Tag Archives: donations

Boiling sap produces more than just maple syrup

Sugar shack by Bruce Stambaugh

Gary Miller's sugar shack is nestled against the woods where the maple sap is obtained.

By Bruce Stambaugh

When Gary Miller of rural Millersburg, Ohio got the idea to make his own maple syrup a couple of years ago, he never envisioned where that thought would take him.

“Two years ago,” Miller said, “I was standing in the rain under an umbrella boiling sap in an assortment of old used pans on my grill.”

This year, thanks to the ingenuity and dedication of some close friends and family members, Miller has his very own sugar shack. And when the sap is running, his shack and the surrounding woods are very busy places indeed.

The shack itself was donated to Miller. A friend, Paul Conrad, had an old shed he told Miller he could have, and Miller’s sons moved it in seven different sections for him. Once on site, the building was reassembled, reusing the old lumber.

That process set the tone for what was to come. Much of the equipment used by Miller and his friends has been refurbished as some part and purpose of the maple syrup operation.

Checking taps by Bruce Stambaugh

When the sap is running, the taps get checked frequently.

Indeed, when the sap is moving, so are a half dozen or so of Miller’s friends who help with the project. They placed 400 taps in sugar, red and black maple trees, according to Miller.

“We are careful about how many taps we place in a tree,” Miller said. “We don’t want to stress them.”

They also helped split the wood that fuels the fire that boils the sap on a homemade evaporator. Of course, the gregarious crew also put that together. Much of that ingenious system consists of recycled metal and other materials.

The wood stove that holds the fire that boils the sap belonged to Scott Sponsler, another friend. The stove was extended with metal from old toolboxes from a pickup truck that Miller owned.

Miller had a fan rebuilt and some ductwork manufactured locally. Together they help distribute the heat generated by the wood stove. The heat evaporates the sap into syrup.

The sap enters the sugar shack from another recycled item, an old bulk tank rescued from an unused milking parlor. It is held up by a repurposed metal stand so the sap flows by gravity into a smaller, reconstructed holding tank inside the old wooden shed.

Sap maze by Bruce Stambaugh

Gary Miller explained how his sap boiling operations works.

From there, the sap runs into a customized sheet metal maze that allows the sap to be evaporated as it circulates up and down the four parallel troughs. After entering a second connected metal maze, the sap begins to change color. It is closer to the firebox and the preheated sap really starts to boil. Its darker color indicates that the moisture is being bubbled away.

Miller said that the sap isn’t officially maple syrup until its consistency is at least 66.9 degrees Brix, as measured by a hydrometer. Miller said with his setup, it takes 51 gallons of sap to produce a gallon of syrup.

Hydrometer by Bruce Stambaugh

Gary Miller showed how he uses a hydrometer to measure the maple syrup's moisture content.

Miller and his friends make the syrup when the sap is running. He said warmer days and cooler nights are the best conditions to make the sap run.

Before it is pumped into the elevated holding tank, the sap is gathered into 15-gallon containers from each tap bucket. The containers are carried on the back of a small tractor. Of course, the tractor was loaned, too.

Pouring sap by Bruce Stambaugh

Scott Sponsler poured sap from one of the tap buckets into a 15-gallon container before heading back to the sugar shack.

All the free equipment and labor is only appropriate. Miller said the maple syrup that is produced is not for sale, although it does have a name, Smoke Pit Maple Syrup.

“This is not a commercial operation,” Miller emphasized.

Instead customers get to donate whatever they feel the syrup is worth. The money is used for an educational scholarship program in Honduras. Miller’s Sunday school class at Millersburg Mennonite Church is financially sponsoring the schooling of several children there.

With all that said, Miller shared another important ingredient in the maple syrup production as far as he is concerned.

“It’s not about the syrup,” Miller said. “It’s about the fellowship.”

Indeed, laughter and kibitzing among the friends intermingle with the steam from the cooking sap in the cold, small shack. The steam and merriment waft together out into the cold air through the open doorways. The good-natured ribbing helps make the labor-intensive sugaring efforts all the sweeter.

Persons interested in obtaining some of the Smoke Pit Maple Syrup should contact Miller at 330-763-0364.

Maple syrup by Bruce Stambaugh

Various sized jars of Smoke Pit Maple Syrup lined a shelf in the sugar shack.

1 Comment

Filed under article, photography

Sue Pyle just wanted to help

Sue Pyle by Bruce Stambaugh

Sue Pyle, of Strongsville, Ohio checked out some of the many items she donated to Save & Serve Thrift Shop for its Christmas Open House.

By Bruce Stambaugh

Sue Pyle wanted to downsize from her home in Strongsville, Ohio to a smaller place. That meant doing away with some of her most valuable treasures, her many Christmas tree displays.

For the past 26 years, Pyle has filled her house with the trees, each with its own separate theme. Year after year, she opened her house to many an admirer.

Pyle’s trees came in all sizes. She decorated as many as 32 trees. Some were half-trees that hung on the wall while others were miniature trees. Of course, she had a traditional Christmas tree, too.

The trees and ornaments took up a lot of storage space when not used. Though she hated to do it, Pyle knew in downsizing she had to dispense of much of her holiday decorating tradition.

Friends encouraged her to sell the decorations, some of which she had had for years. Others told her to hold a garage sale. But neither is what Pyle had in mind.

Instead, Pyle remembered what some friends had told her about the annual Christmas Open House held at Save & Serve Thrift Shop in Millersburg, Ohio. She had visited the store, learned of its mission, where the profits went, and made up her mind to donate her Christmas collection to Save & Serve, even though it was an hour away from her home.

“I know that all the money made from selling my items will go directly to help people,” Pyle said. “That’s what I wanted because I like their global mission.”

In total, all of Pyle’s seasonal decorations filled a 16-foot box truck and a van. It was probably the largest seasonally specific donation of it’s kind, according to Eric Raber, co-manager at Save & Serve.

“We once had a pick up load arrive from Chicago for the same reason,” Raber said. “But this was definitely the largest donation specifically for decorating.”

In addition to her Christmas items, Pyle also donated fall and other holiday decorations. Raber said the donations from Pyle helped make the Christmas Open House a huge success. The event was held Oct. 25-27.

“We sold 2,000 items the first day alone,” Raber said.

Curious as to how things would be displayed, Pyle visited Save & Serve the first day of the Christmas Open House sale.

“I was impressed with how they had everything displayed,” Pyle said. “They did an excellent job, and they were great to work with.”

Raber praised the seven volunteers who spent many hours organizing and creating the festive Christmas arrangements. He said many of the items were from Pyle’s donations.

“It was the eye of those who created the displays that made them so attractive and presentable for customers,” Raber said. “Those creative gifts made the open house the success that it was.”

“I really enjoyed visiting the store,” said Marilyn Howarth, a friend of Pyle’s who tagged along on the trip from the Cleveland area. “Everything was displayed so nice.”

Raber said this was the third year for the Christmas Open House, and the most successful. He said sales from the first day of the open house were the best since the opening day at Save & Serve’s South Washington Street location.

“Sue’s generosity was wonderful,” Raber said. “We value the intent of the donor.”

Raber said Save & Serve appreciates the generosity of all those who donate merchandise, as well as the generosity of time by the many volunteers who sort through the donations.

“Giving develops through relationships,” Raber said citing Pyle as an example. “It’s people connecting with people.”

Pyle, a retired elementary teacher, said she started her collections from the gifts given to her by students.

“It started with the giraffe collection,” she said. “I expanded my collections with spur-of-the-moment purchases.”

Some of her themes included a hunt tree, a kitchen tree, little books and a bear tree. She even had a Lakeside, Ohio tree, a place where she vacations annually.

Pyle’s generosity wasn’t just aimed at Save & Serve. In 2001, Pyle began creating a themed tree that she donated to the Akron Children’s Hospital’s Holiday Tree Festival. The trees are purchased with the proceeds going to the hospital.

“This year I am doing a Merry Mickey Christmas tree,” Pyle said.

Like the many shoppers at Save & Serve, whoever buys that tree will have their holidays enhanced thanks to Sue Pyle.

1 Comment

Filed under article