We're always interested in hearing about news in our community. Let us know what's going on!

Starting Thursday, January 16 at 5:30 p.m., a National Alliance for Mental Illness (NAMI) Family-to-Family Education Program will be offered at the Knoxville Public Library. This course is for families with persons who appear to have or are diagnosed with a chronic mental illness.

The Knoxville Hospital & Clinics (KHC) knows that local access to health care is essential for the health and wellness of rural Iowa residents. That is why the hospital is committed to making continual enhancements to ensure the delivery of high-quality health care for area community members.

Knoxville Hospital & Clinics provided $2.4 million in community benefits last year, according to a recently completed assessment by the Iowa Hospital Association. That amount, based on 2018 figures, includes nearly $2.2 million in uncompensated care such as charity care, bad debt and unp…

  • Updated

OLIVE HILL, Ky. -- It had the trappings of a scene from The Natural. A hand-crafted bat made from scratch for Tim Johnson’s son J.T.’s summer season in the North Carolina North State League, showcase for college baseball players with big league dreams.

It wasn’t “Wonderboy” made for Roy Hobbs from a tree split by lightning. But it lickety-split earned the reputation of whim-wham lumber from J.T.’s Piedmont Whitetails’ teammates, including the winner of the league’s 2019 home run derby.

From there, word of mouth spread so fast that Tim Johnson’s woodworking hobby moved to the early stage of a budding bat production company, making customized and model bats for baseball and softball players of all ages.

Located in the northeast Kentucky hamlet of Olive Hill, the informally named Big Johnson Bat Company includes marketing maven Madison, Johnson’s niece and a softball player at Thomas More College in Crestview Hills, Kentucky. She sells Johnson bats like they were hotcakes cooked in pork fat.

“I had to tell her to quit,” said the 54-year-old Johnson. “I couldn’t make them as fast as she sold them.”

With the assistance of his brother Shawn, Johnson fastidiously lathes blank cylindrical billets of ash or maple into sanded, customized bats, each taking three to four hours. Duplicates of non-customized bats take 20 minutes on a duplicator, a machine designed to ensure the legs on a chair are identical.

Customized bats are made to a hitter’s preferred length, weight and sweet spot. A wood-burning pen brands the barrel, then Johnson hand rubs each bat with seven or eight coasts of lacquer, a task performed in the bathroom of the family home because there’s too much humidity and dust in his workshop.

Johnson’s “plant” is his 576-square-foot garage, jammed with various machines, prototypes, raw wood, tool chests and a refrigerator for drinks in one corner. To cross the sawdust blanketed workspace, you carefully set your foot with each step.

Making bats is Johnson’s night job. During the day he’s an administrator for three area vocational schools, meaning he starts his bat-making around 4 p.m. He normally turns out two customized bats before calling it a night, though he’s made as many as five hand-turned bats in one very long night, an experience he doesn’t plan to repeat.

Johnson works on and off during the week, unless “Madison goes back to a selling rampage, then it’ll be every night.”

The Johnson customized bat sells for $125. Madison-designed bats for training, with an enlarged sweet spot, go for $75. One-handed bats cost $50. Johnson also makes long, lightweight fungo bats for hitting practice balls to fielders.

The Johnson brothers learned wood working at a young age, assisting their father, who owned a used furniture store that included refinished antiques. They also played baseball in high school and college before taking up successful high school coaching careers. That background has been helpful in bat production, said Tim Johnson.

“I know what a bat needs to feel like,” he said, “if it needs to be balanced or end-loaded, how thick or thin a handle needs to be, if you need a cupped end, a smaller taper on the barrel or a longer barrel, and what type of wood has the qualities that would be most productive with each particular swing.”

Johnson never thought his bat hobby would go this far. Yet he plans to retire from his school administrator’s position sometime next year, then decide whether to make bats for a living -- with the help of his brother Shawn, son J.T. and niece Madison.

They already have a tee-shirt slogan, “Swinging hard wood.” Now all they need is a natural like Roy Hobbs to popularize the power of the Johnson bat.

Zach Klemme, sports writer for the Ashland, Ky., Daily Independent provided details for this story.  



Local veterans were able to tour a new mobile medical unit during an open house at the Knoxville VA Community-Based Outpatient Clinic on Dec. 6.

The Grand Theater Foundation’s annual holiday gift to the community is to enjoy a free Christmas movie for the entire family to enjoy. This year is a newer film, “The Man Who Invented Christmas,” starring Dan Stevens and Christopher Plummer.

The grandmother involved in a child endangerment case that shocked across the state received probation. The grandfather in the case was sentenced to 30 years in prison last month.

One thing truly amazes is how fast Thanksgiving goes. Here I am in the living room relaxing in my easy chair just one day after Thanksgiving.

We moved our family to Iowa from Texas about three and a half years ago, when we were asked to help plant and pastor a new church in Knoxville.

As I walked in the door of our home for lunch, I was immediately surrounded by a group of small people all talking at once. This is a common occurrence when they study something in their homeschooling efforts that particularly captures their attention. Eventually I was able to convince them …

Do you know someone who has performed an extraordinary act of courage or dedicated countless hours to a special cause? The American Red Cross – Serving Greater Iowa is looking for honorable and selfless citizens who have demonstrated heroism in their community.

The holiday season brings friends and families together more often than any other time of year. For some Iowans, these gatherings are overshadowed by concern about a loved one’s gambling, or the stress of trying to hide their own gambling behavior.

It was a memorable winter evening in 1960 at our comfortable home in the mild inland coastal climate of Roseburg, Oregon when Dad made his surprising announcement.

New and expanding businesses in Knoxville will soon be able to apply for the city’s revolving loan program following its approval at Monday’s city council meeting.

Now that Thanksgiving is over, I can sit back and recoup from the activity. I'm not sure about anybody else, but a holiday such as Thanksgiving takes a lot out of me. Of course, it puts a lot in me, but that's another story.

The region’s farmers are feeling relief after a difficult growing season, but manmade factors cast an ominous cloud over the rural economy.

One of the best parts of the holiday party season is the popular beverage that is often served – the punch. It is believed that the name punch originated from the Hindi word for five since traditional punch had five ingredients. Interestingly, this popular slushy punch also has five ingredie…

Iowa State University Extension and Outreach is partnering with the USDA Farm Service Agency (FSA) and Marion County Bank to conduct a Decisions Seminar on the Farm Bill: ARC/PLC & Farm Financial Decisions Seminar.

Two new faces were sworn into the Knoxville School Board at the board’s regular meeting on Nov. 25.

Marion County residents enjoyed the holiday season during the Marion County Historical Society’s Festival of Trees on Nov. 23 and 24.

This Week's Circulars