Tom Lounsbury: Meeting the wonderful folks of Hocking Hills

The first place my wife Ginny and I stopped in at after arriving at the Hocking Hills in southeastern Ohio was the Welcome Center in Logan. The helpful volunteers there are warm and friendly and answer any and all questions. Racks are filled with brochures featuring all that is available in the area, and very important maps which are necessary for navigating the ever-winding roads in the surrounding wooded Appalachian foothills.

These maps would prove to be critical for us, because we would frequently lose our cell signal for the smartphone telling us where to go. This was especially true in being able to locate our cabin in the densely wooded and hilly terrain. “Cabins by the Caves” offers a wide variety of cabin rentals in uniquely isolated settings which are close to Hocking Hills State Park, making them ideal bases for operations.

Ginny and I had a very full schedule of people and places to visit on our third day. This would begin with a tour at the Columbus Washboard Company in Logan. The business, which started in 1895 in Columbus, Ohio, was purchased and moved to Logan in 1999, where washboards, 20,000 annually, are still being made. It is the only washboard company in the country and sells its products worldwide, with the USA being its biggest customer.

When other businesses were faltering and on hard times during the COVID pandemic, the Columbus Washboard Company was working hard at producing enough washboards to meet record demand. It was apparent that folks who relied on public laundromats suddenly preferred to do their laundry safely at home and, yep, folks, washboards still work as effectively today as they did way back when.

Washboards typically offer a spiral pattern on one side for coarser clothing and a smoother pattern on the other side for delicates. The most popular washboard is the “Pail” size, which is easy to use with a five-gallon bucket of water. Something tells me I wouldn’t mind having one on hand for extended stays in the “boondocks.”

Our tour guide was Lisa Jarrell, one of the five full-time employees making washboards. Much of the machinery being used is the original, very sturdy equipment. According to Lisa, “They don’t make things like they used to.” Three of the employees are cross-trained to do everything, which is an interesting process. Originally, pine was used for the washboard frame, then teak, which proved brittle to work with, and today all washboards have frames made from poplar, which is straight-grained and easy to work with. The wood has finger-joints to splice matters together, and only six nails are used to secure it. Stainless and galvanized steel are used today on washboards, but brass, glass and even wood have been used in the past.

Washboards come in different styles and sizes, with some being musical instruments which are literally equipped with all the “bells and whistles.” Some are purely ornamental by featuring mirrors, chalkboards or cork. Ginny, of course, bought a genuine “Pail” washboard, which I am certain will only be used as a wall decoration (until the next time I’m in the boondocks!). The Columbus Washboard Company and museum is definitely a neat and very interesting place to visit.

Next on our list in Logan was the Hocking Hills Moonshine Distillery, which indeed makes genuine, but very legal, moonshine, which runs from 45 proof to an eye-opening 151 proof and has flavored options as well as the crystal-clear “bone fide” elixir (my favorite). We met Missy Mullins, who was hard at work and is a proud fourth-generation moonshiner and first-generation legal moonshiner.

Distillery owner Brian St. Clair gave us a tour of the museum and then walked us through the moonshine-making process. The first thing I noticed were pallets loaded with bags of cracked corn (aka “chicken feed”) and pallets holding bags of (Pioneer) sugar. The corn and sugar would be put in a barrel filled with water hauled in from a special Hocking Hills spring, and all would be allowed to ferment.

The fermenting room had a very distinct but pleasant odor, along with the sound of bubbling caused by the fermentation process. We were then shown the actual distilling process with a number of copper stills that had wooden barrels collecting the final fluid, which is then bottled in clear, jug-shaped bottles.

The Hocking Hills Moonshine Distillery also makes a couple tasty barbeque sauces and is in the process of adding a bar and restaurant, making it a great place to visit which features some very unique local history.

Our next stop took us out into the country to meet Derek Mills, an astute and dedicated orchardist who owns and operates Hocking Hills Orchard, which features 1,700 varieties of apples (some dating back to Roman times) and many varieties of pears, grapes and other fruit. Waiting for Ginny and me to sample it was a freshly baked apple pie made with several different varieties, which proved to be very delicious and colorful. Some of the apple slices were bright red, and I would be introduced to red-fleshed apples for the first time.

Apples originated in the Old World, primarily in the Middle East, and spread out from there, most likely by the Romans. They were eventually introduced to North America, which until then only had indigenous crabapples. Derek had selected 10 varieties of apples for us to sample slices from, and he explained their primary uses, such as for pies, cider and general eating.

Some of the apples were quite tart and others quite sweet. The oldest variety was red-fleshed from skin to core, and my favorite was the “Pink Pearl,” which is exactly what it resembled as a whole apple, with a red-striped flesh. Derek has received apple trees from all over the world and has created 20 new varieties himself, which he has named after family members.

Hocking Hills Orchard is a “UPic” operation on selected dates, and there are apples available that you will never see in stores. Derek and his wife, Lisa, also rent out Four Seasons Cabins, which are two cabins located in the orchards which feature a pond for fishing and swimming as well as hiking trails. The entire atmosphere there offers quite a tranquil and back-to-nature setting.

Our next stop in the country was Lockhart Ironworks, a traditional full-time blacksmith shop which also offers the Southern Ohio School of Blacksmithing, which was all started by Doug Lockhart. The first thing to meet me when I stepped out of the car was a black Great Dane named Titus. Knowing dogs, I could tell right away he was a friendly cuss and a genuine “greeter.”

Right behind Titus was blacksmith Dave Chamberlain, who invited me into the shop to see how matters were done. Dave is Doug Lockhart’s son-in-law and had met Doug’s daughter, Danielle, when he came to the blacksmithing school. It turns out Danielle Chamberlain is also a highly skilled and award-winning blacksmith. (Women are encouraged to take the class – blacksmithing is about control rather than strength). Doug Lockhart was away during our visit, working on an iron bridge, something that Lockhart Ironworks is well known for because it requires the lost art of forging and using rivets.

When entering the shop, one encounters the distinct smell of burning coal. Dave explained that coal, especially soft coal from West Virginia, creates the best direct heat, and he went to work to show me how matters were done by heating an iron rod and hammering, twisting and turning it into a fancy and ornamental hook.

An interesting fact is that Dave used a billows operated with a hand-crank to get matters glowing hot and ready to fashion on an anvil. I was mesmerized watching how smoothly and quickly everything transpired, while Titus leaned his massive head against my leg when I scratched his ears. The dog had obviously seen all of this before.

Blacksmiths often get confused with farriers, who mainly shoe horses. Some blacksmiths do shoe horses also, but blacksmiths are truthfully a jack of all trades in hand forging, creating and repairing things in iron and steel. The Lockhart Ironworks is a perfect example of that.

All too soon, it was time to head out. Ginny and I had a very fulfilling day meeting some wonderful folks of Hocking Hills who are proud, passionate and dedicated to what they do. We had other things planned and more folks to meet later that evening, but that is a story for next week.

Email freelance outdoors writer Tom Lounsbury at        


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