South Dakota Broom Maker Cleans Up

American Artisans, People, Traditions
on August 19, 2001

In a broom-making Olympics, Edward Tschetter would win the sweepstakes award.

“If I really hurry,” says Tschetter, with a slight German accent, “I can make a house broom in five minutes.”

Tschetter, 56, is chief broom maker for the Pleasant Valley Hutterite Colony near Flandreau, S.D. (pop. 2,257). “I’ll put my brooms up against any broom made anywhere,” says Tschetter, who apprenticed in the colony’s broom shop as a boy.

Tschetter (pronounced Chedder) has been making brooms for housewives in the Flandreau area and beyond for nearly 45 years, so he pretty well has the procedure down to a science.

He’d make more than the 1,500 brooms his little shop turns out each year, he jokes, but they are of such good quality they seldom wear out.

“I had a lady from Flandreau come out recently to buy a new one. She said her last one lasted 15 years.”

Carolyn Petersen, a buyer for Campbell Supply Co. in nearby Sioux Falls, is sold on Pleasant Valley brooms, too.

“We’ve been buying them for over 20 years,” she says. “People ask for corn brooms and there aren’t any we’ve found that are of better quality than the Pleasant Valley Colony’s brooms.”

In addition to the brooms sold commercially, Tschetter makes some for use in the colony’s turkey and pig barns a block away from the homey, barracks-like farm homes of the colony’s 65 members.

Tschetter and other members of the Pleasant Valley Hutterite Colony are descendants of a sect that immigrated to South Dakota from Moravia in 1874 for economic, political, and religious reasons. As the first communal farm grew in population, families moved to other properties purchased by the sect. Now, about 50 Hutterite colonies are scattered around the state.

Members speak German. They use an archaic dialect for everyday purposes and High German in religious services. The children also learn English in colony schools, but they retain the dress, customs, and simple life of their ancestors.

Tschetter does most of his broom making in the winter. During the other seasons, he’s in charge of a 20-acre garden and does the colony’s butchering. But his pride and joy are his household brooms, heavy brooms used for industrial purposes, small whisk brooms, and toy brooms.

He often supervises and teaches broom making to 10- and 11-year-old boys assigned to his shop after school. One day, one of them will take his place as the chief broom maker.

He has them hand-stitch the colony’s whisk brooms and do other simple chores to learn the basics of the trade. “Girls work at home,” he adds. “Just the boys work away from home. We want them to learn to accomplish something by working together. It also tends to keep them out of any after-school mischief,” he says with a wry smile.

Broom making at Pleasant Valley Colony is a five-step task.

Broomcorn is soaked in a water-dye solution, which softens and gives it a light green color. If it isn’t softened, it breaks during the next step, which is to wire layers of it to the broom handle on a machine that twirls the handle and winds wire over five separate layers of broomcorn.

Next, the corn is combed to remove weak or loose stems. The broom is then stitched with heavy string to give it the flat rather than the round shape. The sweeping end is then trimmed.

At one time the colony grew its own broomcorn, but it can now buy the product from Mexico cheaper than it can grow it. The thicker, sturdier bristle for the colony’s industrial brooms comes from India.

Tschetter says the secret to broom longevity is in the way it is stored.

“Hang it with the bristles down so moisture can drain out,” he recommends.