Orem man finds family connection in bucket-making

By Andrew Van Wagenen

Associated Press

Published: Wednesday, March 16 2011 10:28 p.m. MDT

Darold Francis weaves broom corn onto the end of a wooden handle of a homemade Appalachian style broom.

Associated Press

PROVO — When people write down a bucket list, they usually don't include making an actual bucket. However, for Orem resident Darold Francis, making a bucket was important enough that he flew across the country to learn how and has continued to do it for the past 11 years.

Since making his first bucket in October of 2000, Francis has been perfecting the Old World craft of coopering, or the art of making wooden-staved vessels such as buckets, washtubs or butter churns.

Francis was first interested in coopering because of his great-great-grandfather John Francis, who was a cooper in England during the 1800s.

In 1998, while driving home along Geneva Road in Orem, Francis said he had an experience that changed his life forever.

"My great-great-grandfather decided to come and give me a visit," Darold said. "He spoke to me and said, 'You need to be a cooper.' "

Although the visitation lasted only a few seconds, Francis recalls that it was very spiritual and very beautiful.

When Francis signed up for his first coopering class at a school in Brasstown, N.C., in October 2000, Francis' wife Pam knew it was going to be an interesting experience.

"(Coopers) apprentice for six to eight years, and you're going to learn this in five days?" Pam recalls thinking. "I shook my head and said, 'This is going to be interesting.' "

To their surprise, it took Francis only three days to make his first bucket. Even his teacher was surprised to see that all the pieces fit perfectly without any gaps, which the teacher claims never happens.

"He had the talent already," his wife said. "It just took him 60 years to connect to it."

While Francis spent the week taking coopering classes, Pam enrolled in a basic broom-making class.

"I went into the class totally clueless," she said.

Several months after their classes, Pam taught her husband how to make the brooms, and that is when they started doing demonstrations and selling their items. Occasionally, they get requests for specialty items like the Harry Potter Nimbus 2000 broom, which Francis made for his friend John Gilbert.

"It was awesome," said Gilbert, who has purchased a "harp broom" and a household broom from Francis. "It's not like a store-bought broom. You really get this 'wow' effect when you first try it."

On one occasion, they made 70 brooms in two weeks for a mountain man rendezvous. "That was a killer," Pam said. She told her husband afterward, "I don't think I really want to do this again."

Despite the labor and time it takes to prepare for a rendezvous or a demonstration, both agree that it is well worth it. Francis believes it has been a great way for them to meet new people and do genealogy work.

A while back, during a Sons of Utah Pioneers event in Layton, a man whose ancestor was a broom maker came to watch one of their broom demonstrations. Pam recalls tears in the man's eyes after the demonstration. "You have changed my perspective of my ancestor," the man told them.

"He used to think his ancestor was poor and common," Pam explains. "Now, he sees the value, creativity and necessity of his (ancestor)."

Francis also believes it is important for him to carry on the tradition of Old World crafts such as coopering and broom-making, which are becoming lost arts here in the United States.

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