“All Randall Humphrey wanted for Christmas was to be left alone and to celebrate in the only way he knew how – in solitude. He wasn’t sure who thought up all the new fandangled Christmas festivities in Kasota Spring, Texas, but for him it only served as a reminder of the worst day of his life.”
This is the opening to my newest novella “Away in the Manager” in the anthology “A Texas Christmas” with fellow Filly, Linda Broday, along with Jodi Thomas and DeWanna Pace. This is the fifth anthology I’ve written with these writing partners; and, found even more difficult to write about Christmas in September as it was to write the story when it was over one hundred degrees outside!
As a group, we made the decision to revisit Kasota Springs, Texas, where “Give Me a Cowboy” was set. And, yes, some of our characters from that book reappear in the new novellas. All of our Christmas stories take place during one of the big blizzards of 1887.
I immediately knew that my hero Rand would be the town’s blacksmith, since he was a second generation iron worker who had built the famous Waco Suspension Bridge that opened in 1869 in Waco, Texas. My first paragraph pretty much said it all … he wanted nothing but to be left alone to wallow in his gut-wrenching memories. But that wasn’t the way it turned out when a pretty woman and a set of four year old twins turn up at his door in the midst of the blizzard.
But, before I could write Rand, I needed to know more about the craft of blacksmithery, so a little history was at the top of my list.
Blacksmithing as a craft began with the Iron Age, when primitive man first began making tools from iron. The Iron Age began when some primitive person noticed that a certain type of rock yielded iron when heated by the coals of a very hot campfire. In short, we can say that blacksmithing, the art of crafting that crude metal into a useable implement has been around for longer than anyone can pinpoint.
The blacksmith who made suits of armor was an Armorer. The blacksmith who made knives and swords was a Bladesmith. The blacksmith who made locks was a Locksmith. The blacksmith who made gun barrels and triggers was a Gunsmith. Generally, the blacksmith we all relate to was a man who possessed all of these skills. Call him the “village smithy”. The differentiation lies mainly in that his shop was not geared for making one particular type of product. The blacksmith shop was generally the heart of the community.
The next thing I had to become familiar with was exactly how he went about his daily duties and the tools he used. Tools were easy. They mainly consisted of an anvil, hammer, tongs, vise, files and a forge.
The forge was a raised brick hearth outfitted with bellows to feed its soft-coal fire and a hood to carry away the smoke. The forge heated bars of iron yellow-hot. The color of the heated bars dictated at what stage it could be transformed on an anvil under the incessant beat of the blacksmith’s hammer, sometimes with the assistance of an apprentice or journeyman. Randall used a sledge weighing around twelve pounds to hammer the heated bars into various shapes, reheat them, then pound and bend them into the desired shapes.
I thought blacksmiths basically made horseshoes, repaired carriages and made a few household items. What a surprise I got when I found out about all the various items they produced such as agricultural implements for farmers, fireplace racks, pothooks, locks, gates, grilles, railings, light fixtures, furniture, sculpture, decorative and religious items, cooking utensils, and weapons. They made hammerheads, axheads, shovelheads and other hand tools.
As you can imagine, in colonial America the village blacksmith was called upon to do many things. I read that some blacksmiths pulled teeth, no doubt meaning that a village without a dentist had to rely on the one man with a set of pliers! Let’s just leave it at this. My hero wasn’t a dentist!
Despite common definitions, the person who shoes horses is a farrier rather than a blacksmith. The blacksmith makes the horseshoes. Many farriers have carried out both trades, but most modern day smithies do not.
What utensil or goods do you have around your house that would have been made by a blacksmith if we were living in the Texas Panhandle in 1889?
For one lucky commenter, I will give away a copy of “A Texas Christmas” which is scheduled to be released in October; but in the meantime, I’ll send the winner a $10.00 Gift Card to Bath and Body Works to tide them over until the book can be shipped.