Friday, December 18, 2009

Monarch of the Forest

Nineteenth century farms included not just farm fields but also woodlots and forest. Ours at The Farmers’ Museum does as well. This farm has been used for about 180 years. Some of our current forest stands where once sheep pastured in the 1840’s.

You can see a legacy of that by the existence of this massive White Pine. This king of the forest started life in an open field! You can tell that by the open spacing of the branches, the twin trunk and how it grew outward instead of upward. That happens to trees growing in full sunlight that do not have to compete with other trees for sun. You can also see its great girth when compared to the size of a person.
This massive tree sprouted in a pasture’s edge and quickly grew too big for the sheep to eat. It grew upward and outward into a large spreading pine. We know sheep and cattle were grazed on this hill, and they likely took advantage of its shade. At some point in the last century a new fence was built about 100 feet away. Saplings sprouted, and a new forest grew up around this mature tree. You can see it is now bracketed by trees that may themselves be fifty or more years old.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

School Snow Day in Cooperstown

Last week, wide ranging storms dumped snow from Wisconsin to Massachusetts. Cooperstown schools took a “snow day”, which means students did not have to attend. Our Museum is officially closed to the public on snow days, but little actually changes in our winter schedule. I am still working in the blacksmith shop.

Life also goes on as normal at the farm. The cattle still need tending, the chicken and ducks get fed, and Zeb our horse goes out in all but the fiercest storms. Here is Jigs, one of our oxen. He looks like he is wondering, “What’s a snow day?”

Friday, December 11, 2009

Vistas from The Farmers' Museum

Here are some views of The Farmers’ Museum from a vantage point most visitors don’t get a chance to see.

The lane through the Farm’s pasture:

The cupola of the Carousel from above:

Zeb the Percheron down in the pasture:
Cooperstown and the Otesaga viewed from the top of the Farm’s pasture:

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Forging Big Iron

Some days I forge nails and hooks from delicate pieces of ¼ inch mild steel. Some days the iron I work is a little bigger!

Part of the fun of blacksmithing is learning to solve the problems presented, no mater how large or small. This part is about 12 pounds and is made from a bar of ¾ inch by 1 ½ inch mild steel. It has been folded in half and is welded to itself.

The weld was needed to make a piece of iron that is large enough for the project. The next step is to punch a square hole punched in the center. That was done with a square punch and a helper with a sledge hammer.

Now I am shaping it. It is one small part of a larger project. I will leave the explanation of what it may become for a later post.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

December 1st: Snow at The Farmers' Museum

December is coming in with a bang at The Farmers’ Museum. Our first real snowstorm started at about 8am on December 1. At first the snow was just small icy flakes falling from the grey sky. But within minutes large fluffy flakes were coming down.

I took a picture of the Lippitt Farmhouse before the snow began. Here is a picture of the Farm as the snow started. I interrupted the farmers during their morning chores to get a picture. The snow built up fast on their hat brims!

Finally here is a picture of the Farm covered in snow. This was quite a way to start the month of December!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Swift Red Fox

This November we had a new visitor to The Farmers’ Museum. It was a red fox. He had been visiting each dawn and dusk. The farmers are getting nervous, because foxes and farmers get along like, well, like a fox in the henhouse!

I was walking down a hill, and watched the fox retreat from an attempt to surprise our Cayuga ducks. Our farmer saw the fox stalking nearer. He yelled, the ducks jumped into the pond, and the fox left without a Thanksgiving dinner.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Birch Bark: amazing natural tinder

Every day in Field's Blacksmith shop starts with making a fire. Today most people use newspaper to start their kindling. I like to use birch bark. When we have birch firewood I break off the bark and save it.

It can also be found in the woods when a birch has fallen and rotten on the forest floor. Even when the wood has decayed the bark is still intact and useable. Don’t peel bark from live trees as it can kill them. There is plenty available from dead trees.

Birch bark is touch and contains natural oils and resins to protect the tree. Those same oils and resins make it an excellent fire starter. A small piece will make a big flame and burn for a minute or more. I use it to start my kindling wood.
Once the kindling is burning well I add coke and get the fire burning bright.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Fall at Lippitt Farm

The weather has been mild for the first two weeks of November. Frosty nights and sunny days have been the rule. We are bustling around to finish the fall projects. The farmers’ crops are all in the barn. It is time to get ready for the long winter.

The fall crops have been harvested and plowed under. Planning for next year’s crops has begun. The winter rye has been planted, and is sprouting well. It will be the first grain harvested next spring.
At the blacksmith shop we are finally finishing repairs to the 1830’s plow. It has new nuts, bolts, brackets, and will be getting a coulter knife. The oxen will get to use it in the spring.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Industrial Blacksmithing at the Library of Congress

The Library of Congress has the world’s largest collection of primary documents, including videos and films, to tell us about the past. Here is a link to a video filmed in 1904 at the Westinghouse factory.

They were creating a massive turbine and generator. I wonder if it was for the power house at Niagara Falls, N.Y.?

The men are doing an amazing job. They are in the process of turning an iron bar into a round ring with a circumference of 16 to 20 feet. The bar they are forging into a ring appears to be about 3 inches thick and about 12 inches deep. It must weigh several tons. In the first 2 minutes of the film they are hammering together a scarph where the two ends of the hot bar overlap. The 4 men with sledgehammers are making the initial weld using only muscle power. At the bottom right corner of the picture frame there should be a clock counting elapsed time. Watch at the 1:30 point when 3 men are striking with sledge hammers and a fourth man jumps in to hammer in time on the work.

At the 2:20 point a man, possibly the head blacksmith, jumps inside the hot ring to operate the chainfalls! The ring still has a section several feet long that is over 1600 degrees Fahrenheit. He guides the effort to push the ring back into the fire and then starts lowering the chainfalls. Watch again at the 2:55 point when he is hoisting the multi-ton ring out of the fire with the chainfalls. Watch his arms. He has a blacksmith’s build, with forearms bulging as large as his biceps. Then the men push and pull it on the chain falls to the next working station.

Then the ring goes to the steam hammer! At 3:15 it is being struck by the steam hammer. That machine uses a steam piston much like the one in a locomotive to raise and slam a 500lb. hammer head into the ring once each second. The steam hammer is being used to finish the weld and forge the ring down to an even thickness. That causes a bulge in the width of the ring. A man places a cutting tool called a hack under the hammer at 3:52 to cut off the excess metal and return the ring to the needed dimension.

What details are hidden in the larger film? There is a special type of anvil called a bridge anvil in the shot at 1:17. It probably weighs more than 300lbs. and is used for large industrial work like this. Finally the ring goes back to the anvil at 4:25 for finishing by hand held hammers and tools. At 4:46 they throw a thin plate of steel onto the weld and then hammer it into place. At 5:52 they are using sledges to strike a tool called a Flatter to smooth the outside edge of the ring.
What an amazing job. Surviving films like these provide a window onto daily life in another time.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Seasons Change at The Farmers' Museum

Fall is upon us at the Farmers’ Museum. There are a number of images that appear in my minds’ eye when reflecting on the season. Children playing in piles of leaves. Frost on the grass. Harvesting the last pumpkins. The first snow on wet leaves.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Traditional Hardware: Ram's Horn Wingnut

What do you call a fastener for a threaded bolt that can be tightened and loosened without tools? A wingnut, of course! Here are the steps to make a ram’s horn wingnut.

Select your starting bar of a width that allows the desired final hole to be drilled and tapped. I am using ¼ x 1 for a nut that will fit a ½ inch bolt. But I will slit and drift my hole and therefore need less width than if the hole is drilled.
Forge out a taper to make one of the wings. I forged mine to 4 inches, about the width of my anvil. It is often useful to use the anvil as a measuring device. Then start the other end, leaving enough material for the nut between the two scrolled ends. I left about 1 1/2 of material.
Drill the hole. Tap it after all the forging is done.
Make the ram’s horns by rolling the end like a cinnamon roll. I do it by forging it tightly over the edge of the anvil. Scroll it like the first.
Here are the parts from start to finish.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Your Turn! Readers Respond

The Farmers' Museum started blogging in early 2009. As I write this in the fall of 2009 we are approaching 1000 readers per month. The only change I’d like to see is to have more response from you, the reader!

Did you visit the Fields Blacksmith Shop at the Farmer’s Museum this year? What were we working on when you visited? It has been a long and busy summer. The shop has made thousands of nails, many sets of hinges, door latches, nuts and bolts, ox cart parts, and has shod the horse 4 times! We have also made hundreds of coat hooks and other items for sale in Todd’s General store. What were we making when you visited?

We also have hundreds of readers that have not visited the Museum, and many that are not even in the United States!
Our online visitors come from nearly every state. New York, California, Michigan, and Nebraska! Go Cornhuskers! Please feel welcome to post and say hello! What is your home State, Province, or Country? We have regular viewers in the U.K., Canada, Poland, South Africa, and a large contingent in Australia! We also have a growing readership in Sweden, India, Korea, and Japan! Hello and welcome all. What questions do you have about The Farmers’ Museum, Cooperstown, or New York State? Do you have any farm museums near where you live?

So, drop me a line. I’m looking forward to your feedback, posts, and pictures! You may respond to this post or through our Facebook page at: Feel free to write on our wall or post a picture of your visit!

Friday, October 30, 2009

Fall Creatures at The Farmers' Museum

Fall leads to spotting more wildlife at The Farmers’ Museum. Geese fly low overhead on their way to and from Otsego Lake. The turkeys at the farm get restless and strutting. The chickens are hunting down the last of the summer bugs. I don’t know if all birds have little birdy dreams about flying south, but the chickens and turkeys definitely get agitated this time of year.
The squirrels are roaming the lawns looking for nuts to hoard. Raccoons left muddy paw prints on my trash can. This spider was creeping along the sidewalk of the More House. I don’t know where he plans to hole up for the winter, but I hope it isn’t in the Blacksmith Shop!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Wheelwright’s Masterpiece: Wooden Ox Cart Wheels

All wooden wheels are not the same. Wheelwrights made them in every shape and size. Wheelbarrow wheels are among the smallest. Cart wheels can be tall and thin while wagon wheels can be thicker and heavier. Two wheels in our collection stand in a class of their own. These are the wheels for the strongest of ox carts. Look at the massive pieces of elm used for the wheel hubs, the ash spokes as thick as your arm, and the wide wrought iron tyre.
How is a wheel made? The center of the wheel that bears on the axle is called a hub. The hub was often tough, split resistant wood like elm. The hub has a hole for the axle bored through it, and has up to 14 holes for the spokes that connect the hub and the outer part of the wheel. The wooden outside rim is made up from sections of wood called the felloes (often pronounced either fellows or fellys). In the wheels of the early 19th century each felloe was supported by 2 spokes. The whole thing is bound with an iron band called a tyre (tire).

These wheels are survivors from an era long gone. The stout ox carts could have been used to haul the heaviest of cargo. An ox cart with wheels like these may have had up to 4 oxen yoked to it and carried a load of several tons. Cooperstown would have received coal and steel deliveries from the nearby Erie Canal using this kind of cart.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Clean Sweep at Lippitt Farm

There are a lot of traditional crops at the Lippit Farm. This year saw winter rye, wheat, oats, barley, buckwheat, corn and hay grown in the fields. But there was a less know crop as well: broom corn! The Westcott Shop houses a broom-making shop. Broom corn is a relative to sorghum, and the part used to make brooms is the bushy seed-bearing fan at the top of the plant.

Here is crop in the field. It looks much like most corn crops, but take note the fan of fibers at the top of the plant. When the corn is ripe the tops are bent over while still on the plant. This speeds the drying process to create a usable product to make brooms. Broom corn drying in the field would have been a common sight in the 19th century. Broom-making, like most trades, produced a local product for sale in the immediate area.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

My Experience at The Farmer's Museum.

Enjoy this guest post from Young Interpreter Jacob Efthimiou. You can read more about the program here.
“Are you ready for another exciting day in the Blacksmith Shop?” questioned Steve as he and I prepared to leave the Creamery, where the morning staff meeting had been held moments ago. It was another Wednesday; and during my summer, that meant turning into a 19th century blacksmith’s apprentice for the day. Upon arriving at the blacksmith shop, one of my first jobs was always to clean up after the previous day’s fire. This job consisted of setting aside the coke (reusable coal) to start the next fire, and putting the clinker (fully burned coal) in the ash bucket. Next, the fire was started using birch bark, small thinly cut kindling, leftover coke, and a few puffs of air from the bellows. My Wednesday would then launch into a fun and exciting day of making hooks, nails, chain links, and all manner of things. Another important part about being a good interpreter is communicating with the public. I explained many times that kids ages twelve to fourteen can write essays, be interviewed, and then possibly work at The Farmer’s Museum over the summer. Thanks to Steve, now I can pursue the trade using my grandpa’s old forge. I am so blessed to have had this opportunity and will try to stay in practice throughout my life. Maybe I’ll even volunteer at The Farmer’s Museum next year.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Heating and Cooling the Blacksmith Shop

The Fields' Blacksmith Shop at The Farmers’ Museum is used during all months of the year. Visitors frequently ask how we keep it cool in the summer and how we keep it warm in the winter. Any accurate answer would include defining cool and warm in an early 19th Century building.

From April until early July it is cooler in the building than the outside temperature. That is a product of working in such a strongly built stone building. The building is made of around one hundred tons of stone. The rear wall and coal bin are build below grade into the hillside. And finally, the shop itself is in the shade of a large, tree lined ridge much of the day. While the shop was originally built in the village of New Berlin, it was tucked into a similar hillside. The builders understood those advantages. The shop enjoys natural cooling well into early August. The shop only becomes truly hot for about 2 weeks in August.

Our shop is used not just in the summer, but in the fall, winter, and spring as well. Cooperstown, NY has a long and cold winter. Nights are below freezing from November to March, and lows dip below 0F in the depth of winter. How do we keep warm? The smoke and hot air from the forges goes right up the massive chimneys. Radiant heat from the fire does warm the smith, but does little for the shop. Our wood-burning stove carries the burden of heating the shop.
Our stove is an exact reproduction of an original in the Museum collection. Reproductions were made of the original stove so that it could be preserved. This style of stove is usually called a “box stove”, as it is rectangular and is made of 6 cast iron panels. Large and stout, it can hold 4 chunks of oak or ash wood at a time. October through December, and March through May it can heat the shop. From late December to early March is just gives you a better grade of cold!
During the coldest months the stove creates a pocket of warm air within the larger workshop. That is usually just enough. The work in the shop is very physical. It is common to shed layers while working at the forge until by lunch we are working in just long sleeves. That leads to the question of defining “warm”. By February the shop’s stone walls have cooled to below freezing, and wear a permanent coat of frost. In a modern workplace 50 degrees F. would be seen as punishing cold. In the 19th century it would be quite warm for physical work.
It is more than 1/8th of a mile from the parking lot to the Blacksmith Shop. Our daytime temperature in February can be below 20F. By the time visitors or staff come charging into the shop and stomp the snow off their boots the shop seems nice and warm! At the end of the day when the light is fading, the tools have been returned to their places and the forge fire is low. We pull a chair up to the desk by the stove. As we make note of the tasks awaiting us the next day one thing in certain: each new day starts with a new fire.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Todd's General Store

One of the roles of the Peleg Field Blacksmith Shop is to supply iron goods to Todd’s General Store. Built of stone in 1828, the store’s Greek Revival architecture is a distinctive element within The Farmers’ Museum. I like how the appearance changes through the seasons.
Jeheil and Lemuel Todd were part owners in a cotton mill and store in the Village of Toddsville. The store was a company store and later a General Store selling all manner of merchandise. It continues that role at the Museum.
Today Todd’s serves as both a gathering place and a general store within the Museum. Our historic trades supply a significant part of the inventory. That includes ironware from the Fields' Shop, brooms from the Wescott Shop, books and publications from the Middlefield Printing Office, and lotions, extracts, and salves from Dr. Thrall’s Pharmacy.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Making a Bolt for the Door

There is always something interesting underway at the Fields' Blacksmith Shop. About 2 months ago the museum carpenter visited the blacksmith shop. Three hundred nails were needed to build two new hay loft doors for the 1790 Morey Barn. I made the nails and then went on to other projects. A month later he returned to have 4 pintle and gudgeon strap hinges made. You may have read my previous post about making them. As they neared completion he reminded me that he needs 20 square headed bolts, square nuts, and hand cut washers to mount the hinges. Another project!

Bolts are forged hot from a bar of iron or steel. These are made from 1/4 inch round bar. Each bolt is made from 4 inches of bar, and will be 3 inches long after the head is forged from the bar. The threads are cut onto the bolt when it is cold using a threading die.
Nuts are made by punching holes in a bar of steel. Then the sections are cut off the bar. Finally they are threaded using a tap.
Here is a Blacksmithing joke:
How do you know that a dog belongs to a blacksmith?
When you startle him he makes a bolt for the door!
Ha! Bolt for the door. Priceless!
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