By Gronk Pensmudge, Cub reporter.
Our story starts June of last year.
I'm told of a historical home-site in a neighboring town that has a working smithy on the property, and that it's only open on Tuesdays.
So, I get all my erands done, bank, post office, town dump, etc... and take a ride over the bridge to see if I can find the smithy.
What do you know? It's right where I was told it was. Whoda' thunk?
Of course, its pouring rain as I get out of the truck and head for the front door of the house itself.
Lo and behold, its open. I give a little tap on the screen door and step into the hall with a "Hello".
Out pops this ancient woman and "Hello" says she.
I tell her the story of how friends of my wife were down about a month ago and said there was a working smithy on the property.
She says, "Oh yes there is, but we're closed this week.
We don't open to the public until next Tuesday".
Before I can express my disappointment, there appears, from some dark recess, the ancient woman's partner (mother?).
She tells me that someone hung up the 'OPEN' sign this morning and that's why they're there.
I think to myself, "So why don't you just take it down?"
I figure just taking the time to speak to me at all is chore enough for these two lovelies and decide to keep my comment to myself.
Being the polite sort, I simply say, "Oh, sorry to bother you. Maybe I can get free on some other Tuesday and come back".
"Well, since you're here already, I could let you in to take a look around if you like, but the smith isn't here today." Replies the elder.
"I'd love to take a peek inside, but its raining pretty hard out there and I wouldn't want you to get all wet on my account" says I.
She snaps "I ain't gonna melt, come on".
Okee dokee. . . She retrieves the keys and out the door we go.
An hour and a half later (at break-neck trudge) we managed to make it the 75 feet or so to the smithy.
Now, its been said that patience is a virtue. Luckily I possess such a virtue.
I think she's very trusting of a total stranger and award points for that.
I keep my Serial Killer U. Alumni card well hidden.
Well looky there, Its open!
Just before we step inside, I'm informed that there is no one working and no fire is lit, which of course, there were both.
I'd given up on her being correct on any point by now.
My guide introduces me to the two gentlemen (Tom and Frank) working at the blazing forge and remarks that it's a good thing they have the fire lit on a cold, rainy day like this.
I think "I told you not to come out in the rain", but decide to keep my mouth shut and be thankful.
Frank, the elder of the two men, sees this as an opportunity to take a break from work and has a seat.
He tells me to take one as well. I do, and quick as I sit he says
"Go look in that box over there, a blacksmith made those. Here, sit down and talk a spell,
Now go take a look on that wall over there. Here take a load off."
I play along until I think my knees have had enough and just kind of wander around looking at all the goodies.
All the while I was kept busy answering rapid fire questions as to where I live and how much smithing I do and what kinds of things do I make.
"You don't work at Heritage do ya'?"
Frank asks in a tone that would suggest an answer in the negative would be my best option.
Of course I still have no idea what he's talking about at this point.
"Umm..no, where's that"? I ask.
"In Plymouth". Frank tells me, matter-of-factly.
"You mean Plimoth Plantation"? I ask. "No, I don't work there either".
"Good". says Frank with an approving nod.
Apparently that was the correct answer and it wasn't necessary to clout my noggin with a ball-pein hammer.
"Hey Tom, you quit working now, I brought you some crackers". Frank shouts.
"No thanks," replies Tom, "I already had my lunch".
"C'mere and eat your crackers". insists Frank, as though having lunch, or not, was in any way connected with cracker eating.
Tom puts the coil spring down that he's been trying to un-coil all during my visit to dutifully eat his crackers.
Tom doesn't want to tangle with this guy either. OK, I can take a hint.
I was successful in resisting the urge of offering to help straighten the spring with Tom.
I wouldn't want to overstep my bounds.
During "Snack Time" I was invited to use the equipment. (You wanna make sumpin'?)
Not a small offer by any stretch. Deeply honored, I declined most humbly.
I will bring my own tools on my next visit though. Wouldn't want to break something I can't replace.
I was informed of the blacksmithing demonstration to be held during the upcoming Town Fair and the, soon to be held, blacksmith meet of a local blacksmiths association.
"No cows and such at that one, just smithin'".
Before I took my leave of these two very friendly, (and surprisingly lucid for their age) characters,
I was given one of the biggest drill bits I've ever seen ("you'll burn up some coal on that there".) and invited to "C'mon back any time".
You can bet I will. All in all a most enjoyable afternoon.
The sights, the sounds, the smell of the coal fire, the tools, the ANVILS...
the tinkle of the rain coming through the roof into a bucket. ("We should get that fixed").
I plan to offer my time there in order to work along side these very knowledgeable men.
There was some hint that that might be a good idea.... I think.
It was hard to tell for sure, as part of the entertainment was trying to decipher what Tom's great-grand-dad was saying while he was trying to suck his cheese crackers to pulp, as he had no teeth.
During the drive home I wondered if I would live to that ripe an age, and if I did, would I still have my teeth, and if not, would I still eat crackers... in public?
But, that's an adventure for another day.
AHH...Tuesday morning again.
I run all my obligatory erands straight away to see if the Lads are working this week (now that they're officially open.).
I step out of the truck and I smell the sweet aroma of coal smoke.
Grinnin' like a fool, I grab my bag of tools and walk as quickly as I deem respectible for a man of my age (picture a really fat kid that just spotted a sign that reads "Free Twinkies") toward the shop.
Excellent! Tom and Frank are there and the fire is lit. Hey check that out . . . tourists too!
Mom, Dad, and two young daughters.
The eldest of which is wearing an expression like she may have just stepped in something and doesn't want to draw attention to herself by looking.
The younger girl and Dad are getting the drill from Frank...
"Go look over there. Now try that vise, give that grind-stone a spin. Try to pick up that anvil. Heavy huh?"
You get the idea. Tom is still working on a piece of spring from last week.
I'm careful to stay out of the way and just stand there smiling.
Frank spots me and introduces me to the family. (Holy Cow! He remembered my name.)
Frank tells me to go make something so these nice folks can see some smithin'.
I'm unsure of myself and point out that Tom is working a piece right now.
Frank tells me "Naw, he's just gonna annihilate that piece to soften it up."
I say " You mean anneal"?
Frank quips that with Tom it's the same thing. We laugh. The family just look at each other.
I grab my tools and head for an anvil while Frank explains annealing to the folks.
I start in on a good sized drive-hook as I notice they don't have one on the display table and I feel comfortable I can do that even with folks watching.
I make a decent show of it, I think.
Even put a nice twist in it.
Frank hurrys over with a can of paste wax and puts it on the hook with a rag, it smokes, the little girl says "oooohhhh".
Frank is pleased... me too. While Frank explains to Mom and Dad that donations are always welcome, I get to talking with Tom.
Seems he does quite a bit of wood carving and makes many of his own tools for the purpose.
Tom mentions that coil spring works well for him and I say "Then have I got a spring for you. I'll bring it by next week".
I have to get back to work now as I'm informed that another couple is coming our way.
I make more hooks while Frank explains to the gentleman (whose Grandfather was a blacksmith. I kid you not.) that we don't shoe horses.
Now I've, as I'm sure you have, always heard stories about folks who say their Grandfather was a blacksmith.
This strikes me as funny, because it was the first time it happened to me.
I explain why I'm laughing (I realize that giggling while looking at an anvil can make a good impression of a simpleton).
Tom tells me "Yup, happens all the time."
The couple were in the other room with Frank, being told how those tires were put on the wheels of the buggy, and that we happily accept donations from the public. I love this guy. He's absolutely relentless.
Quitting time? We just got here. Where does the time go?
The following week I bring the spring in for Tom,
"Dang now THAT'S a spring!" " That'll make a nice draw-knife".
Frank tells me to go bring in that wooden gate that's sitting out front.
I do, and we all look it over.
Seems the owner dropped it off and wants us to fix the latch.
We all decide that it's rusted beyond reason and the best bet is to make a new one.
Frank tells me to get started. What? Are you kidding me?
I've never made a replica of an existing piece.
I'm not even sure what it looked like originally as most of it is rusted away.
I could REALLY use an iForge demo right about now, but we don't even have electricity, let alone a computer.
Frank says "Just make something that works and looks good. You'll figure it out. Oh, and remember it belongs to a bank president's summer home, so make it nice".
Tom thinks this is hysterical. Ok old-timer, I'll make you a latch. I get working. Tom keeps an eye on the fire while I do my thing.
I ask Tom many questions and his opinion several times.
He obliges. Took like two and a half hours, but the gate has a new latch.
Doesn't look half bad, if I do say so.
Tom says it looks good.
Frank was gone all this time.
Apparently on a juice and cheese-cracker run, since, when he came back he had a bag of both.
I can't help a nagging thought that these two cooked this up ahead of time, I can prove nothing, however.
Frank takes a look at the gate and says "Yup, that'll do fine". This week *I* got crackers... and a bottled juice too. I have ARRIVED!
I am God-like in my power! The owner of the gate shows up later that afternoon and is pleased as punch at how well it came out, he even offered us money!
Frank gives me full credit and I am quick to point out that Tom had a BIG hand in the outcome.
Frank explained that we don't actually charge, but donations are always welcome.
The gentleman was so happy that he donated enough money for us to get two bags of coal.
Hey, you don't get to be bank President by over-paying.
I say that I'm going to be picking up some coal for myself this week and would be happy to grab a couple bags for them.
This is working out great.
On my next visit I bring the coal and I am put to work cleaning, sweeping, loading the back of Tom's truck with equipment, oiling, and "Quick go make a hook for these nice people".
My how the mighty have fallen.
Why just last week I was a Hero, now I'm covered with dirt, coal dust, cob-webs and a few unidentifiable substances.
I'm sweating like a pig and my back is killing me.
How can it be that I'm even happier this week than I was last week?
Could it be because when I showed up I was expected? (I could tell 'cause Frank had my juice and crackers already set aside for me . . .
Tom's too). That I was greeted as though I had been coming here for decades?
Maybe it's because I've been accepted into a stream of knowledge that has been flowing for thousands of years, simply because I'm interested in the knowing and do as I'm told.
I have no idea, and really don't care why, I'm just glad that it is.
I don't even mind being pelted with cracker crumbs when Frank gives me instructions.
I have worked it out that he only has a 6 foot range and try to maintain a perimeter.
The rest of the "Season" went by much too quickly.
I couldn't attend every Tuesday (That whole 'going to work thing' can really take a bite out of your week).
This year the site should be open some time next month.
I drive by there when I can, looking for the "Open" sign, which as we know, has no real bearing on whether they're actually open or not.
I have considered just putting one up and seeing what happens.
I'll keep you posted.