Media Files
Interview with Marsha Wiechman, April 30, 2009
Bourbon in Kentucky: Buffalo Trace Oral History Project
Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History
Interviewee Marsha Wiechman
Interviewer Thomas Troland
created 2009-04-30
cms record id 2009oh171_bik012
accession number 2009OH171 BIK 012
is part of Buffalo Trace Oral History Project (BIK003)
summary Marsha Wiechman has been an employee of Buffalo Trace for twenty-two years at the time of this interview. Marsha grew up on a farm in Kansas and lived there for many years before coming to Buffalo Trace. In this interview, Wiechman describes her education and professional training and explains how she ended up at Buffalo Trace. She lists and explains the different positions she has held at the distillery, describes tasting procedures, and explains some of the terminology used by workers at the distillery. Wiechman also discusses workplace safety and the treatment of female workers at the plant. She compares the work environment in the 1980s with the work environment of today. In addition, Wiechman describes how Elmer T. Lee contributed to her positive experience working for Buffalo Trace.
Economic conditions.
Quality control.
local term Farm life
local term Buffalo Trace Distillery.
local term Whiskey
local term Whiskey industry--Kentucky
local term Distilleries--Kentucky
local term Distillation
local term Liquors--Gaging and testing.
local term Women in the whiskey industry
local term Bourbon whiskey
Rights Statement:
All rights to the interviews, including but not restricted to legal title, copyrights and literary property rights, have been transferred to the University of Kentucky Libraries.
Interviews may only be reproduced with permission from Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, Special Collections and Digital Programs, University of Kentucky Libraries.
Source Metadata URI:
00048056 (2009oh171_bik012_wiechman_ohm.xml)
Marsha Wiechman is introduced. She describes her childhood in Kansas growing up on a wheat farm. She talks about going to school in a one-room schoolhouse, living through many tornadoes, and the hard work of farm life.
Partial Transcript: My name is Tom Troland from the University of Kentucky.
Country life
Family farms.
Farm life.
Rural children
Rural schools
Traditional farming
Hard work
High school
Horseback riding
Life lessons
One-room schools
Washington County (Kan.)
Wiechman says she wanted to be a nurse as a child, but ended up going to cosmetology school. She talks about the various jobs she has held over the years before coming to Buffalo Trace, including welder, carpenter, and construction worker.
Partial Transcript: What were your thoughts at that time regarding what you might like to do in your future?
Small business--Ownership
Beauty shops
Buffalo Trace Distillery
Cosmetology school
Frankfort (Ky.)
General Electric (GE)
Hard work
Rolling barrels
Wiechman talks about beginning to work at the distillery when it was run by Ancient Age. She talks about the frequent layoffs, and talks about some of the other employees there at the time. She talks about her first job of rolling barrels, and tells a story about a barrel breaking and ducks swimming in the alcohol. She talks about how the distillery improved after being bought by Buffalo Trace.
Partial Transcript: Let's talk a little bit about your very early years here at Buffalo Trace.
Bourbon whiskey
Buffalo Trace Distillery.
Economic conditions.
Ancient Age Distillery
Blanton bottling hall
Blanton's Single Barrel
Bottling houses
Laid off
Leonard Riddle
Rolling barrels
Ronnie Eddins
Single-barrel bourbons
Wiechman talks about the many positions she has held at the distillery over the years, working her way up from barrel roller to processing, and product handler, among others. She describes what "processing" means in a distillery.
Partial Transcript: During those down years what were you doing primarily?
Buffalo Trace Distillery.
Labor unions--Kentucky
Women in the whiskey industry
Chill filtering
Chill filtration
Dry houses
Loading trucks
Premium bottling house
Product handler
Rolling barrels
Single-barrel bourbons
Wiechman talks about another of her positions at the distillery: taste tester. She talks about the process of tasting, and how many other people are involved. She talks about how Elmer Lee has been a sort of mentor to her. She describes a sugar barrel.
Partial Transcript: So let's think about all of the positions you've held here.
Bourbon whiskey
Buffalo Trace Distillery.
Quality control.
"Sugar barrels"
Blanton's Single Barrel
Elmer T. Lee
Elmer T. Lee (Bourbon whiskey)
Master distillers
Product handling
Single-barrel bourbons
Taste buds
Taste testing
Tasting panels
Wiechman talks about her current position at Buffalo Trace as a team leader in the Blanton bottling hall. She talks about what this position entails, and describes how the plant operated in earlier years.
Partial Transcript: Tell me a little bit about what you're doing now at the distillery.
Alcohol--Law and legislation
Buffalo Trace Distillery.
Blanton bottling hall
Team leaders
Wiechman talks about how the distillery has changed since she began there in the 1980s. She talks about improvements in safety measures, and what the work environment was like for women then and now. She talks about an old rumor at the distillery that she was a former female wrestler.
Partial Transcript: You've been here at the distillery now for many years.
Buffalo Trace Distillery.
Industrial safety--Law and legislation
Women in the whiskey industry
Non-traditional roles
Safety measures
Team members
Team player
Work environment
Wiechman talks about her hobbies and her plans for retirement. She talks about her favorite bourbon. She talks about her interactions with tourists at the distillery.
Partial Transcript: Apart from your career here at Buffalo Trace, what else interests you in life?
Bourbon whiskey
Buffalo Trace Distillery.
Drinking bourbon
Learning experiences
Pappy Van Winkle 23 Year
Pappy Van Winkle bourbon whiskey
Wiechman talks about her experiences with ghosts at the Buffalo Trace Distillery. The interview is concluded.
Partial Transcript: Is there anything else you'd like to say that I haven't already asked you?
Buffalo Trace Distillery.
Haunted encounters
Haunted places.
Blanton bottling hall
Break rooms
Colonel Blanton
Mediums (psychics)
Paranormal investigations
TROLAND: My name is Tom Troland, from the University of Kentucky. We're
interviewing today Marsha Wiechman, It's April 30, 2009. This is part
of the Buffalo Trace Oral History Project. We are located here at the
Buffalo Trace Distillery. Marsha, I'd like to thank you so much for
taking time out for this interview.
WIECHMAN: You're welcome. Glad to do it.
TROLAND: Let's begin with having you tell me just a little bit about
WIECHMAN: Like, how much do you want to know? I was born and raised
in Kansas, and lived there for thirty-eight years, and moved here
to Kentucky. And been working here at the distillery for twenty-two
years, and I was born and raised on a farm in Kansas, and was a
licensed hairdresser-beautician for fifteen years in Kansas, prior to
moving out here. And--found a job at the distillery,
which I fell in
love with, and haven't left since.
TROLAND: What brought you to Kentucky?
WIECHMAN: Long story, (laughs) long story. Oops! I knew that thing was
going to fall off of there.
TROLAND: Should we stop just for a minute while?
HAY: We could just leave it--you want to just leave it there?
WIECHMAN: You want to just leave it there? Fine with me. Yeah. It was,
it was a long story. And I, I wanted to get out and do new things,
and go places and see new people. And get away from the cold, extreme
cold and extreme heat. And Kentucky does that for me. And it didn't
take long when I moved out here to meet and find new friends. And it's
been home for me, and it still is, and probably will be for many years
to come.
TROLAND: Tell me a little bit about your parents.
WIECHMAN: Farmers. Row crop farmers,
wheat farmers. They're still
alive and well today. We celebrated their sixty-fifth wedding
anniversary two years ago, and they're doing well. They're retired.
They live in town now. But--worked on the farm all their lives. We-
-I went to a country school for eight years; a one-room schoolhouse.
One teacher, one room, eight years. (laughs) And, of course, the
little rural high school, it was small, too. There was fifty-two kids
in our high school. And twenty-three of us, the year I graduated,
was seniors. So, they had high school one more year there when I
graduated, and after that they didn't have high school there no more.
They switched and put it--they unified some school districts. So,
was pretty small, and pretty uncomplicated in my world, up 'til about
1960. '65, I guess, is when I graduated from high school. So, that's
when I got out and about, and more complicated.
TROLAND: Any interesting stories of your good deeds or misdeeds when you
were young there, and growing up in Kansas?
WIECHMAN: Misdeeds when I was young there. Well, there's a lot of
stories. (laughs) Lots of stories; we rode a horse to school. And
I've had a barn at the, at the uh, school yard, where we kept the
horses. Kept them fed. The schoolyard--schoolhouse is still there.
The barn has fell down. Our outhouses, of course, fell down. Didn't
have no indoor plumbing. And we had coal heat. They had an
old coal
stove in there that we burned coal in to keep warm, first few years.
And then it went--was wood heat. And the last couple of years, they
had pur-, furchas-, purchased a propane heater that they used in that
one-room schoolhouse. But, yeah. Them was the days.
TROLAND: What about your parents? Are there some interesting lessons
that you learned from your parents when you were growing up?
WIECHMAN: How to work hard. We--that's--we worked hard, we played hard.
We played as a family and worked as a family. And that's the way it
was. It was a, a working family.
TROLAND: So, you were hard at work on the farm, when you were growing up.
WIECHMAN: Yes. Yes. Yep. In my early years, I can remember them using
horses to work with. And then, of course, through the years, uh, we

got tractors and made it a little easier. But, they was hard years.
They were hard years, growing up, working. I--we didn't have no
indoor plumbing. Didn't have no electric when I was real little. I
remember studying with coal oil lamps and lantern--and candles. And
then even when I got older, the electric would go out a lot in the
winter, in the snow, and we had lots of snowstorms out there in Kansas.
Lots of tornadoes in Kansas. I can't count on my hands how many
tornados I've seen. Go into the--we had a underground tornado shelter
we would go in. We'd go in, and all sat down there and prayed. When
we come out, you never knew if you was gonna have a house left or not.
TROLAND: Did you ever see a tornado?
WIECHMAN: Oh, yeah. Yes. Lots of them. Lots of times
on our way in to
go underground, we'd see them coming. And usually they'd pass. They
always did pass our farm. They never did hit us, but it got close.
We'd come out. We've have windows blowed out. We've had tractors
turned around backwards and wagons turned. And--but never no damage
that was unfixable.
TROLAND: What type of farm was this? What did you grow there?
WIECHMAN: Wheat. Row crop. We'd grow, uh, milo. Of course, we had-
-let's see. We had around a hundred head of sheep. About 150 head of
cattle. We had a few hogs, raised mainly just for our own benefit, to
eat. And,
of course, ducks and chickens, and--
TROLAND: Are you from a large family?
WIECHMAN: Not--well, there's only three of us. I got a sister older,
one sister older, and one sister younger. So, there was three of us
in the family. And the girls, we worked like boys would have worked
if we'd had boys in our family. So, it didn't make too much difference
whether we was boys or girls. We worked.
TROLAND: So, where in Kansas were you born, and when were you born?
WIECHMAN: In--I was born in Concordia, Kansas. And lived in Washington
County, which was in the northeastern part of, uh, Kansas. It's about
fifteen miles from the Nebraska line, in the northeastern corner. So--
and probably about 100 miles
from Missouri line. So, we was right, right
in the bottom corner of Kansas. Around the Flint H-, Flint Hills area.
TROLAND: And when was that? When you were born?
WIECHMAN: Nineteen-forty-seven. (laughs)
TROLAND: I'm 1948.
WIECHMAN: Was you? Well.
TROLAND: What--what interested you, as a young person, in, say, early
teens? What did you think you might do?
WIECHMAN: Rode horses. Rode horses. I went to a lot of showdeos.
Rode--had a lot of, a lot of showdeos. Roping and riding and, you
name it, I did it. I enjoyed the riding horses. I really did. Of
course, we used horses to herd cattle, to herd our sheep. It wasn't
always fun and games on the horses. Everybody always says, "Oh,
wouldn't that have been so fun, to grow up riding horses?" And--well,
it was and it wasn't. There was times when you had to ride a horse
didn't really want to, and it was work to have to go out, and have
to do what you had to do. But- yeah, we had fun riding horses, also.
But, there was times it was hard work.
TROLAND: What were your thoughts at that time, regarding what you might
like to do in your future? Did you have any ideas then?
WIECHMAN: As a young girl, I always wanted to be a nurse. And a lot
of the school system, when I got to high school, didn't teach a lot
of the courses that you need in the math end. And after I graduated
from high school, and I went and took my entrance exam for nurse's
college, I was gonna have to take a few years of college before I could
go, because I didn't have the prep that I needed in them small schools
back then. And I, I guess I just didn't have the go in me to want to
work my way through. And
so I went to beautician college at that time,
cosmetology school, and became a hairdresser. And when I got out, I
opened my own beauty shop, and ran my own business successfully for
fourteen, almost fifteen years. And I got burned out on it. I worked
so many hours, and got tired of it, and wanted to do and expand and go
new--do new things. Worked as a construction worker for a while. I
went to welding school. I welded on a nuclear plant there in Kansas,
at the Wolf Creek Nuclear Power Company. I welded, and I also was a
pipe fitter, certified. And I was a carpenter. I helped build bridges
for a couple of years, and then I moved to Kentucky. Got tired of
some of that hard work, and I come out here, and found a
job at this
distillery. Rolling barrels was just as hard. But I enjoyed it.
TROLAND: So, you didn't come to this distillery just for the easy work,
I gather.
WIECHMAN: No. No, I did not. I--when they interviewed me, they said,
"Now, this is not gonna be no easy work. The only work we have for
you is--you'll be in the warehouse." They were moving barrels from the
warehouse, to sell some of these warehouses in the back. They said,
"We're gonna be moving barrels, and it's all--that's all you're gonna
be doing, is rolling barrels." And I said, "There's no work hard--too
hard for me. I'd enjoy it." I needed the work. And it looked like
fun. And it was fun. It was hard work, but it was fun. We had a good
time. When--back when the days when I first joined this company, we
really had a good time working here. We really did. It was hard work,
but it was
TROLAND: So, when did you decide to leave Kansas?
WIECHMAN: In '87--'86.
TROLAND: And did you have an idea at that stage as to where you'd like
to go, and what, what you'd like to do?
WIECHMAN: Nah. I moved to Cincinnati for a short time, and uh, I was
gonna--I went out there to interview with General Electric as a welder,
and as a welding consultant. And about the day or week I moved out
there, GE put a freeze on their hiring, and I didn't get hired for the
job that I would actually--moved out there to get. And, uh, I knew a
couple of people that had worked on the power plant where I worked in
Kansas. That's how I knew to go to Cincinnati, to go there to General
Electric. And so I did know a few people. But then I lear-, I
more new people. I met some people from Frankfort, and that's how I
moved to Frankfort then, and I found this job here.
TROLAND: So, when you first moved to Frankfort, you did not, at that
point, have the job here.
WIECHMAN: No, I didn't.
TROLAND: You moved because you knew people who lived in this area.
WIECHMAN: Yeah. Yeah. I worked for a courier service that picked
up, uh, checks. It was the Pony Express Courier Service, out of, uh,
Lexington, that I worked for. Picked up blank checks from banks all
over Kentucky. All over Southeastern Kentucky and Lexington. All over
that area, until I found this job here.
TROLAND: Just going back a little bit in your life.
TROLAND: If you think back upon adults you knew as a child: parents,
or other adults, perhaps non-parents, is there one adult in particular
that you think of who had a strong influence upon who you are
WIECHMAN: Oh, my. My mom and dad. They made me who I am. (laughs)
Whether that be good or bad, they made me who I am. And I think it's a
good thing.
TROLAND: Let's talk a little bit about your very early years here at
Buffalo Trace. You came to Frankfort, looking for a job. How did you
find this job?
WIECHMAN: Newspaper, actually. It was a, a ad come in the paper, that
they needed laborers, at--it was Ancient Age, at the time. And I
came out and applied. And interviewed the same day, of course, that
I applied. And
they--I think--I can't remember if they hired me that
day, or they told me they'd call me. I think they told me they'd
call me in a day or two, and-- by the time I got home, the phone was
ringing, and they was saying that we needed ya--that they needed me,
and to come back. So. And I was very glad.
TROLAND: Remind me, that was what year that you were first hired here?
WIECHMAN: Nineteen-eighty-seven.
TROLAND: So, what were you doing here at the distillery in those early
years? You talked about barrel rolling.
WIECHMAN: Working in the warehouse. Working in the warehouse, and uh,
rolling barrels.
TROLAND: Anyone with whom you worked who was especially colorful, and
for whom you have interesting memories, or possibly a story?
WIECHMAN: Oh, oh, no, I don't know. Leonard Riddle was our team leader
back then. Ronnie Eddins, who is
still here, was the--one of the
supervisors. And I--we were laid off off and on. And they'd always
laid off, lay off, like, some of the bottom few, and say, "We'll call
you back." And they'd say, "You can go get another job if you want to,
but we'd like to have you back. We'll be calling." They'd always tell
me how many days we was gonna be laid off, or sometimes it'd be six
weeks, we'd be laid off. And they'll say, "But we'll call you back."
And they always did call me back, and it was always--it was--at one
point, I got a job as a welder. At Southern Molding, out here. And I
was--I worked out there probably six months or better. And they called
one of the supervisors from the warehouse, she's no longer here, Judith
Thorg called, and said, "Marsha, we're gonna be needing you back in
a cou-, few weeks. I don't know where you're working, or if you're
working, but, but we need--we'd like to have you back."
[Pause in recording.]
WIECHMAN: And I said all right. Sounds good to me. I said, "I'll, I'll
probably come back." And I- so then I had to make a decision whether
I wanted to quit them, that company, and come to this company. And
then at that time, that company offered me more money to stay. They
even offered me a supervisor position in the welding end, because they
had never had no woman--female welder before. And with my welding
credentials, they'd have liked to have kept me. And I made a crucial
decision at that point to come back here, because I felt that this
company would probably be here longer than that company, which turned
out to be so. That company's been gone a long time, and I'm still here.
And, and it was the people here, I think, that made me want to come
back here,
because there were some really good people that I worked
with. And then at that point, when I came back, I didn't get laid
off as much. I worked more. We were down, however, to about--I don't
know, I can't remember, it was fifty or fifty-one people. And I was
the bottom one on the totem pole. So when they had to lay off one or
two people for two or three days, I was the one that got laid off. But
I always came back. They always--it was always, "You'll be back. Just
give us a day or two. We just--." They just had to do that, to make
ends meet. And it was well worth the time spent waiting to get back.
TROLAND: Was fifty employees the, the minimum? Was that the bottom, in
some sense?
WIECHMAN: That was, I think, the bottom line. I'm not sure. You'd
have to ask somebody for sure at what point--how low we was. But
there wasn't very many. And our main bottling house would only
sometimes, four or five days out of a month. So, most of them was
working--we were either working at Blanton's, at the--at the Single
Barrel Blanton hall, or we were working in the warehouse, rolling
barrels. And generally, I was, at that point, rolling barrels, because
my seniority wasn't high enough to let me work in the better places
where some of the older employees was.
TROLAND: So, what was it like to be working in a distillery that at that
time had reached kind of the bottom of its economic cycle?
WIECHMAN: It was scary, real scary. Because we didn't know for how long
it would be open. I mean, it just kept--the top end of management kept
going down and down and down. I mean, they kept laying more and more
off. Not laying them off, they just--they would lose their jobs. We
was down to just bare minimal
people, that was working. Not just union
employees, and labor employees, but professional end was going at a
constant rate, going down. And it was scary for everybody, because we
had--none of us knew how long we was gonna be able to keep our jobs, at
all. It was, it was a real scary situation.
WIECHMAN: For a lot of years, I'd say it was like that for, I'd--ten
years or so, for me. Up until the current situation occurred, when,
uh, Buffalo Trace bought this distillery. That was a big turning point
for us out here. Huge turning point.
TROLAND: Let's focus, at least briefly again, on those low years.
TROLAND: A few employees, and hard times. Any stories from those days
that are interesting to remember?
WIECHMAN: Uh, we was putting up new whiskey one year. And it was
raining, and they were--we had a barrel truck loaded with barrels.
One of the barrels rolled off the back of the barrel truck. And the
rain--it'd been raining. There was puddles of water out there in that
back, around some of them back warehouses, where it wasn't always, uh,
blacktop. And it was around where the old railroad track went through
here, there at the time. And when the barrel truck went over the
railroad track, it bumped and jumped; barrel bounced off the back end
of there, full. Of course, it had--it was clear full, uh, fifty-three
gallons of white dog liquor, fresh out of the still, rolled off and
busted out there in that, it broke right by
one of them main water
puddles. And we always had--it was probably a flock of five or six
ducks out here. They came off the river, and they'd come up, and the
guards would feed them grain; they ate grain around the granary down
here. They was out in that--in them water puddles out there by that
distillery that day, or by the warehouse. And I said, "Oh, my. That
whiskey's all ran right in that water puddle." I said, "Boy, them ducks
are gonna have fun now, aren't they?" Of course, everybody laughed,
and we didn't really think too much about it. And as the day wore on,
them ducks got to where they couldn't hold their head up. They was
like--(gestures to imitate ducks)--their, their heads, their neck was
hanging down, and they was, they were--(gestures)--it was like--talk
about swan dykes just--swan ducks doing a swan dive, they were doing
it. It was funny. We all laughed so hard, they was the drunkest ducks
I believe--(laughs)--I've ever saw.
Yeah, we just--we enjoyed that. I
remember Jill Sork coming, looking--she was locking up the warehouses
that night. And she asked me, "What in the world is wrong with them
ducks out there?" And I said, "I think that's where that barrel got
spilled, and, and they got in that, and of course, was taken baths in
it, and drinking it." And I-- they were some drunk ducks. However, it
didn't hurt them. They was just fine the next day, and ready to eat.
So--and I think that's what they was waiting on, is another barrel to
run off one of them trucks. (laughs)
TROLAND: I always advise ducks not to drink on the job.
WIECHMAN: Yeah. That's right, that's--
TROLAND: So, those were the hard times.
TROLAND: And then, when did things begin to pick up?
WIECHMAN: About ten years ago, when Buffalo Trace bought this--bought
distillery. Everybody was worried; they knew somebody'd bought
us, but we didn't know who had bought us. And we didn't know which
direction, whether they was gonna take us down and just close us out,
or buy us and make us better. And when they announced that it was
being bought to make us better, we was all like, "Well, we hope it
is, and we hope for the best," and it was for the best. It was the
best thing that ever happened to this place. Because it's been on
the upswing ever since. I've never seen a place do such an immaculate
turnaround. From--just from A to Z, I mean, it's-- it's, uh, from the
grounds, to the warehouses, to the upkeep, the management. Everything
is just--I just can't, I can't explain the
growth in this place that
I've seen. In the--in the bottling lines, the whiskey that goes, you
know, the bottling production. I never dreamed I'd ever see production
lines going out of this place as it's going today. Wonderful.
TROLAND: During those down years, what were you doing, primarily?
Rolling barrels? Or did you do other things, too?
WIECHMAN: Oh, I-- there's--I did-- just--there's only about four, five
jobs out here that I haven't done. I've moved all over the distillery.
I'd--they would have job bids, put up for bid. Of course, that's on
the, the union job bid program. But I--yeah, I bid on all--a lot of
the jobs I--there isn't too many jobs that I didn't do. Most of
jobs--a lot of the jobs, uh, some of the girls had never, ever done out
here before. Now, there's a lot of girls that had rolled barrels. But
when I bid on uh, I bid--let's see. They, they give me a job in the
dry house at one time, loading trucks. I didn't bid on that one. They
give me that one. That one was a hard one. And, uh--
TROLAND: Could you explain what the dry house is?
WIECHMAN: Well, it was where we dried the grain from the--after, after
it was distilled in the mash, and they had squeezed everything out
of it. And the, the, the dried grain, we would put it in the dryers.
They would coat it and we'd resell it for, uh, cattle feed--hog feed.
And it would lay on the feed house, on the floor up here. And at the
time, we had no way of loading the trucks except by hand, with shovels
and scoops. They used
coal buckets, they called them. These big coal-
like wheelbarrows that we used. And we'd load them, and take them, put
them out of chutes, out onto the truck. Out onto the, the--they had
all sizes trucks. They had--some of them was semis, some of them was
just regular farm-sized trucks. But they sold grain, and they still
do. Makes it pretty self-sufficient in the distillery end. But yeah,
I worked over there in the distillery, and did all them things, too.
All them things was different, and it was fun; and you work from one
end of the distillery to the other. And you can get to working on
one end, and the other end seems like it's not even a part of the same
distillery. You can work there and not see people that you've--that
you work with. You might not see them for a year or two, unless you
see them at the company parties, or at the Christmas parties.
like this is a whole--there's are a lot of worlds out here. Lot of
different worlds, and I bid on processing. I was the first girl that
ever was a processor out here. Bid on product handler. I--there had
never been another girl that had been product handler before, until
I had, and they was always like, "Are you sure you can do it?" If it
can be done, I'll do it--(laughs)--and I've done it. And I enjoyed
it, I really did. I processed for a lot of years up in Blanton at
the single--at our premium bottling hall. Still the best place to be
working on, I think. I enjoyed it, bott-, the premium bottling. Meet
a lot of nice, wonderful people coming through there.
TROLAND: Can you explain to us what processing means?
there's two or three different places where you process
out here. And processing would mean to different people, different
things. In the premium bottling house, it would mean dumping one
barrel at a time in a bottling trough, and putting it in a, in a tank.
And uh, proofing it, to see what proof it is, and how--and gauging
it, to see how many, how many gallons are in that barrel. And then
you would, uh, cut it with limestone water. And then we chill filter,
to take all the fatty acids and stuff out, and all the impurities that
are in the alcohol. And when it's clean, and when the lab okays it,
we would reheat it, run it into the, uh, tank, to be
finalized before
we get ready to bottle it. And then we would finalize it and cut it
to the exact proof, with limestone water. You--while it was filtering,
we would cut it down to within two or three tenths of the exact proof.
Because when you're filtering it, it will take some proof off of it.
The, the agitation system in it will lower the proof of it a little
bit, so. There's some that will come off, so you don't want to cut it
too low, because you can't bring it up. Once it's too low, it's--you,
you, that's, you can't bring it back. You can always take it down, but
you can't bring it back up. Especially with a single-barrel bourbon.
With, with the other bourbon, say, like, if it was in the main bottling
hall, and you--there was some that was, say it's a little bit low. It,
it isn't single-barrel, you could put more of the same batch with it,
to raise
it. But on a single barrel, it's a little bit tougher, cause
it's--you can't add nothing to a single-barrel. It has to be right the
first time, or it doesn't, doesn't cut. It didn't, doesn't, didn't get
cut the first time right, it's not going to the next time, either. So,
a little bit harder to do the premium bourbons up there.
TROLAND: So, let's think about all of the positions you've held here,
some of which you've already mentioned. Barrel-handling, processing,
which we just discussed. Drying the grain after it's come out of the
still. What else?
WIECHMAN: Well, like I said, product handling. Making sure the right
product goes on the lines. We have many different products running.
Of course, now, especially when we've got all the lines running, you
have to
know which line's running which product, and hope the right
lines--to make sure the right product's going on the right line. And
that's, that's a pretty important job, too. And I've been a taster,
a taster for years out here. And uh, that's a pretty important
job. It's a good job--(laughs)--you get to taste a lot of the good
bourbons. A very important job, though, too. I mean, it's, it's a
serious job, to make sure that the quality's there. Because they're
not all, they're not all to be selected for the very best.
TROLAND: Tell me a little bit about the tasting procedure. Who
participates? How often do you do it?
WIECHMAN: Well, um, they--they'll use you as much as you can be used.
can't do it every day, or your taste buds would, of course, be
ruined. But you can do it two or three days a week. And, of course,
it depends on how much you're there to do it them days. But they
don't, they don't overuse you. And you could be overused. Like I
said, your taste buds do tell, tell, tell the story of it. But, they
conduct taste tests up in the lab. And there's a panel of them, that,
that, go up and taste all the single-barrels. Elmer T. Lee usually
selects most all of his own barrels for his Elmer T. Lee stock. And of
course, they have other ones that help him do that, also. But he, he
mainly selects his own. And always has. Elmer has been an awfully big
help to me out here over the
years. Any time I ever needed any help,
or understanding on filtering or, why does this do that, or why, why do
we have to do this, to this to make it this, Elmer's always been there
for me. I could call Elmer and say, "Elmer, why am I doing this?" And
Elmer would say, "Well, what do you want to know?" I would ask him,
and he would always have the right answers, and he would tell me. And,
Elmer and I always have got along. We kind of clicked. Elmer is the
same age as my father. And I guess maybe that's what--he just--him and
I clicked pretty good together. And I always enjoy when Elmer comes in
and visits. I don't think there's a time I visited with Elmer that I
didn't learn something. He's--he was a man that's taught me a lot of
things about bourbon.
TROLAND: Any stories about Elmer?
WIECHMAN: Um, no, not really. Not really. We've had a lot of
together. We went and done a lot of, lot of--how do I want to say
this? Talks together. We've went down here, and when they would have
the Expo, Elmer and I have went down here several times and talked.
And I would always be nervous, and I'd say, "Oh, Elmer, I don't know
if I can do this or not. What if I don't know what they're gonna ask
me? What am I gonna say?" Elmer'd say, "Don't worry about it. I'll
help you." He said, "Just make it up. It don't make any difference." I
said, "Oh, Elmer, I can't do that." And he'd just laugh, and he'd say,
"I'll be right there beside you. If they ask you something you don't
know, I'll take it up." And I'd say, "You're gonna have to probably
do most of it. I probably won't know what they're asking." He'll say,
"Yeah, you do. I've taught you all you know. You know what to say."
But, yeah. Elmer, he's, he, he is a, a walking encyclopedia, when it
comes to bourbon, and the things out here. He's, he's a pretty good
master distiller. And I learned a whole lot from him. Probably most
everything I know come from
TROLAND: Any secrets to good bourbon production that you've picked up
over the years?
WIECHMAN: Oh, not really. Not really. Can't leave out our secrets
TROLAND: Oh, don't worry.
WIECHMAN: Can't leave the--can't, can't tell the stories about those
good sweet barrels, and those, those good barrels. That--those are
secrets that have to stay. You know, (laughs) them sugar barrels, they
have to stay where they're at.
TROLAND: Tell me about sugar barrels.
WIECHMAN: Yeah. How about that? (laughs)
TROLAND: What is a sugar barrel?
WIECHMAN: They're sweeter. They're just sweeter barrels than some
of the rest of them. And-- believe me, if you've ever worked in a
warehouse, the warehousemen will tell you they know where the sugar
barrels are. They just, they just do.
TROLAND: And what
happens to those sugar barrels?
WIECHMAN: They get sipped on, I can know, I know that, (laughs) But,
yeah. They--what happens to them? Most, mostly, they end up as Elmer
T. Lee barrels. Or some of the, some of the private--they're the
best, premium bourbon barrels. They, they really are. Because they
are a little bit sweeter, and they're just a little bit better. It's
strange, what--you can have two barrels, sitting right side-by-side.
And this one's gonna be better, and this one's not gonna be quite what
this one is. It--it's strange how it happens, but it does happen.
TROLAND: Is it up to the tasting panel to decide?
WIECHMAN: Yes. Yes. Yes. The tasting panel does--they, they, they'll
take a sample out of each barrel, on the rick. They'll go in, and, and
then we drill samples, and catch it in a little fifty mil
bottle, and,
uh, take it up to the lab. And it's labeled exactly what barrel it is,
what rick it come off of. And they will sample it. And they know--you
can taste them. I mean, it, it's--they know exactly where some of the
best ones are. And, and over the years, most of the sugar barrels come
from the same spot, and the same place, in the same houses on the same,
same floors. They, they know where they're at. That doesn't always
hold true, I mean, there, there's always, you know, the exceptions
to the rule. But generally, they know where their sugar barrels are
coming from, and what, what are the--where the best spots for them
are. I, I suppose with the heat and the cooling of the warehouses, and
the--where the sun shines in from the sunlight, it all plays a big part
in, in the bourbon process.
TROLAND: When you're on the tasting panel, how
many members of the panel
typically serve at once? And how many barrels do you typically sample?
WIECHMAN: You know, I'm not real sure. Because we'll go up there at
different times; generally, on a, on a--say, a marriage of Buffalo
Trace, there's eight or nine of us that'll go taste. And it all has
to, it has to pass everybody. Everybody has to pass it. If just one
person says it doesn't--something's not right, they have to re-taste
and re-do the whole, the whole batch that they've dumped. Cu-, and
they won't let it go. If some--if one person says it's just not the
way it should be. So, it has to go through a pretty rigorous test
before it gets put out, to ever be released for Buffalo Trace, or for
anything. For all that matters, I mean, Elmer, I'm not sure. I think
Elmer pretty much picks his own. I don't know how many. You'd have
to ask on that one. That one,
I don't know. But for Blanton, it's
the same way. It's not just--they--and they'll get different tasters.
They get different tasters to come up at different times. They'll
call and say, "We need some more tasters to come up and taste some more
barrels." And I'm not real sure how many they get to--I'd say eight
or nine, probably, on the Blanton barrels, too. I'm not real sure how
that runs. But I do know on their Buffalo Trace, they have certain
ones. And they have to all agree on, agree on the taste, or it doesn't
get bottled.
TROLAND: Tell me a little bit about what you're doing now at the
distillery, your current job.
WIECHMAN: I'm a--currently, I'm a team leader in Blanton Bottling Hall.
And that curtai-, I mean, I help watch the processing. I help watch,
make sure that we get the right barrels from the warehouse that they
send us. That--we all have to have--pretty much have a hand in making
sure that nobody has got the wrong barrels from the wrong place.
And it does happen. I mean, I--we're all human. And I help our--my
supervisor, that he helps--I help him make sure that what's going on
in Blanton is all quality, and everything is done the way it's supposed
to be done. We've got so many particular different items, stock items
for Blanton items. There's a lot of different countries, foreign
countries. And they all call for different stickers, different--their
import--importers are all--have their own--I don't know how, how to say
that. They have their own stipulations and
regulations on what they
need to be able to come into the country.
And we have to make sure all that's on the carton, and on the cases, and
make sure that all the, the--what we're bottling, is what's actually
going in the bottles. And I also get--we order all the labels for the
Blanton bottles have to be hand-written. We've got four label-writers.
And they're all retired state workers. And they can do it at home.
And they come in, pick up the labels, and I give them the particulars
on what barrel number, and what rick number, and what house it's coming
out of. And they take them home and write them and bring them back.
And it gives them something to do at home, and gives them a little
added income. And so, I more or less keep that going and keep the
lines moving every day, and help coordinate
the mechanics, if we need
line changeovers, or if there's a break in the line, or anything, why,
I'll help get a hold of the mechanics, and help them come up, do the
changeovers, and help keep the totals and the production going. And
make sure we're, we're running at a even rate. Or, you know what I'm
saying, every day.
TROLAND: How long have you had that position, as being one of the
supervisors in the bottling hall?
WIECHMAN: Oh, gosh. I--going on four, almost five years.
TROLAND: And is that a position you like, or is there--
WIECHMAN: Oh, yeah. I love it. I enjoy it. Because, I mean, it's--I'm
over about everything that I've done. I've done everything in Blanton.
I, I used to work on
the lines a lot up there. I was on the hand
bottling line, putting labels on. And I've done all the, all the jobs
in there. I think it helps when you've done all the jobs. When you've
actually had a hands-on experience, it helps you with the people that
you're working with, to explain to them, or help them if they've got
problems with what they're doing. It helps to know you've actually
been there and done what they're doing. And when they've got major
complaints, or whatever, you can more or less deal with them a little
easier, because you've had hands-on experience, and know what they're
talking about.
TROLAND: Is there another job here at the observat-, at the observatory.
Excuse me. At the distillery. Is there another job at the distillery
that you wouldn't mind getting your hands on some time?
WIECHMAN: No, I really, I'm--I love what I'm doing. I really
do. I
started out, there--I guess to back up this whole thing a little bit,
in Blanton, we started in that little one, in the Weller building. And
we did one barrel a day, tops. And at one point, we wasn't even doing
one barrel a day. We'd get like, maybe thirty cases out, and there was
four or five of us women up there working. And we had the old filler,
like--(gestures)--we filled each bottle by hand. And we had the old
eyedropper. If it got too full, you'd have to eyedropper so much out
and put it back in another bottle. Or put some in, to make it just
right. And where we've got the, the vacuum filler now, that vacuum
fill, and every one of them they fill five at a time, and they're all
just perfect. But back when I started doing it, it was hand--all hands-
on. And the waxers was the same way. The corker was the same way. We
pushed them in, and we hammered them
in, or whatever. And the waxers
didn't have no little turntables on, like they're turning them now. We
turned them by hand. And we used to laugh. All of us have got scars
on our hands where the wax used to come over, burn your hands. And
we'd always say--if they said they'd worked in Blanton, we'd say, "Let
me see your hands. We'll tell if you've worked at Blanton or not." If
you don't have scars on your hands, you didn't used to--you--we knew
that they didn't work in Blanton. (laughs) There's not too many of
us--those left. I think there's only three of us up there that's got
scars on our hands yet from working in Blanton's over the years. But,
yeah, they took, of course, that--they took that out, because it was-
-and it was a health--that, I mean, that--those--that wax is hot. And
boy, would it burn. We kept a pot of aloe vera growing by the window.
And every time somebody'd get wax on them, we'd get the aloe vera,
it and put it on you. And that old pot of aloe vera grew up there for
a long, long time. I guess that would be another little story, that,
you know. It was an old--one of the old ways of curing a burn, but it
did its job. Of course, safety issues got in the way of us, and we had
to start doing it a little different. Had the collars that they put on
now, that --to keep your hands. And of course, they wear gloves now.
So, it makes it a whole lot different.
TROLAND: So, you've bottled Blanton's, and you have the scars to prove
WIECHMAN: That's right, (laughs) yeah.
TROLAND: You've been here at the distillery now for many years. You've
seen it through the bad times and the good. How would you say the work
environment for employees in general has changed over the last decade
WIECHMAN: The environment is wonderful. I mean, it's , it's a much
better environment than it was, you know, not that I, I don't want to,
I don't want to get that wrong, I don't--because we've always had fun
working out here. The fun, fun end of it, we've always had fun. But
the working environment to make it much prettier and safer and nicer is
100 percent better than it was. It used to be pretty rugged. I mean,
you know, there was no--none of these safety things come up that much.
You just kind of had to watch yourself, and take care of yourself
when it come to safety. They didn't have a lot of safety issues; it
was pretty much you took care of your safety and of yourself. If you
wanted to stay well and keep yourself well, you knew how to do it.
But, of course, now, on the
safety end, they've got a lot of safety
issue and measures in place to keep the workplace safe. Not that
they didn't have then. But it wasn't as severe as it is now. And,
of course, there wasn't as many people as there are. But, oh, it's
made a 200 percent turnaround, in the twenty-two years I've been here.
Just completely. I, I can't, I can't begin to explain how--what a big
turnaround this place has made, and how much, how much better it is to
work, work here.
TROLAND: What about this distillery as a work environment for women? You
are involved in what could be described as non-traditional-type work
for women. How has that worked out for you, and, how has it--has it
changed with
WIECHMAN: I--there was days it was tough. There was days when--you're a
woman, working in a man's world, you have to prove yourself. Sometimes
the men feel like, "If you're gonna do your job, if you're gonna do
our job, do it." And then there was days when the men would help you.
"Look, we'll help you." You know. "We'll help do it." But generally,
they would be like, if you're wanting to work in a man's world, give
it all you've got. We're willing to help you, if you'll do your share.
And that's the way I look at it. They'll--I haven't seen a man out
here that wouldn't help a woman do anything. As long as she does her
fair share, they're willing to help you. And they'll do their fair
share, so, as far as I'm concerned, when it comes to that, I, I've had
good luck with--I've enjoyed working with all the guys out here that
I've worked
with. I mean, you know, it's, it's a pretty give and take
situation. If you don't want to work, then you shouldn't be there to
start with. But if you're there and willing to work, everybody's there
willing to work with you. When it comes to the men and the women,
that's the way it's always been for me. I, I'd really have to say
that, because I can't, I can't remember a, a time when the men wasn't
there to help me if I really needed it. And same with me, for them.
If they--because there are some that--there's some men that can't
handle some men jobs, and same, same. There's some women that can't
handle women jobs--(laughs)--but, pretty much out here, there, there
was--they, they helped one another. From the way I, the way I look
at it, even back when I first was hired, in the warehouse, they were
there. They, they expected you to do your job. But if you did your
job, they was there to help you do it. So.
So, the environment for a woman working in more male traditional
occupations, that environment has, in your experience, always been
pretty good? Or has it changed with time since you've been here?
WIECHMAN: In my experience, it's always been pretty good. Now, there's
some that'll probably tell you no. But there again, it depends on
whether they're willing to work or not. That's a two-way street. You-
-it's--and it's all in your, your own mindset. If you set your mind to
do your job, and want to work, and be--work as a team player, a team
member, they'll work with you as a team player or a team member. But
if you don't want to be a team player, they're not gonna work with you.
And I don't think anybody would want to work with somebody that didn't
want to work as a team. And to me out here, everybody tries to work
as a team. And I try to get them to. I mean, we, we've got--there's
always exceptions to the rule, on any rule, and anywhere you'd work.
We--you've always got them people that don't want to be team players.
But--and there'll always be that. But I think out here, and pretty
much in any job that I've ever had, working as--and some of the jobs
I've done have been really masculine jobs and I've had to work. But,
like I said, they, they--my experience, as long as you do your job,
they'll help you do it.
TROLAND: Have you had experiences here where a male colleague initially
was quite skeptical about a woman's ability to do a job--
WIECHMAN: Oh, yes. Oh, yes.
TROLAND: --and then things changed with time?
WIECHMAN: Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah. Very much so.
TROLAND: Without naming any names, are there any interesting stories,
perhaps, that come from that type of experience?
WIECHMAN: Not really. I think when I first came here--now, some of the
guys told me
that when--a lot of them didn't know where I was actually
from. They thought I'd moved here from Cincinnati. They thought I was
actually from Cincinnati instead of just from Kansas. And this was in
the first few months that I had moved here. And I guess that the story
went, in the warehouse, that I was a woman wrestler (laughs) and when
I found that out, I really had to laugh. I said, "Oh, that couldn't be
any further from the truth. In all my life, I've never wrestled. No,
no, no." (laughs) I guess, I don't know whether it was just that old
farm work, that--the strength that I had as a woman, they just hadn't
seen that, I guess, maybe, in a lot of women. And they had--yeah, it
got out that I was a woman wrestler. But I never was. I never did do
that. (laughs) And I wasn't from Cincinnati. I only lived there about
two months before I moved here. So, they had it, they had that kind of
wrong, and they still, a lot of me laugh and tease me about me being a
woman wrestler from
Cincinnati. (laughs)
TROLAND: Apart from your career here at Buffalo Trace, what else
interests you in life?
WIECHMAN: I like to camp. I like to go camping. I, I want to retire
in Arizona someday. I got a daughter that lives there, and two
grandchildren, and a son-in-law. And I would love to go there. I'd
be there today, if I could retire, (laughs) but it's a little ways--a
little, little far off for that, right now. But, yeah. I, I enjoy the
warm, the heat.
TROLAND: Someday, I'm sure they will write another history of this
distillery, and perhaps your name will be mentioned. What would you
like to have someone say about you and your
time here?
WIECHMAN: Oh. That's a tough one. I really don't know. I really don't
know. I wouldn't--I wouldn't know what to say about that. As long as
they left the lady wrestler out, maybe I'd be-- (laughs)
TROLAND: Do you drink bourbon at all yourself?
WIECHMAN: Oh, yeah. Yeah. Yeah, I, I, I drink bourbon. I like
bourbon, uh, I drank more bourbon when I lived in Kansas than I did
after I moved here. But, I can tell you one thing I was really, really
surprised at, is I used to say, "There's no way they keep that bourbon
around all them years. They don't--you know, ten years old, twelve
years old. How do they know?" And when I actually came out here and
went to work, and I actually seen how they really did keep track of it,
and how the federal government keeps track of it, and how the tax system
works, my eyes got really open to a whole different world. I mean,
it was, it was a learning experience, and it has been ever since. I
think I learn something every day I come to work out here. I--there's
very few days I don't go home without learning something from this
distillery, and I guess that's what keeps me from not getting tired of
my job out here, as long as I keep learning, that's the way I like it.
I don't--if my mind gets idle, I don't--I like to keep learning new
things, and learning. And, like I said, I learn something more every
day out here. And the tourists that'd come through our bottling house
up there, I learn stuff from them every day, and they ask me all kinds
of questions up there. I--from--every day, we look forward to the
tourists coming through. There was a jockey went through yesterday.
And he even knew some of the people I knew in Kansas, some of the
horse trainers and stuff. And we got to talking, and--yeah. He was
the little guy. He was retired, and, and, actually, I think
our paths had met in Kansas, years ago, on the off season, when they
wouldn't be racing, why they'd be there. He was there for the Kentucky
Derby this week. And, yeah he was quite the little guy. So it's just,
you never know who you're gonna run into up there. And I enjoy that.
I really do. They--this distillery's got a lot of history behind it,
and a lot of people behind it. And a lot of people that come in from
year to year, you know, that'll come in just to come in and visit and
talk, and come through again. I really enjoy that.
TROLAND: What's your favorite bourbon?
WIECHMAN: I enjoy Buffalo Trace. Don't think I don't. But my favorite
is Van Winkle. I'll have to say. Twenty-year-old Van Winkle, I love
that; pocketbook can't
handle it, but I like it. It's--would be my
favorite bourbon, if I was gonna drink bourbon all the time. That
would probably be my favorite bourbon. It's, it's a sweeter bourbon.
I don't know if it's because I like the more wheated bourbons. Maybe
it's because I'm a wheat farmer from Kansas. (laughs) Maybe that's
got something to do with it, I don't know. But I do like the sweeter
bourbon. It just tastes better.
TROLAND: Is there anything else you'd like to say that I haven't already
asked you?
WIECHMAN: Nothing that I can think of.
TROLAND: Well, Marsha, thank you very much for taking time out for this
WIECHMAN: You're welcome. You're welcome. I, I don't know if anybody's
ever told you about all the, the ghosts we've got up here in Blanton
Hall, and in the bottling house. Have they?
TROLAND: No. Perhaps you should tell us about those.
WIECHMAN: You haven't ever heard about the, the ghosts?
TROLAND: I'm not sure I have.
WIECHMAN: Well, they've got them. And I used to process
out here at
night, up there in Blanton. And you could hear noises. Our break room
used to be where the clubhou-, or, where the gift shop is. You go over
there and sit on break, and it'd be real quiet, and there'd be nobody
out here except me and the guard, setting at the guard gate up there.
And you could hear footsteps upstairs. And I'd look out, and the
guard was there. And I'd wave, and he'd wave back. He'd come down,
he'd say, "What is it, Marsha?" And I'd say, "Listen." And the guard
would say, "Our ghost is at it again, aren't they?" "Yeah. The ghost
is at it again." Well, a few years ago, they had a, a medium come in
out here. And they said there was a lot of orbs up over our bottling
house over here. There was five or six, at least, and there was two
in our Blanton Hall over there. I wasn't here the night that the, the
medium come out, but I told them the next time they came out, I would
love to be--because I've heard them--because I've came into this place
so early, of a morning, so many years. And I've heard and seen things
that just would scare you. I mean, just make your hair stand on ends.
And there's no, no explainable reason for it. I'm surprised somebody
hasn't said something before now. Nobody's said anything about that?
TROLAND: I haven't heard those stories so far, but I'm glad to hear
them now.
WIECHMAN: Well! (laughs) They truly are. They--it is--they, they always
say Colonel Blanton's up there walking around. And I truly believe he
is, some days. It can be real quiet, and you can hear things going on.
It's like--(laughs)--"Okay! Glad to know you're there." So, yeah, if
you ask them, they'll tell
you. They probably just didn't think about
TROLAND: Marsha, I knew you had at least one more good story.
WIECHMAN: Oh. And that, that's, that's the truth. It truly is.
(laughs) I've heard them.
TROLAND: So, again, thank you very much.
WIECHMAN: You're welcome, you're very welcome.
[End of Interview.]