WHITEHALL — If Whitehall Assessor Bruce Caza has his way, a 16-year-old blind Amish boy will soon be making brooms on a 132-year-old machine that Caza’s grandfather used after he went blind as a 19-year-old.
In a flurry of dates and names, Caza retold the sad yet uplifting story about how his grandfather lost his sight in 1884 and then learned the broom-making trade at the New York School For The Blind.
The machine would provide him a broom-making career that spanned from 1884 to 1938 before it was passed down to Caza’s father, who used it for extra income from 1938 to 1965.
“He did it on the side and people would come to the house and order them,” Caza said. “He didn’t peddle them. My grandfather peddled.”
On Dec. 23, 1965, the family’s home burned, and the only thing that survived was that broom-making machine, Caza said. His father built a storage shed for it, and that’s where it sat for years.
He passed away in 1973 and the machine remained in the shed.
It was in 1984 at a local gas station when Caza said a man drove in, hauling numerous antique engines like those displayed at fairs. They struck up a conversation and it eventually came around to the broom machine.
The man told him he knew members of the Amish community in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, who would know how to operate the machine, which Caza did not.
“In 1984, two of my brothers and I went to Lancaster and the guy taught us how to use it,” he said. “After I learned, I was 25, I did it for one year for my wife’s and my sole income. We had two little kids. It probably would have worked, but I didn’t dare continue with just that as my income.”
That’s when he became a tax assessor and decided he would resuscitate the machine in retirement at fairs and festivals.
“But when I found this boy, I decided I was going to give him the opportunity. He’s got orders lined up before he even knows how to use it,” he said proudly.
Caza said he gave the boy the machine and all the remaining broom-making supplies that were left.
He said he plans to start teaching the boy how to make brooms any day now, as soon as this latest cut of hay is finished and the boy has time away from his chores to learn it.
“It’s probably going to take me a week to teach him because he has to learn by feel, just like my grandfather did,” he said. “But he’s very excited. He’s a young man and it’s an opportunity.”
The boy’s father on Friday said his son has been receiving letters from members of their old settlement in Fort Plain, New York, with one or two dollars in it to help his son get his future business off the ground.
He said Caza’s kindness in giving the machine to his son and the letters from Fort Plain “about brought a tear to my eye.”
Caza said the father had a huge smile when the machine was delivered.
“He was delighted I was giving his son an opportunity,” he said.
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