Mason County News
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At the Top of Erna Hill
Wednesday, October 31, 2012 • Posted October 31, 2012

Here it is, LASSES MAKING TIME and as stated in my last article, I will endeavor to explain the molasses making process and the different areas in which mills were located. I recently learned that there was a sugar factory in the area, as well which I will try to cover.

I can remember four syrup mills (a more dignified term for –molasses) in our general area. One was located on the Louie Hahn property just east of the present Long Mt. school building under a large live oak tree just west of their house. I believe that the fire pit and chimney are still present near the tree but the squeezer is missing.

The Little Saline community had a mill located on the Saline Creek, near the old Pleasant Valley school building. It was in my day, located on the Oren Jones place just south of the present school building. This mill was a one horse power system as well.

Later around 1900, a mill was installed on the Dora Andrews property, where I now reside. There is not much evidence left of it’s existence but recently, I was grubbing some pear with a front end loader and I un-covered the foundation for the squeeze unit which I can remember as well as the placement of the fire box and vat.

The fourth unit was installed on the Amberson property west of London on the bank of the Big Saline Creek just north of the now second crossing. Along with this mill, I learned from Penny Elliott that her grandmother told the story of the making of sugar at this mill, as well. It seems that they had a store in Katemcy north of Mason and came there for their supply of sugar. As you can already conclude, the area became self-sufficient very quickly due to the present day technology (brute strength and sweat) and the lack of transportation. A trip to town was a two-day mission so planning was required once a quarter for these long journeys of 20 to 35 miles. A Mason trip was only 40 miles round trip but the sand beds were a big problem. The trip to Menardville was a three-day trip over rough terrain.

The molasses-making venture usually began in September once the cane had formed a head. The process began with what was called stripping of the leaves on the stalk while still standing. Then the head would be cut off and left on the ground and the stalk would be cut at the bottom near the ground and placed with the butt end to the front so the stalk could be pulled from the wagon and the small end placed into the squeezer first. The squeezer was a set of three vertical serrated rollers about 12 inches in diameter and placed about an eighth inch apart and powered by a mule usually, attached to a pole about 15 feet long and as the mule went around in circles, the pole was attached to a vertical shaft which turned the squeezer to mash out the cane juice. The cane pulp was stacked out to dry and fed to the cows and the liquid was caught in buckets and went to the cooking vat.

The liquid was then poured into a copper vat about 30 inches wide by 60 inches long designed similar to a maze with a fire underneath. As the squeezins were poured into the front portion of the maze over a hotter fire and began the boiling process and gradually worked back thru the maze to the lower heat and allowed to simmer until the master cooker declared it ready to start draining into a container as molasses. Fresh cane juice would be poured in the front and the process was repeated until all the cane juice was made into LASSES. Molasses could be stored in wooden kegs for years and still be gOOOd on hot biscuits with cow butter. I was always told a story about my Uncle Clarence Andrews as a kid, who had fair skin and fever blisters, asking his older brother, Raymond—Waymond, do wasses burn your wipps?. Some wasses could be strong, called black strap. During the early days of molasses making, the master molasses cooker was Mr. Louie Hahn of the Long Mountain Community and Mrs. Hahn could make the best homemade light bread ever. Mr. Hahn was describing a new comer to the community to others and he said that he was really a good man, as he could slice light bread left-handed or right-handed.In order to understand the importance of the molasses to the frontiersmen, one needs to read of some of the accounts giving glory to the food product. I was reading a 1929 edition of the London Graphic, published by Marvin Hunter, reporting on a meeting of the London Chamber of Commerce discussing a fundraiser to obtain electricity for the city, which was $ 2000, and Mrs. Marvin Hunter was hostess to the wives and sweethearts of the Chamber where refreshments were served, being hot cornbread and molasses.

My wife, Nita, is currently in re-hab at the Care Center in Junction and she was reading my last article to some of the residents and one in particular told her that he had to meet me, as he had grown up to have experienced the same events, even in southern Colorado. I visited him on my next visit and learned that his name was Albert Barnhart (earlier, the name was spelled Barnhardt) and he said he was Black Dutch (I was told that was my background also, what ever it meant) and he was a retired bachelor cowboy from Clayton, N, M. We learned that each of us served in the 2nd Division in the early 1950’s and each are life members of the 2nd Inf. Division Association. Albert is the uncle to Connie Gordy of London.

Well, I guess that most of the crop is in so my next article will be about the hunting experiences of a couple WW 11 veterans who came home to a meager living. I think that many of you can relate to the events. Be happy and do good works.

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