While many people around Grove know Bob Weeks from the Grove Farmer’s Market on Saturday morning where he sells his home grown produce, many don’t know the teacher turned farmer spends many of his days refining a lost art – broom making.
Weeks took up the craft about 6 years ago when he saw someone making brooms at an antique tractor show.
“I saw them making those brooms and I thought I would like to do that,” said Weeks.
So he set out to try his hand at it. Weeks constructed a replica broom-making machine called a broom horse.
“I measured and copied the design from one at Har-Ber Village,” said Weeks. “I guess you could say this is an exact reproduction.”
After some research and practice, Weeks began creating his own hand-made broomcorn brooms.
Broomcorn is not really corn at all but a tall grass that makes a fan shaped seed head instead of ears of corn. While many broom makers buy their broomcorn from suppliers in Mexico Weeks chose the task of growing his own.
“You can’t get colored broom corn from the suppliers, which is why I started growing it,” said Weeks.
The Delaware County native says he plants his corn in the spring and in August the whole plant must be bent over so the tassel will dry hanging straight.
“If the tassel grows bent over you can’t use it, it has to be straight,” he explained as he showed off a stand of the primitive plant.
When the plant is ready to harvest, Weeks does all the work by hand.
“Broom corn is one of the plants that you can’t use machinery on,” he said. “It’s pretty labor intensive.”
The corn has to be cut with a corn knife and it is stripped of its outer layer, and then spread out on a drying rack that Weeks also constructed.
About two acres of dwarf and tall varieties of broomcorn are grown at Weeks’ farm east of Grove. The tall broomcorn grows 14 ft tall.
Handles for the primitive brooms are made from sticks Weeks gathers from the woods in the winter. He uses woods such as ash, oak, pecan, or whatever he can find that is straight enough and then sands and varnishes them. Brooms are put in a broom vice that spreads out the broom into the traditional fan shape and holds it for stitching.
The broom is stitched in place by hand before the final weaving is made that helps secure the handle to the broom and finishes the loose ends. The sweeping part is then trimmed flat.
“Everything I do is the traditional way they did it,” said Weeks. “It’s quite a craft.”
This time of year “witch’s brooms” can also be crafted for use in decorations.
Home made corn brooms are durable and can last for many years, according to Weeks.Various styles of brooms are on display and for sale at the Right Choices Corn Maze where Weeks is demonstrating his craft throughout the fall season. The maze is located just east of Grove in Missouri near Hwy. 43.