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TURPENTINE STILL FIRING

 

This video footage comes from April 10, 2004, during the turpentine still firing at the Georgia Agrirama’s (www.agrirama.com ) annual Spring Folk Life Festival in Tifton.  This year the Agrirama was the only site in Georgia to fire an old-style still. The end of the turpentine industry and the difficulty in locating sufficient raw gum caused the other two locations to quit firing.  Previously still firings occurred in Portal at the Carter still during the Catface Community Festival, and at Old South Farm Days in Walthourville. All three sites have re-enacted still firings as part of community festivals.  These events attract folks who have some connection to turpentining, often triggering exchange of stories and reminiscences.  Typically there is a queen and court who preside over the festivities.  At the Agrirama, Miss Tift County Forestry Queen lit the fire to start the stilling process. Turpentiner Arthur Riley of Milan, Georgia provided four barrels of raw gum for the 2004 firing.  This gum was two years old at the time, and the resultant grade of rosin was low. 

 

The still at the Agrirama is a fire still from the 1890s period which was moved and reassembled at the Agrirama.  This still is actually a composite with parts donated by several different individuals.  Georgia led in production of naval stores from 1880-1905 when this type of still was widespread throughout the counties of South Georgia and North Florida.  It is a simple copper kettle set in brickwork with a single chimney.  In order to charge it, you remove the kettle cap and put in the gum. This part of the process had already taken place when the project team began to videotape.

 

Pictured in the footage are Agrirama stiller David King, who learned the skill from watching and working with veteran South Georgia stillers; Agrirama curator John Johnson; volunteer George Varn, Jr. whose family has been involved in South Georgia naval stores since just after the Civil War; volunteer Roy Rankin; and volunteer Houston Jackson. Narration is by John Johnson for Programs 1-4, and by David King for Programs 5 and 6.  The segments were edited by Bill Muntz.

 

Introduction: What are fire stills? (from Turpentine Stills by Tony Page, ©1998-2002, Georgia Forestry Commission, Used with permission. http://www.gaforests.com/LowerCoastalPlain/interesting/turpentinestill2.html)

Program 1:        Capping

Program 2:        Firing

Program 3:        Spirit Room

Program 4:        Sounding the Still

Program 5:        Skimming

Program 6:        Discharging Rosin, Straining, and Barreling

 

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