By Jon Ratner © 1983
Issue: August, 1983
Driving towards Pilot Mountain from Alum Ridge, I cross old bridges that yawl back replies to my joy in finding myself traveling not far from home… heading the old truck in the direction of a visit to the Scudder family farm.
Along the driveway, I cross their sturdy, handmade bridge and round the pastures’ split rail fences till I come upon the two story log home that houses the Scudders while providing them their workshop space.
I’ve come today to talk with Thurlowe Scudder, a robust six-footer with a thick, close cropped beard brindled with flashes of gray and a smile as wide as the everlovin’ blue sky. Thurlowe Scudder is a vibrant man whose secure and booming laughter interspersed a wide range of subjects influencing and influenced by his own life. He is a man of many talents, skills and experiences; who is stalwartly, and from my vantage, successfully combining the American pioneer with what he has found for himself and family to the best of the twentieth century ideals.
His ancestors arrived on these shores three years after the Pilgrims and had settled in Philadelphia by 1710. A rocking chair I was casually sitting in (he points out to me) had made the trip from Philly to Akron, Ohio in a covered wagon. Upstairs, his mother sleeps in a bed that made the same journey westward.
The name of the family business, The Cabinet Shoppe, doesn’t quite encompass the many activities that go on here in this pastoral forty acres of field and forest. But here, an array of ancestral talents, abilities and visions are lived out daily. Thurlowe and his near twenty year old son, Martin Luther, are dedicated craftsmen, continuing traditions of handmade works that are part of the heritage of this country and all people determined by their devotion to independence.
In their present living/bedroom/workshop are created authentic muzzleloader long rifles, fine furniture, blacksmith and custom welding works, cloth and leather garments and leather accessories, custom knives, and soon, a room will be filled with looms that they may do their own weaving.
Included too, is their growing log and timberframe construction business. An example of their work is this 30’x30’ two story, three apartment, log timberframe home that took Thurlowe and Martin four months and four days to complete to its present stage of livable development. He tells me that except for the nails in the roof and flooring, there isn’t one other nail used in the entire cabin nor in most of his furniture. It’s joined by hand-cut mortise, dovetail, half-dovetail joints and by wooden plugs. “There’s nothing macho in it,” he explains, “I just feel thrilled using my limited power as a creator to express fine, useful and long lasting creations out of raw materials, like a potter turning shapes out of lumps of clay, or a blacksmith turning cold iron into forms of purpose. Martin is away right now studying welding at school. He desires to continually learn every aspect of blacksmithing and welding so he will have the ability to do any custom order that comes to him or thrills his imagination. Looking around the room at various latches, lanterns and hinges, metal works, chimes, artistic designs and more, all from Martin’s hand and forge, I am amazed to think a 19 year old boy already possess such skill and determination… carrying on the tradition of his ancestral craftsmen.
Standing on his front porch, Thurlowe points out a dense log window frame he’s experimenting with, seeking a tighter fitting window jamb in future log and timberframe construction. When they get a building order, they cut the logs there on the farm and then move it to the construction site. He was quick to add they do the wiring and plumbing as well.
Thurlowe, who is 46, had been a Lutheran minister for over 11 years in Ohio and Kentucky. He holds a Masters Degree in Divinity and Sacred Theology from the Hamma School of Theology in Springfield, Ohio, which was a part of the Wittenburg University. He briefly taught freshman college, worked in house construction, remodeling and has studied furniture making. Thurlowe’s wife, Janice Pryor Scudder, is currently a teacher at Radford University with a Ph.D. in theater history. She has done much work in Reader’s Theater, transcribing many of Flannery O’Connor’s short stories for that purpose.
Weaving the rich tapestry of his family’s history, he explains how he learned his farming, hunting, trapping, and skinning skills as well as his basic carpentry from his farmer-carpenter father while growing up in Dolestown, a rural setting outside of Akron, Ohio. He says, “And it was during this period of my life when I really began to learn the basic values of my life and of a man’s work, from my father. A learning of those same solid values he learned from my grandfather, who was a wainwright and it is something I’ve worked hard to instill into Martin which he, in return, keeps me toe to toe with, and that is… There is only one way to do anything in life.. only one… and that is that you do the best you can… or you don’t do it at all…”
Reminding me of the rocking chair I was sitting in, he added, “That’s the way things should be made. They should be made not only to last for generations but survive intact, even the rough travel in a covered wagon.” Thurlowe showed me some of the tools he uses daily. “These belonged to my grandfather and my great-grandfather… these are what they used in their craft, and they still work.”
Bringing over one of his exquisitely detailed Blue Ridge Long Rifles, one of the first he made, I could plainly see he practiced what he preached. With its maple stock and hand wrought tooling giving it the appearance of a museum piece; I was surprised to find the rifle felt so balanced and sturdy in my hands. He explained, “It weighs about seven to nine pounds but because of its slender length, there’s an even weight distribution on it.” With an average of forty to fifty seconds to reload and fire, Thurlowe tells me he still hunts with it. Telling me how he built his first one from a kit and pamphlet, he eventually immersed himself into the history and traditions of the long rifle. “When you mention a long rifle people think of a Kentucky Long Rifle like Daniel Boone used but there were many variations of it, in Pennsylvania, Virginia and so on. There is an overall standard design in the American Musketloader. In the length of the stock, the drop of the butt... but despite all variations, “The American Long Rifle is one of the truly unique creations in American heritage. No where else in the world was there anything quite like the Long Rifle, which came to be out of the necessity of our forefathers to have a weapon of protection and survival when King George refused them weapons or even the ore for making them.”
Handing me a couple of his homemade knives and sheaths, I again see the touch of quality that comes in the patient hands of skilled workmen; the elk handles and scrimshaw working providing elegance with practicality. “All of our work is guaranteed,” he adds.
He expresses a deep and abiding faith in God and reveals it in every aspect of the work he does; his convictions he puts to practice; his commitment to his values of quality and respect. Everything in his life, his teaching, his preaching, education, his ancestry, his work and faith have brought him to this point, becoming his very lifestyle, fulfilling in his own personal way, his responsibility to his Creator to do everything as well as possible, to learn from mistakes and go on learning, growing and creating.
Anyone interested in any aspect of the works the Scudder family provide and who haven’t run into them at any of the major craft shows they attend, please drop them a line in care of: The Cabinet Shoppe, Route 1, Box 200-A, Pilot, VA 24138. You will be making contact with people who truly live the enriching lifestyle of the independent and pioneer spirit that helped shape our country and who preserve quality, skills and integrity of the true craftsman. People who fully exemplify the saying…”And they shall be known by their works………”