Retro Crossroads 0110
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- In this episode of "Retro Tennessee Crossroads," we're going back to the late '80s and early '90s. Jerry Thompson pays a visit to the Cumberland General Store, a place where all the new merchandise is right out of the past. I'll take you to Clermont, Kentucky to meet the genial grandson of Jim Beam. We'll visit Chattanooga with Jana Stanfield, and learn the fascinating story behind the Houston Museum. And finally, Al Voecks goes to Leiper's Fork and meets a craftsman who makes classic canoes out of wood. That's the lineup for this episode. I'm Joe Elmore. Welcome. Well, I'm in the studio at NPT with Becky Magura again, and I'm looking forward to this lineup today. Is there anything that specially perks your interest? - Well, I love 'em all, Joe. You know that. But I'll tell you, I really love those profile pieces that you do. So I really can't wait to see that grandson of Jim Beam. I bet he's quite a character. - He is indeed. And you're gonna love it. - Okay. - Well, those are always so much fun to do. And, of course, we love visiting local restaurants and businesses like the Cumberland General Store. That's where Jerry Thompson made a shopping trip back in our very early years. It's a place that advertises goods in endless variety for man and beast. - Whenever I head to Crossville, I always stop at my favorite general store, the Cumberland General Store. It has most anything a person could need or want. Everything from antique children's toys to even the kitchen sink or baby bottles for baby calves, wagon wheels, washboards, pine tar, horseshoes, a cookstove or a wind vane. And what's a general store without a potbelly stove? And if it's self-help instruction you're looking for, the store carries a wide variety of self-help books on almost any subject. For instance, you can buy a book on a classic outhouse, or a book on the love affair some vegetables have, or everything you ever wanted to know about the family cow. We've also got this book "Raising Rabbits The Modern Way." Rabbits have known how to do this for years. Might say they wrote the book on it. But chicken, that's a different story. They have these for chickens. They're nest eggs, not real eggs. They're made out of wood but they put 'em under a sitting hen and she thinks she's already started a family. A rabbit will never fall for that trick. And you can't fool Ann Ebert either. When the Cumberland General Store was put on the market two years ago, she and three partners bought it. Then Ann left a teaching career to manage the store. Ann, you've got a pretty unique place here. What makes the Cumberland General Store so special? - Well, I think it's our merchandise, Jerry. We try to go back to basics and supply folks with materials that are hard and difficult to find nowadays. - [Jerry] You have a motto here for the store. - [Ann] Right. "Goods in endless variety for man & beast." - [Jerry] Well, I've looked all over the store Is there anything at all that you don't carry? - There's a lot we don't carry. But the other day, we got a phone call and the man wanted to know if we had bear grease, and that was a new one on us. We didn't know what it was. But we did find out it's like an axle grease for a sawmill. But we don't carry bear grease. So don't ask. - [Jerry] But you can ask for just about anything else. If they don't have it, they'll help you find it. You might want a buggy. If so, you can get one. Or even a cold beer. Well, you can't really get the beer, but you can get everything you need to make your own. And even a tap. So you can draw a cool one whenever the urge strikes. Maybe you have someone in mind that needs a teddy bear or a highchair. And if you have a bear, you might also want some wild honey. "But honey attracts flies," you might say. Well, never fear, the Cumberland General Store has just the remedy for pesky flies too. And where, in these modern times, might a person find a set of mule harness? You guessed it. The Cumberland General Store. Another thing that makes the store unique is that they ship all over the world. Patsy West carefully hand-wraps each item, and packs it in a cushion of shredded paper before sending it off to far away places like Alaska or Africa, Japan or Europe. While Patsy gets the goods on their way. Sharon McElhinney and Betty Brown take care of the customers and suppliers. What's some of the most unusual things you buy? - I knew he was going to ask that. The most unusual? Well, all of the items are unusual. The hip bath. - Hip bath? - But now it's discontinued. After we run out of stock, it's no longer available. - You mean- - They're not making it no more. - [Jerry] In other words, I better get mine today. - You better buy yours today. - Well, this is the hip bath. Small-timers say they got the best bath they ever had in one of these. I bet I would too if I ever got in it. Probably take me two or three weeks to get out. Well, I noticed one thing over here that is a little different. I'd never seen one of these before. And it's this thing right here, and it's, I think you told me it's called a killing cone. - [Ann] Correct. - [Jerry] Tell me how this works. - [Ann] Well, if you're going to kill your chicken in order to not to bruise the meat, you would shove the bird in here with his head out before you chop the head off. - Mm-hmm, well, I'm sure the bruise is a much greater concern for the killer than it is the killee. Right? - Right. - Yeah, but on the other end of the scale, the store also carries a wide array of medicines, liniments and salves for almost anything that ails you. They've even got just what I need here. Trix. They say it does the trick. It's scalp food. It's supposed to make your hair grow. Might try some of that. One of the things that really caught my eye here was an old-fashioned remedy. Old-time asafoetida. I'm told kids used to wear this in a little sack around their neck when they got sick. It's just a little small packet like this, and it, , ew! You couldn't stay sick long wearing this around your neck. Goods for man and beast. Surely asafoetida wasn't meant for man. Other places may claim to be a general store, but this one really is. Where else could you find a killing cone or a set of mule harness? Or toys kids played with a couple of generations ago? It's all right here at the Cumberland General Store. That's only two hours from Nashville. But you can literally get anything you want here. You can even get a sense of what life was like when people lived here 50 years ago. - Wow, Joe! I love traveling through that store. Of course, I love going to Cumberland County, like we all do. But that store had just about everything. Well- - What about that chicken holder? - Okay. Now I'm telling you, that one kind of freaked me out just a tad. I mean, my folks grew up, you know, kind of having to handle chickens in a particular way. - I've been there myself. - They make fried chicken. - Yes, I know all about that. - I know. - Well, you know what? Despite our name, we've ventured over the state line a time or two like the time we visited Clermont, Kentucky for a personal visit with the late great Booker Noe. Now, he's a whiskey ambassador and grandson of the one and only Jim Beam. There aren't many visitor attractions along the highways that are absolutely free. But this one is. As a matter of fact, you can't buy here what they make here, but you can have fun learning how they do it. Making whiskey is a modern, complex process these days. But it still uses family secrets that are nearly 200 years old. Here at Jim Beam, there's a sixth generation family member at the front stage of the operation. His name is Booker Noe. And after working at the same family distillery for 40 plus years, he recently earned the title Master Distiller Emeritus. - Well, I'm a ambassador for our Jim Bean bourbon. I travel about, and it's an honorary thing. And I was over 40 years in the actual distillation of running our plants and things. And, but now I travel about and talk about our bourbons, and do tastings, and things like that. - [Joe] The family business actually began in the 1790s with Jacob Beam, a miller who made some whiskey on the side. A few generations later came James Beauregard Beam who inherited the thriving business and even got his name on it. He was Booker's grandfather. - It's the oldest continuously operated business in the state of Kentucky of all businesses. Except we had a little prohibition. We had a little break in there, 15 years. Some of the chosen few were allowed to produce during prohibition, but Beam wasn't. - Is that right? - That's right. - [Joe] There were some distillers that were allowed to- - They made it for medicinal purposes. - I see. Did anybody in your family make some on the side for medicinal purposes? - No. No, grandfather didn't do that. He didn't get into that. I'm not saying he didn't have liquor during prohibition, but he didn't make it. He must, I don't know. I really can't answer that. - To make Jim Beam whiskey, they start by milling three grains, corn, rye and barley, but mostly corn. The meal is mixed with water, and starch is converted to sugar. The resulting mash is mixed with a special yeast to transform the sugars to alcohol. The result is a colorless liquid. It's whiskey, but not yet bourbon. Then they char white oak barrels and fill 'em full of whiskey. Finally, they store 'em in airy rack houses where the Kentucky climate does its thing for about four years. - Well, these buildings are there, our aging buildings where we age our bourbon here, our Jim Beam bourbon, and they hold 20,000 barrels each, are nine floors high. They got three barrels on the floor. See that barrel sweating there? Now, that's due to the cold liquor in there. And the weather's warmed up a little, and now it's dripping. And sometimes, these warehouses look like it's raining in here when you have a real cold whiskey, and then you have your humidity hitting it. And loosen it up there. See? You see, have a look. - [Joe] Computer technology plays an essential role in bourbon-making, but there's one big job machines can't master, and that's testing and tasting the product after aging, a task Booker has performed on many a barrel. So what do you think? - Oh, this is about ready to go out. - [Joe] Whiskey's not selling like it used to in the USA, but the folks at Beam are beaming over the fact that sales are up in Europe and the Orient. - The Japanese, they really, they go for, they're going for the bourbon good. And Australia, Australia and Germany, Europe, and, yeah, yeah, they're all taken to it, they like it. They really do. - [Joe] Wonder why just now they decided to become bourbon fans. - Oh, maybe just now got a shot at it. - To accommodate visitors, the Beam company built an outpost featuring neat things to see, like this old moonshine still, the old cooperage museum which depicts barrel-making in the 1800s. And a gift shop featuring Kentucky-made crafts of all types. This is a museum of Jim Beam regal china decanters produced over the years, about 500 different designs since 1955. Now, some were specially commissioned by US states and foreign countries. And if you've got one, better hang onto it because they quit making them a few years ago. But the best way to study a facet of southern history is to meet its living history. And here at Jim Beam, Booker Noe is it. Elaine Jacoby, who does PR for the company, is one of Booker's biggest backers. - He's hard to describe, but once you meet him and see him, he's just wonderful, he's great. And when he walks around the distillery here, he'll stop and talk to everybody, and he'll shake everybody's hand no matter where he is gotta go or where he is gotta be, he's always got time for friends and visitors. - I'm not what it used to be. Don't, I just don't get around as good, but, oh, yeah. I enjoy coming down to plant and tasting of stuff, tasting the product, and seeing my friends and things. I don't come down every day but I come down occasionally and I enjoy. Yes, really do. And I hope to be able to, till the day I go under the sod. - About 70,000 people come here every year to see the free museums and look around. Some like bourbon, some are teetotalers. It doesn't matter. You can still appreciate the history of one of America's oldest family businesses, and getting the chance to meet a famous family member. - Wow, Joe, coming out of that story, just thinking about, you know, I always heard that the fragrances coming up from the whiskey-making is called the Angels' share? - Really? I didn't know that. - Yeah. How about that? - Booker didn't tell us that. - I bet that was so much fun though. - A lot of fun. Great guy too. He's sorely missed, I'm sure. Well, many moons ago, Jana Stanfield took us to Chattanooga, to the Houston Museum of Antiques and Decorative Arts. While there, she discovered a vast and beautiful collection of mostly glassworks, and a fascinating story about the woman who amassed the collection. - Anna Safley Houston lived in poverty, and in 1951, died of malnutrition, all to preserve her priceless collection of antiques. At any moment, she could have enjoyed vast wealth by selling part of her treasures, but she never did. Now in Chattanooga, you can see the collection that Anna Safley Houston lived and died for. As a young woman, Anna Safley Houston moved to Chattanooga from Arkansas, and quickly became known as Antique Annie. She's best known for her glass collection, which included more than 15,000 pitchers. Her collection is one of the largest of its kind in the country. Part of what brings people to the Houston Museum is the story of Mrs. Houston's life, which is as fascinating as her collection. Museum curator Angela Usrey. - She was a very peculiar person, very eccentric, kind of hard to get along with, hard to deal with, a very strong-willed person. She knew exactly what she wanted. She knew how to get it. And that, I think, says a lot for the collection, how she was able to acquire so many pieces and such a vast collection. - [Jana] Anna Safley Houston was married 10 times. She kept the name Houston from her favorite husband. During the depression, her small antique business was hit hard. She had to choose between losing her beloved antiques or her house. She gave up her house, and moved with her antiques into a drafty barn with no running water. She lived there until her death in 1951. - From what I've been told, it was not a clean, well-kept facility, that it had little rabbit trails or what I call rabbit trails. And you could get through the barn but only on certain paths. And very crammed, very dirty, not, as I said, a very well-kept facility. - Antique Annie bought antiques with every little bit of money she acquired. To make more room for them in the barn, she slept on the floor and hung pitchers from the ceiling. That's the way many of the pitchers are now displayed at the Houston Museum. Although Mrs. Houston is best known for her glass collection, she also loved to collect music boxes and other treasures of the 19th century. - [Angela] This piece was made by the Steuben Glass Company in New York City, under the direction of Frederick Carter circa 1904. This is a Louis Comfort Tiffany piece. He is the son of the Tiffany jewelry company. He started working in the decorative arts in 1875. And this piece is circa 1900. - [Jana] Surrounded by an antique collection worth millions, Anna Safley Houston told doctors at the end of her life that she couldn't afford surgery. She wouldn't sell even one piece to pay for the operation. She wanted her entire collection to go to the city of Chattanooga for a museum. But Chattanooga officials were not interested. - She tried to give the collection to the city of Chattanooga. And as you can imagine, she was considered a little bit odd, a little bit touched, and they turned her down. And so she just developed a core of people that were to serve as the board of trustees, and they were to establish the Houston Museum. - [Jana] No one realized what priceless antiques Mrs. Houston had in the barn. In the years after her death, the weight of the pitchers pulled the roof in on the leaky barn and ruined many of the pieces for which she sacrificed. - [Angela] After she died, they waited about seven years before anything really happened. They did put a fence around the barn. And finally, there were a group of ladies that decided something had to be done with the collection. And they went into the barn in 1957 and spent three years going through the collection, documenting, inventorying the collection. and cleaning it out. And that's when they found all the fabulous, you know, the Tiffany pieces and the Galle pieces, and the sterling silver, and the real core of the collection, which she hid. - [Jana] In the same way that her best pieces were hidden in the walls of the barn, many of the details of Anna Houston's life were also hidden. The museum is trying to learn more about this remarkable woman. - So we're hoping to bring a historian in to document her life, and pull together all of these sections, and make one complete story, a very fascinating story. - [Jana] We know what Anna Safley Houston did. She spent her lifetime collecting treasures of the past to be enjoyed by generations of the future. Seeing the magnitude of what she did, the question left unanswered is why? - I love that story. It's so fascinating to hear about the woman who collected that amazing glasswork. And I mean, I love to collect pottery and woodworking, glasswork. - Good. - But do you collect anything? - Well, I'd like to say I collect guitars but two doesn't make a really big collection so I'm still working on it. Well, finally, a story Al Voecks brought us from Leiper's Fork. Now, this one's all about a talented woodworker who was creating impressive works that were functional as well as attractive. - There are many people all across Tennessee who work with wood. Most are traditional wood-carvers who fashion lifelike figures such as duck decoys. Others have their sights on more ambitious projects. And yet there are others who use less traditional methods to shape their creations. So a trip to Williamson County to yet another woodworker might seem to be like just more of the same. But it is definitely worth the trip to Verne Summerland's workshop because his creations are unique. Verne moved to his countryside home just outside Leiper's Fork in 1985. And he brought his unique talent with him. You see, Verne Summerland builds canoes out of wood. - [Verne] I build it because I really enjoy doing it. It's a lot of fun working with wood and just creating canoes. I got started doing it because I got tired of carrying a big heavy aluminum canoe up in Canada when I lived in Minnesota. We'd go up the boundary waters and into Ontario. And carrying one of those big heavy canoes gets real old. So I decided I was gonna build me a nice, light canoe for the next year. The one that I built that I'm using now that's about 15 years old, weighs about 60, 65 pounds. An aluminum canoe will weigh 75 to 85, maybe 90 pounds. - [Al] Is not aluminum stronger? - [Verne] It takes licks, but so does mine. The epoxy, the canoe that I built at the time, and a friend of mine has an aluminum canoe, his canoe is popping rivets and leaking, whereas mine doesn't. - If I were to ask, you would say you are a writer by profession. - [Verne] That's correct. - So is this a hobby? - This is a second business. I do this about a third of my time. - [Al] Where do you start with the building of this canoe? - [Verne] We cut the forms out of plywood, 3/4 inch, station it along the strongback. Rip your boards to 3/16 that are usually 3/4 inch to an inch and a half thick. Staple that to the forms. Glue the next strip, staple it until you completely cover the form. Then you pull your staples, sand it, then put on your fiberglass and epoxy. - [Al] It is one piece of wood stretching across the whole side. - [Verne] Right from fore to aft, it's all one piece except for a few small pieces. When you start building at the gunwales and you're building it upside down, and when you reach the center section, it's what's called a football area. And they tend to get smaller as you reach the center. And you have to custom tailor each strip for its position. The basic woods I use are western red cedar and redwood. Sitka spruce when I can get it, that's hard to find and more expensive. And then I use accent woods like poplar or oak or ash. - [Al] All right, what's the difference in your designs? A canoe is a canoe. - [Verne] Yes, one design is like the Leipers Creek angler is most of the displacement is in the center. And it's like a ball. And like a ball, it will spin in the water. And if you sit in the back and stroke, you're going to turn. And another design is the long thin, like a pencil, which will not spin in the water but it will track. One stroke with it, and you go further and faster in the longer canoe than in a shorter canoe. But it tracks straight through the water. - [Al] How many can you build in a year? - [Verne] If I really worked hard, I could make six. I would like to keep it to four. - [Al] How long does it take you to do this? - 200 to 300 hours per canoe. - That's a lot of time. - Yeah. - [Al] That's a labor of love. - Yes, and that's exactly what it feels like when you do it. And it just feels so good when you get that skin smooth and you finish your last coat of varnish. And it, all the stages in between have their high points. - [Al] When he is asked about the seaworthiness of these handcrafted canoes, Verne points to his own, which he built in 1976. He's taken it over the rocks and rapids from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico. And while it shows normal wear, it is as strong today as it was the day it was first launched. Along with strength, Verne has two other goals in mind with each canoe. - [Verne] That they equate beauty with function. I try to create a synergy with those two aspects of canoes. 'Cause you cannot buy a canoe as beautiful as I can make it. When I'm in the water, I experience it sort of like out here. It's just, you look up and out and it's so quiet. You don't have a motor. You hear the water, you hear the animals, and a lot of times you can move up on them before they see you, deer and fox, I've seen them on the banks. And it's just, it's a serene feeling being out in a canoe. - Wow, Joe, that canoe that he was working on is just spectacular! - Wasn't it? Yeah. - You know, I just, I love that, and I love being out on the water. I remember there was a Merrimack Canoe Company up in Cumberland County. - Yeah. I can't vouch for them. I don't know if they're still there. - I don't know either. But they made those beautiful wooden canoes. - Oh, yeah. - But to see this gentleman make that just handcrafted, wow, what a treat! - What a talent too. Well, unfortunately, that's all the time we have for today. - Hmm. But you know what? You can watch "Retro Tennessee Crossroads" on demand anytime on the free PBS app. - We'll see you next time.
Retro Tennessee Crossroads
April 02, 2023
Season 01 | Episode 10
We have a full time travel lineup! Jerry Thompson pays a visit to the Cumberland General Store, a place where the new merchandise is right out of the past. Joe takes you to Clermont, Ky., to meet the grandson of Jim Beam. Jana Stanfield shares the fascinating story of the Houston Museum in Chattanooga. And finally, Al Voecks goes to Leiper's Fork to meet a craftsman who makes classic canoes.