They Don't Make 'Em Like They Used To: a 1946 Griffon & Howle Rando-Broom
The Griffon & Howle's bristles are organic handbound straw, sourced from the Balkans. Importantly, the rear rack is welded onto the base of the broom, rather than attached via p-clamps or braze-ons. Not only does this provide considerable weight savings, but it is more durable, stable, aerodynamic and elegant. This rack will not shake loose mid-flight. And it looks like it belongs on the broom; it is not an afterthought.
The main part of the handle is constructed out of standard diameter, thin wall wooden tubing, which has been scientifically proven to provide just the right amount of flex for a responsive in-flight feel. The hand-crafted aluminum potion bottle-holder was painstakingly designed to minimise vibrations. Naturally, the potion bottle itself had to be custom made out of military-grade resistanium, as the potion tends to burn through metal and plastic commercially-available bidons.
The cork stopper and shellacked twine complete the look.
Unlike today's flashy custom builders, the constructeurs abstained from affixing heavy metal badges onto their brooms. Instead, they simply carved their initials and the broom's serial number into the tip of the handle directly underneath the bell.
And while the brass bell may look ordinary enough to the untrained eye, each one was handmade to emit a ring of a signature frequency. The art of this technique has unfortunately been all but lost.
The grip area of the handle is wrapped in twine, woven out of the rarest, most durable silken fibres available. While it is popular today to wrap broom handles in cork tape, this really developed as a result of the rarity of the silken fibres, as well as poor fit. Ideally, the gripping area should be firm to the touch, yet not so firm as to cause callouses. Notice the pinky hook at the bottom of the gripping area, designed to keep the hands in place.
The quick release feature makes the broom suitable for travel and transportation in ordinary-sized packages and suitcases - an invaluable feature in today's high security travel climate. Note that, unfortunately, the skewer is a modern replica replacement. The original fitting was damaged when an attempt to steal this broom was made at a rest stop during the 1954 Liege-Sofia-Liege brevet.
With a twist of the quick-release lever, the broom quickly disassembles. Mounted to the inside of the upper section is a Dragon's kydneystone, the purpose of which I am not at liberty to describe here - though some readers will know. The star-shaped cutout on the lower section is a Griffon & Howle identifier.
Holding the broom in my hands, the first thing I noticed was how well-balanced it was. Despite the welded rear rack of considerable size, it was not bottom-heavy but balanced in the center. The technique of the old masters was impeccable. The broom was also remarkably light - more so than the modern plastic and nylon creations so many misguidedly use today.
Having examined the broom extensively and marveled at its craftsmanship, it was time to commence my training for the 30k. With only three days left before the event, my plan was to complete a brief 5k flight around Somerville that evening, followed by a more challenging 10k around Boston the following day. After that I would rest before the Somerville-Salem 30K. As I prepared for my training flight, the first step was, naturally, to find a dark corner of the forest, assume the Chant Position, partake of the potion with which my bottle was filled, and utter the relevant Spell. I was amazed at how intuitive this part of the process was with the Griffon & Howle. The broom triangulated with the forest floor perfectly, allowing the Spirits to enter it just so. While my plastic broom required over an hour of chanting to be adequately prepped, the Griffon & Howle took a mere 2 minutes.
Next, I gently stepped over the broom whilst holding the gripping area and utilising the pinkie hook, and aimed my gaze at the skies, toward the Secret Constellation. Not having done Kundalini Yoga for Broom Flight in some time, my postures were rusty and I was worried that my skills had deteriorated. However, less than a minute into holding the posture I felt the broom begin to levitate. It was working already.
As I prepared to take off, one thing I noticed was that the broom had an unusually short handlebase by current standards. Most likely it was made for a more petite flyer than myself. The operator is meant to occupy the space between the rear rack and the potion bottle (in broom flying jargon, this space is referred to as the perch), and on the Griffon & Howle it was barely long enough to contain me. Were I commissioning a similar broom for myself, I would ask for an extra 2cm or so of perch length.
As an aside on proper positioning: In the media today, we are inundated with fake and ridiculous imagery depicting women perching on brooms in ways that are not only inefficient, but downright unsafe for flight. The position shown here is the only correct one for paceline flying (the transportational position is considerably more upright, but requires a broom that balances differently). It is also important to understand that any images you might see that appear to depict metaphysically gifted women engaged in actual broom flight are fake: We are not legally permitted to capture this activity on film or digitally. To ensure that this rule is adhered to, a masking agent is incorporated into the Flying Spell that prevents photo and video equipment from recording the operator in flight. As the broom and operator take off, they remain visible to the human eye of bystanders, but cannot be captured by recording equipment of any kind. And so this is the last image I am able to leave you with prior to take-off.
I can hardly describe my impressions of the 5k maiden voyage without getting emotional. Put simply, I had not known until now what I had been missing all these years of awkward, uninspired flights on cheap and ill-fitting brooms. The Griffon & Howle soared joyously though the skies. Responsive to my movements, it steered intuitively and soaked up air turbulence effortlessly. My heart skipped a beat, as I felt that this broom truly planed.
For the 10k training flight the next day (yes, I ventured out during Hurricane Sandy!), I added a pannier and wore a raincoat. The pannier was just the right width for the rear rack and there was no heel strike during take-off. The wonderful feel of the flight remained as I remembered it. The fit and the handling were so perfect that, put simply, the broom "disappeared" beneath me. And this, as Griffon & Howle were famous for opining, is the very definition of a well-made flying broom.