Off the beaten track

Jamestown, NYI left Buffalo heading south to the upper Ohio River valley to fit in a little book research on the Scots Settlement. On the way, I decided to make an extracurricular stop at the Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz Museum in Jamestown, NY, just to see what it was like.

imageOften it’s these off-the-beaten-track side trips that bring about the most wonderful encounters, and this sojourn proved no exception. I had just seen a sign that I’d entered Conewango, NY, when a horse and wagon trotted over the rise in the road coming straight toward me, then made a sharp turn into … a blacksmith shop! By the time I’d figured out I wasn’t imagining things, I was a quarter mile down the road.

imageOf course, I turned around. Sure enough, the sign for the shop hung plain as day: Rabers Blacksmith Shop. The horse and wagon I’d seen was parked right out front. I pulled into the parking lot and hopped out of my car, camera in hand. I wasn’t going to miss the opportunity to witness a working blacksmith shop in the 21st century. No sirree bob.

imageJust then, a young man with a black beard, broad-brimmed Amish-style hat and a kind smile strode by. He glanced down at my iPad.

“Mind if I take some pictures?” I asked.

He gazed at me reasonably. “That’s fine. Just don’t include any people in the shots.”

imageAs we walked toward the shop, I nearly cackled with happiness but managed not to, thank God. Inside, the forge fires weren’t lit just then, but I soaked in the ramshackle array of metal and rust, tools and worn wood. One blacksmith was just then loading a box of horseshoes. I asked if that was the bulk of their work.

“We used to do wrought iron work, but we got out of that,” he said.

“I hear wrought iron is a little hard to come by these days,” I said.


imageI lingered for a while, talking with three blacksmiths in all about the changes in the artisan craft, about how I’d written a novel, oddly enough, about 19th century blacksmiths, and about how guys who were practically kids showed  up at the Raber shop these days to watch and ask questions, which we all saw as a positive trend. It pleased me to leave a book with them, in trade for taking the photos. As I handed it over, the white pages were instantly blackened by coal-dusted hands. The blacksmith laughed. “A book’s gonna get dirt on it pretty quick in a blacksmith shop,” he said.

I smiled appreciatively, not minding in the slightest. Back on the road, I continued toward Jamestown, thanking my lucky stars.

3 responses to “Off the beaten track

  1. Glad that a real, live, working blacksmith shop still exists and that you stumbled upon it on your journey, Claire.

  2. There are many of us out there, more hobbyists than professional. It’s not a dying art/craft as many say but is growing in popularity. I believe many young people are searching for something creative to do with their hands that gives gratification. With the schools closing down many of the old “shop” classes a lot of kids have no outlet unless a parent is doing it. I have been smithing in the Pacific Northwest for 15 years and am still surprised when I run across someone else smithing “under the radar” in their garage or backyard. I do public demonstrations at museums, and events both historic and contemporary. There’s something about seeing someone heat up metal in a coal forge and shaping it with a hammer that speaks to many people. I’m a member of the NWBA, (Northwest Blacksmith’s Association),. We have several hundred members and are growing. Each state has it’s own Guilds and many have several regional groups. No “dying” art here!

    • You are so right that interest is still alive, and growing. True, blacksmithing these days isn’t quite like it used to be in the artisan craft era, before machines came around to make cookware and farm tools and knives and chain and such. But it’s still a worthy endeavor, for hobbyists, artists, and, as you say, people who want to make metal glow and work with their hands. Thanks for visiting.

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