from just a few ingredients, keep it simple. - Joe has been cooking food, doing barbecue his entire life, and it's his passion, and, well, we pretty much have the old-school menu, you know, keep it simple, but try to do the best that you can. You know, ribs, chicken, pulled pork, this area's big for pulled pork. We brought brisket in the picture, because we wanna do a Texas-style barbecue. People definitely drive for miles to come and he will never brag on his food, but he does a great job, but the brisket is definitely, probably our biggest seller here. - [Miranda] They may be keeping it old-school, but Gail and Joe could be teaching a class in classic smoked barbecue, and in Southern hospitality. - What's going on, guys? Hey, how's it goin? There are many other sauces on the counter, feel free to bring them over and try them out. - [Interviewer] What keeps you coming back to Willie Mae's? - The food, it's the sauce and the brisket is so good. I'd also like the sweet sauce, I'll put that in with my mac and cheese, and then also dip the Texas toast in the sauce as well. It's really good. - Something that really amazes me, is that they treat their customers. They treat us like, you know, in a very nice way and the way that she does it, is just amazing. I just love it. - You two need anything, you let me know, okay? - Okay, thanks. - Absolutely. - Now, all of the meats here at Willie Mae's are cooked the same, cooked to perfection, low and slow. But what they do offer are different sauces, because everyone eats barbecue a little differently. They have all the sweet sauces, including sweet hot and sweet shine. They have a Carolina sauce and then, our photographer's favorite, the inferno. - Well, I'm a sauce junky myself, I love sauces and I love all of the different barbecue styles across the entire country. So, I just pulled from sauces I made all of my life. - You know, we do a thick red sauce that is probably more of a Texas thing. The Carolina, people use that a lot on the pork. He makes a mustard sauce, a hot sauce, one called a sweet shine. Everything is in-house made from the rubs to the sauces, to the sides. - [Miranda] Oh, yes, about those sides. Well, the sides at Willie Mae's certainly don't play second fiddle to the main dish. The macaroni and cheese, baked beans, the green beans, coleslaw, and potato salad, and then your plates come with either cornbread or Texas toast. - I've been making them, the green beans, Willie Mae and my mom taught me how to make when I was kid, and pretty much everything else. - [Miranda] Willie Mae's is open for lunch only, Tuesday through Friday, and when they're out, they're out. - It's just the two of us, we're just a two-person operation. We do what we can do, we're constantly busy. We cook everyday for the next day. We wanna keep everything as fresh as possible. When you order a plate, you know you're meat is cut to order, sliced to order, chopped, and people appreciate that. I think that's what keeps people coming back. They know what they're getting is fresh. - So it takes a little bit longer than I want it take, but I wouldn't do it any other way. - [Miranda] Willie Mae never got to see the long lines and smiling customers at the restaurant that bears her name, but Joe's mother did. - I think she was pretty proud of what we've accomplished. I think she was here three times. I wish Willie Mae had a gotten to see it, but... - [Miranda] But both ladies are still here, adorning the walls in a place where many feel right at home. - Many of them have become friends. When they come in, most of the time, I know what they're gonna order. You gonna change it up today? - No, I don't think so... - We're just glad to be here, glad to be doing what we're doing. - ...sausage plate! - To me, there's no better comfort food then barbecue. It's what I love to do. - Thanks, Miranda, most of us rarely think about tow trucks, if ever, and most of us hope we never need one, but you'll never look at one the same after you visit this one-of-a-kind museum in Chattanooga. So, if you're ready to travel down tow truck memory lane, this place just might pull you in. - [Nyle] There's a tow truck museum, and they think, "oh, that's interesting, you know, I've been to car museums, I've been to all this kind of thing," and they'll come in here and they'll go, "wow, there's a lot in here, a lot more than I expected." - [Joe El more] It all started with a group of towing professionals who decided to preserve their industry's history and share some of it with the public. The result is a unique little attraction with a big name. The International Towing and Recovery Hall of Fame and Museum. Nyles Vincent, the resident historian, showed me around. - The industry's kind of one that people kind of brush over, but it's a very proud, very rich history. It's essentially a Samaritan industry. They get out there and they say, "hey, you know, I'm willing to come pick you up when you can't get up yourself." - The museum's in Chattanooga for good reason. You see, the tow truck was invented here. All thanks to an interior decorator and mechanic named Ernest Holmes. In a way, this is how it all started. You see, Mr. Holmes opened a garage to work on cars and, well, he realized after a while, it'd be easier to bring the cars to him, rather than work on the cars in the field. The result, the Model 680. Why 680? That was the cost. The foundation for his invention was a 1913 Cadillac with a fairly stout factory chassis. The towing mechanism is a system of ropes and pulleys, hand-cranked of course. - [Nyle] Once the company kind of got started, he started selling the wreckers internationally. I mean, it exploded because there was no such thing as a tow truck prior to that. Vehicles became more prominent, the Model-T was everywhere. So, you know, that became very useful for people on the road. - [Joe] Holmes' company not only manufactured complete tow trucks, it also made rigs that mounted to existing truck beds. With the advent of World War II, American wreckers headed to Europe to give the Allies a lift. Holmes made over 7200 W-45s. This one was part of the Red Ball Express that carried critically needed supplies to the front lines in France. This monster wrecker was also built for the military but never saw action. - [Nyle] Holmes's company had built four of these wreckers. They were prototypes for the military. They had been contracted, well, unfortunately, the military didn't use it, and they kind of just fell into disarray. This particular one that exists in the museum is only one of four, and it's the only one that survived, and it was restored in the mid to late 80s, and it's still considered the largest wrecker mounted on a truck in the world. - [Joe] Well, from the biggest to the fastest. This is the one you'd want for speedy service. - [Nyle] In the 70s, they wanted to see how fast they could get a tow truck, a fully built, fully set up tow truck that would work, you know, anywhere in the world as far as getting out on the road and picking somebody up, and they wanted to get it out on the Indianapolis Speedway and see how fast they could get it to go. Ended up breaking, I believe, about 109 miles an hour, so it ended up being the fastest recorded tow truck in the world at the time. - [Joe] All the vehicles are on loan from proud owners who had them meticulously restored to their former towing glory. - [Nyle] It's like restoring any vehicle, it becomes very specialized, and you have to have most parts machined, and it has to be restored in a very specific way. - [Joe] A tow truck driver has an important job. But it's a dangerous one as well. It's estimated that a driver's killed every six days. That's why, in 2006, the wall of the fallen was dedicated to honor men and women who lost their lives in the line of service. Scott Hickson is a veteran driver from Florida we met. To him, witnessing the wall was an emotional experience. - It's quite all-inspiring, it brings out several emotions, it's quite humbling. - [Joe] You lost a lot of friends? - I've lost a lot of friends. I had a lot of friends get hit and myself, I've been hit, yeah. - [Joe] Obviously, the Towing and Recovery Museum is not your run-of-the-mill roadside attraction, and while most of us hope we never need one, it's fascinating to hook-up with all this truck history and tradition. You can't leave this place without a new appreciation for tow trucks and the people who drive them. - [Nyle] I would just hope that they would be more informed about the industry, realize that there's people out there that work hard everyday to make sure the roads stay clear and are there to help them, and, at the same time, they come away understanding a part of history that is not often discussed. You don't talk about tow trucks very often or where they came from. - If you think about fine jewelry making, you might envision a craftsmen working with tiny tools and quiet surroundings. However, Ken Wilshire met a couple in Summerville who do their jewelry work in loud machine shop-type surroundings, and they use some ancient processes along the way. - [Ken] Whether you're spinning it, or casting it, or polishing it, pewter is truly an exquisite metal to work with, and in the hands of master metal smiths like these, it's transformed into incredibly beautiful works of art, and certainly ranks right up there with platinum, gold, and silver. Because of its physical demands, pewter-smithing has typically been a man's world. But Kathleen Walker is helping to change all this. She owns Tennessee Pewter Company in Summerville. She's graciously accepted the challenges of the craft and developed a passion for creating stunning pewter jewelry and tableware. - It's a dying art and it is a difficult process, and, naturally, for us, it's come relatively easy. We've had our share of challenges, but when I started this, I wasn't fearful. Being a female in the pewter business, and the tableware and jewelry business, has given me great insight on the detail. As far as when I'm finishing the product, I really can look at it and I have an eye for it, and I think, if I wouldn't take it home, it doesn't leave my store. - [Ken] And Kathleen, who actually has a degree in agriculture, says she's proud to carry on the tradition the company began years ago. - In today's world, where everything's coming from other countries, it's just no personalization when people buy gifts. Yes, they're buying something they like, but will it be around, and that really means a lot, in that, I'm coming, I'm operating a small business in today's economy, that's been around since 1973, and we're growing, and that's wonderful. Pewter is such a wonderful metal. It's a malleable metal, where it can be bent. It is a good priced metal, in this world, when platinum, and gold, and silver are at all-time highs. It's affordable and it's a beautiful metal in that it doesn't tarnish. So, as a tableware piece or a jewelry piece, it's wonderful in that it stays the way you purchase it forever. - [Ken] Today, pewter is lead-free. But it is an alloy made up mostly of tin. Ironically, when we think of tin, we usually think of preserving soups, sardines, and pork-and-beans, and you might say Kathleen uses pewter to preserve as well. I mean, her beautiful works last forever, and she's keeping an ancient metal smithing process alive. - [Kathleen] Spinning pewter is spinning a round disc over what's called a chuck, that can be wood or steel on a lathe. There's no heat induced, it's just pushing the tool over the pewter. The casting is the melting of pewter and pouring into molds that we use rubber and other type molds, and those are the two main processes that we do. - Kathleen has more than 3500 one-of-a-kind, handcrafted molds and designs that she uses to create all the distinct looks you'll find at Tennessee Pewter Company. Kathleen and her family handcraft over 500 different pewter items here in her shop. These beautiful crosses are just some of the more popular items that they create here. - [Kathleen] The water pitcher, the goblets for brides, the mint juleps are always popular. We sell a lot of jewelry, a lot of cross necklaces, especially in the spring at Easter. I have to say, I enjoy the tableware, because I love to entertain and I just imagine, when I'm making it, that it's on my table at home. - [Ken] And when the crafts folks at Tennessee Pewter Company put on their aprons and gloves to begin their day, they aren't exactly strangers. - Everyone that's here is a member of my family. My father's the spinner, my uncle helps with the casting, and I do the buffing, the engraving, and a lot of the finishing, and then my husband, sometimes he might come to the shop when he's not at his real job, we say, and help. So it is the real family business. - [Ken] Tennessee Pewter Company is not just the commitment to preserving an art, the result of an exceptionally effective business plan, nor constantly exceeding customer expectations, but quite simply, just doing what her heart told her to do. - A lot of people said, when I purchased this, I was just crazy, what was I thinking, but I think if you follow your dreams and your passionate about something, and you do a little research before you follow those dreams, that you can really make a successful living out of something you enjoy. But you can't be afraid, I think that some people live life, you know, you have to have this set template, and I always tell my girlfriends, there's no set template for me, the sky's the limit. - Thanks, Ken, whoever said you can't buy love, never bought a dog. It doesn't take long for that canine companion to become a cherished member of the family. One to be remembered forever. Well, Cindy Carter met a national artist, whose job it is to immortalize those four-legged creatures on canvas. - [Jo] Then all I gotta do is give him a pat. - [Cindy] Buddy is one lovable mutt with a crooked smile and a laid-back- - [Jo] He's just always looking to be petted or looking to be fed. - [Cindy] Real laid-back disposition. - [Jo] He's easy. This is all he does. - [Cindy] And Buddy's owner, Jo Jorian, thinks her one-of-a-kind dog deserves a colorful tribute to his uniqueness. - [Jo] He's not fancy, so I don't expect it to be fancy. He's an east Nashville little mutt dog that we love, so I think he'll capture that. - [Cindy] Fine artist John Cannon is tasked with capturing Buddy's loving, gentle spirit. - One of the things that it took me a long time to get to really be able to see is how many colors are in their eyes. - [Cindy] Everyday John lives the artist life inside his east Nashville studio. If you will, his own little dog house, where he specializes in pet portraits. Since pets are hard to pose, John's work begins with a photograph. - The challenge is, is to make my painting look better than the photograph. Sometimes it's more challenging when it's a good photograph. 'Cause then I have to really work to make the painting look better than. - [Cindy] John's passion for painting is deep-rooted. Though, he did get side-tracked for 25 years by his successful law practice. His mind may have been on the case at hand, but his hands were often otherwise engaged. - Oh, I doodle constantly. - A few years ago, he got inspired and he got serious, John finally exchanged his legal briefs for brush strokes. Now, John's work isn't limited to pet portraits. He also paints people, and landscapes, and plenty of those east Nashville Tomato Art Festival tomatoes. Still, he says he has a special place in his heart for his pups, as he likes to call them. - And so what I try to do, I try to really capture the essence of the subject, whatever it is, so that the painting gives the people a permanent reminder of their friend. - [Cindy] And a permanent reminder of Buddy is exactly what John's client, Jo Jorian, wants. But not for herself. - Do you want to give him a treat? - Yeah. - Here, Jacob. - [Cindy] 18-month-old Jacob lives nextdoor to Jo, and Buddy- - Jacob, do you wanna give him a treat? - [Cindy] Is Jacob's best friend. - Here you go, you wanna give it to Buddy? - Yes. - Yeah. - [Cindy] But little Jacob and his family are moving soon. John's portrait of Buddy is one way Jo hopes this special bond can last forever. - And so, that's our going-away present for Jacob to put in his room, so when they move, they can take a little bit of Nashville with them to Brentwood. - Yeah, more? - Yes. - [Cindy] It's this emotional connection between pals John tries to capture and with Buddy, as with most of his portraits, John says it's all in the eyes. - One thing I really, I've spent a long time trying to really be sure I can see their eyes well, and once I kind of see what's in their eyes, I can paint a pet. - [Cindy] And when his work is done, John can tell almost immediately if he's succeeded. - Numerous cries, numerous tears flow from giving them the painting. A lot of times it's joy. - [Cindy] Tears and joy, John also experiences, knowing his work keeps friendships alive in so many hearts, the type of impact he is grateful for. - There is a part of me in every painting. It's not a technical thing, per say, it's an emotional thing. - [Cindy] Every painting presents a new and unique challenge. - And I hope it says that I have the ability to emotionally relate to the pets, and, ultimately, to the people who love the pets. - [Cindy] But with each stroke, John hopes his fine art makes people feel like the subject is just about to bark at them. Or in Buddy's case, flash a crooked smile. - Well, that's gonna have to put the wraps on this week's Tennessee Crossroads. Thanks a lot for joining us, we suggest you look in on our website tennesseecrossroads.org, follow us on that Facebook thing, and, by all means, join us here next week, see you then.
July 16, 2020
Season 34 | Episode 03
This week on Tennessee Crossroads, we’ll go to Springfield, TN where Willie Mae’s BBQ scores a home run. Then visit a one-of-a-kind museum in Chattanooga, TN that's all about tow trucks. We’ll go to a West Tennessee shop known for its fine work with pewter. And finally meet a Nashville artist who specializes in man’s best friend. Join us on Tennessee Crossroads and Nashville Public Television.