Henry Haus Blacksmith Shop
5 A.M. in the spring of 1902 : There is a chill in
the air and darkness still permeates the landscape when the apprentice arrives at the
shop. As he unlocks and opens the door the acrid odor of the still smoldering fire stings
his lungs. This is good he thinks, for he wont have to go through the work of making
a new fire. They had worked late the night before making a new axle for a wagon owned by
one of the most prominent people in the valley. Their upcoming trip to Monterey had been
postponed because of the broken axle and Mr. Haus had promised it would be repaired by
this morning. Picking up the hammer that lies on top of the anvil, he strikes the anvil
three times, a signal to Mr. Haus that he has arrived and the fire is ready
Thus begins what may have been a typical day in the life of Henry Haus. Few original blacksmith shops survive today as a result of industrialization and the rushing onslaught of computerization and technology. Williamsburg, Virginia, comes to mind as one which survives as a result of its historic significance. Some others have been resurrected as the result of individual efforts. There is one, however, that is unique more so because of its obscurity and relative isolation, The Henry Haus blacksmith shop in Pope Valley California.
The shop has stood idle for 47 years as a testament to the man who created it. Henry Haus came to America from Switzerland at the age of sixteen with his two brothers. It is unclear why they chose to come to California. Henry apprenticed and helped build the present blacksmith shop under a Mr. McDonald. His brother Ed Haus also apprenticed under McDonald and started a Blacksmith shop just a few miles down the road (but that is another story altogether). In 1898, Henry bought the shop from McDonald. The shop is nestled in one of the most picturesque, but isolated valleys of Northern California. Napa lies 60 miles north of San Fransisco, Pope valley lies some twenty miles further over sometimes steep and winding canyon roads. The relative ease with which the traveler of today reaches Napa and the surrounding valleys is deceptively easy compared to what the traveler of the turn of the century had to endure. Driving along Pope and Chiles valley road which winds down the center of this narrow valley, one can imagine being transported back in time and to a by-gone era where the only vehicles were horse drawn and the only traffic an occasional stray cow or your neighbor heading to town for supplies in his two horse flat bed wagon. (Their version of todays pick-up truck?). To get to Napa in Hauss day was an approximate eight hours ride over these steep and dusty canyon trails. Depending on the speed of the horse you rode.
" Theres been an accident, one of the workers at the winery is trapped in a wine press. We need a tool with a bend near the end ." He gives Haus the measurements. Minutes later the rider departs with the item in hand, galloping away into the early morning mist with the pry bar across his lap . Turning to the apprentice Haus speaks in his deep Swiss accent, "Tis a good day, a good day indeed, if a mans life is saved."
Driving north out of San Francisco and into the Napa Valley one can imagine the world of Henry Haus The turn of the century California was filled with great optimism. The Gold rush of the 1800s had been an exciting time and created many wealthy individuals. The Wine industry was in its infancy and Californians were branching out all over Californias vast hills and valleys. Many of these Valleys were quite isolated and remote. Because of this and the fact that Horses were still the primary means of transportation, Blacksmiths were in high demand. Blacksmiths of this period were quite different than the ornamental Artist-Blacksmiths of today. They made everything as diverse as mining tools to plow equipment. Essentially, without a Blacksmith nearby people of the era would have reverted to the stone age.
Approaching the town of Pope valley one can understand the
reason Haus chose to locate the blacksmith shop here. It is situated at the intersection
of several valleys. This maximized the ease with which his customers from the surrounding
countryside could reach his shop. The shop sits in testament to Henry Hauss
ingenuity. It was built over a stream bed which runs strong in the spring. This stream was
the source of power for all his "power" equipment which consisted of a grinding
stone, drill press, band saw and various other ingeniously crafted tools including a lathe
for wagon wheel spokes. In the summer the stream is only a trickle so that when the stream
ran strong all operations requiring the water wheel were done and put in inventory.
Nothing was wasted. No electricity was available in this remote valley until about 1935.
Hauss shop was the only place a farmer could go to 1)
have his draft horse shod, 2) have his wagon repaired and 3) find out the
local gossip. All at the same time! Whats fascinating about Hauss shop is that
he opened it in 1898 and closed the doors in 1952 when he retired, two years later he died
at the age of 80, and the shop has remained exactly as he left it! It looks as though he
just walked out of the shop for five minutes to have a cup of coffee. The family continues
to preserve this shop with all its tools exactly as he left it. It is undoubtedly one of
the most undisturbed Blacksmith shops in the country. Tools line the walls of the shop.
A fuller and table holds one of the most extensive variety of sizes and shapes of any blacksmith shop in California. The walls are lined with adjustable wrenches , all hand made by Henry Haus. (as are all the fullers and swages). Racks of horseshoes of all manner of varieties. Everything from draft horse shoes to oxen shoes (and everything in between). All varieties of tongs of every imaginable shape (and some unimaginable probably made but for one job). He was also an inventor with several patents dating back to the early 1900s. One tool is an ingenious bolt-cutter type shear for cutting the ends of horseshoes. The back of the shop was reserved for woodworking as he was also a wagonmaker. A bandsaw and lathe, (powered by the water-wheel) and other woodworking tools fill the back of the shop. Several unfinished jobs sit on the workbench (waiting for him to return from his cup of coffee?).
2 P.M. The axle finally finished, the apprentice and Haus sit down for lunch. But before they have time to relax the sound of a draft horse approaching breaks the silence. He is missing his right front shoe. The owner (known for his bad temper and obnoxious behavior) is already complaining before Haus can say anything. " This horse was only shod last week! Ive lost a whole days work because of this." Ignoring the man Haus sets to work making a new shoe. The draft horse is as obnoxious as the man, but with the apprentice holding a twitch on his nose (which Haus thinks would work well on the man) they are able to finally get a shoe on. Normally there would be no charge for this but Haus hands the man a bill. "ten dollars!?, dont you even guarantee your work? Haus looks at the man and In his deep Swiss accent says " Let me see that bill. Ah, forgot to charge for the clips. That will be $12.50" The man leaves after paying, grumbling under his breath as he walks away
Today the place is peaceful and still. The anvil sits waiting for hot iron and hammer, its silence resounds with the echo of a forgotten time. The forge smolders with the ashes of a long dead flame. Only time will tell whether this treasure will survive the slow decay of time
"Thanks, thanks to thee my worthy friend
49 years later:
Haus steps from the workbench at the back of the shop reminiscing over the many memories of 50 years in this shop. There is neither sadness nor a sense of loss for he has done what he loves for his entire life. He has accomplished everything he set out to do and feels that he has done his best. Isnt that what a good life is all about? His family is what matters now as it has his whole life. There is acceptance in the fact that his body is no longer able to do the work it could do as a young man. Walking through the shop he thinks of all he has learned, that is what bothers him most about retiring , for even with the experience he possesses he has always been able to learn something new. That is what he loves about blacksmithing. From the time he was an apprentice to now it has always presented new challenges, new techniques to learn. He loved what he did but now it is time to move on, to let someone younger take over. But who? He doesnt know. He only knows that he can do it no longer. Walking past the anvil in front of the forge he is resolute not to look down for he knows he will not be able to leave if he does.
The coolness of the night air envelopes him as he closes the double doors of the shop for the last time. A tear running down his face as he turns to go .
Copyright 1999 © Tim Cisneros