Friday, July 31, 2009


It has been an unusual summer this year from the viewpoint of a traditional farmer. We had three frosts that came at the end of our normal window for such things, surprising those who had planted their gardens early. The spring rains came on time, but never ended. June and July rarely saw 3 sunny days in a row. July had the coldest average temperatures since record keeping began. Farmers have had great difficulty getting their hay and grains harvested. They need at least 3 dry and sunny days in a row to do so. Our hay and rye will be harvested well past it’s peak. That will create some difficulties feeding livestock this fall. The barley has been cut and the oats and wheat are ripening. The oats must be ready, as our chickens and a wild bird are into the oats.
Despite the cool weather and frequent rains, some plants have thrived and put on lush growth. Buckwheat was planted last week, and has exploded out of the earth with vigor. Our hops are thriving as well. Hops were grown in this region, and supplied much of the nation with the natural preservative and flavoring for beer. Hops were also used to produce yeast cake for baking bread, and as a medicinal plant. So while there may be less barley with which to brew, the resulting beer will be well flavored and the loaves of bread will be light and airy!

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Another link in the chain!

My daily blacksmithing demonstrations this week have included forging a welded steel chain. A strong chain was an expensive, necessary, and valuable tool in 1845 rural America. Chain was used to pull a stoneboat with your oxen, to pull stumps out of the ground, and to remove stones from your field. It could be used to skid logs, to raise timbers to build your barn, or as a trace chain to connect your horse and wagon. Chain was the strongest and most durable hauling tool available.

Our chain is being made from 3/8th inch diameter low-carbon steel rod. This is the closest readily available equivalent to the wrought iron bar used in the 1840s. Each link starts out as a piece of rod 7 inches long. The first step is to hammer a scarph (steep taper) on each end. The scarphed ends allow the link to be welded with the fire, hammer, and anvil.

A chain of 25 feet in length will need about 127 welded links! They are assembled three at a time. One open link is used to connect two welded links. The open link is then welded shut to make a section of three links. Two sections of three are then welded together with an open link to form a chain of 7. That short chain is then welded onto the longer length.
The chain is currently 9 feet long, and I will be adding 4 sections to it today. I can make a seven-link section per hour while talking, and add about 3 feet of chain per day. Our oxen, Jigs and Buckwheat, should have their new chain in another week.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Field Blacksmith Shop through the seasons

Most of our visitors come to The Farmers’ Museum during the summer. They miss the beauty of the other seasons. Since we are working here all year I thought to share the view during the other three seasons.

Spring – Green grass, new leaves, and flowers.
Fall – A touch of frost, brightly colored leaves.
Winter – Bare trees, snow, and ice.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Shoeing our Horse, Zeb

This week, our Percheron draft horse Zeb was brought to Peleg Field's blacksmith shop for new shoes. I am a blacksmith I am not a farrier; for that expertise we call on Danny Conklin, a blacksmith and farrier. He has worked with Zeb and made his shoes for the last 12 years. Zeb and Danny work together like old friends, and visitors often remark about how calm Zeb is while getting new shoes fitted and nailed on. At one point Zeb seemed to be trying to take a nap.
The first step is to remove the old shoes. Then his hooves are trimmed. Danny had already forged Zeb’s new shoes at his last visit to the blacksmith shop. The new shoes were heated in the forge and adjusted while hot to exactly fit each foot. Once the shoes are all well fitted they are nailed onto the horse's hooves. Not only does that not hurt, but the well fitted shoes protect the horse’s hooves from damage and excessive wear. Shoeing was a daily task in general blacksmith shops in the 1840s. We have one horse at the Museum, so shoeing only happens about once every six to eight weeks. Dozens of visitors stayed at the shop throughout Zeb’s shoeing to watch. It is rewarding to present this part of the blacksmith’s trade to the public.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Dr. Jackson's Latch

The Doctor’s Office has been under repair and has a new exhibit on the role of country Doctors in the 19th century. Part of the refurbishment included hardware for the back door. The Fields Blacksmith shop made the Suffolk latch. This style of latch is part of the hardware tradition that was brought to America by immigrants from many nations. Throughout most of the 19th century this style of latch was common from Maine to Pennsylvania. Regional differences were common, as the hardware in a town was influenced by the Blacksmiths of German, Irish, English, or other backgrounds that lived there.
We also produced a sliding bolt to secure the door from the inside. This bolt is simple but requires both blacksmithing and whitesmithing to create. The bolt is secured to the backing plate with two collars. The collars are riveted to the back plate using square tenons. This method involves forging and filing tenons, punching and filing the mortises. This is a simple but effective method to create the housing for the bolt.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Was Your Grandfather a Blacksmith?

I hear a lot of great stories from people about their memories of visiting a blacksmith shop in their youth. Some visitors tell me about relatives that were blacksmiths. I’ve heard about blacksmiths that shod horses and smiths who made precision parts for fire engines and steam turbines! I’ve met men that worked in blacksmith shops on the Erie Canal and on the New York Central Railroad. I’d love to hear more stories and am inviting you to share yours. We are starting a project to record and transcribe these stories. They will be archived in the New York State Historical Association Library. If you would like to share your story or family’s history you can reply to this blog and I will contact you. It doesn’t matter what state you are in, or even the country in which you reside. We would love to hear your story.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Buttercup's new calf!

Buttercup is one of our dairy cows:Around 3 pm on Sunday, July 5th she had her latest calf. He is a cute little bull calf. She delivered him in the upper field, and the two of them walked down to the barn with the farmers at the 5 pm round-up.
Buttercup is around 9 years old and is well known to museum visitors. I suspect she may be the best known cow in this part of New York! She is part of our farm program and has long provided milk to the Lippitt farmhouse for the making of cheese and butter. She is also used to teach museum visitors how to milk. Thousands have visited and learned to milk with Buttercup.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Independance Day Readings

George Washington, Farewell Address
“The name of American, which belongs to you, in your national capacity, must always exalt the just pride of patriotism, more than an appellation derived from local discriminations…You have in a common cause fought and triumphed together. The independence and liberty you possess are the work of joint councils and joint efforts, of common dangers, suffering.”

Thomas Jefferson, Declaration of Independence
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed with certain unalienable Rights, and among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.”

James Fenimore Cooper, The American Democrat
“The ability to discriminate between that which is true and that which is false is one of the last attainments of the human mind.”

Abraham Lincoln
“I have always found that mercy bears richer fruits than strict justice.”

Friday, July 3, 2009

Can you learn to be a blacksmith?

A question that comes up often in the shop is, “How did you learn how to do this?” Many visitors are surprised to hear that blacksmithing is still a skill that can be learned. The traditional guild and apprentice system is no more in the U.S. but there are other ways to learn the skills. Many people start as hobbyist. They join blacksmithing organizations, buy some old tools, and set up a shop to start learning the craft.

But how can you try blacksmithing to see if you like it? It seems like a big commitment to buy an anvil and build a forge just to try it out. That is where organizations like The Farmer’s Museum can help. Our shop is open, working, and demonstrating to the public daily from April to the end of October. Everyone is welcome to visit, watch, and ask questions. We also have two-day classes that let you roll up your sleeves and learn some skills.

For those who just want a first taste of blacksmithing, we are trying something new. On two Tuesdays each month we are offering mini-sessions. These are one hour classes that give you a chance to “Come behind the rope” and try a simple project at the forge.

Throughout North America there are more than 50 organizations that seek to preserve knowledge and teach the skills of Blacksmithing. These groups have newsletters, monthly workshops, special classes, and large conferences. The largest blacksmithing conferences are held by the Artist Blacksmiths Association of North America (ABANA) and the CanIron conference in Canada. In New York there are several organizations including the New York State Designer Blacksmiths in the Northern and Western part of the State, the Capital District Blacksmiths around Albany, the Northeastern Blacksmiths with two conferences per year at Ashokan, and the New England Blacksmiths meeting nearby in MA and VT.

Blacksmithing was a dying trade in the U.S. in the 1960’s. But the growing passion for learning the skill has led to a revival of the trade few would have predicted 50 years ago. Today there are thousands of professional Blackmiths and more than 10,000 hobbyists. If you are interested in blacksmithing there has never been a better time than the present to find instruction. Heed the most common advice given to new students, “Get it hot and hit it hard”!

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

When is a lunchbox more than just a lunchbox?

I suspect every workplace has little quirks that make it unique. The Farmers’ Museum has it’s own interesting quirks. My fellow artisans, craftspeople, and historic interpreters and I dress and live in 1845 during our working day. We also tend to be perfectionists. You can see that by looking at the personal items we carry to work. Our lunchboxes are a good example. There is no work regulation about lunchboxes. But we like to present the right appearance. I carry my lunch in a wooden crate I have had since I was a boy. It was made by a boat-maker in my hometown. He cut his own logs in his woodlot, sawed them into lumber at his sawmill, and used the lumber to build boats. My lunchbox was made from his scraps 32 years ago. A good lunchbox is hard to replace.
Many of my co-workers carry their lunch in baskets made of split ash or withies. One personalized her basket by sewing a cover for the handle. Another hand sewed the quilt that covers her basket. This level of attention to detail is not expected by the Museum. Indeed I suspect it has gone unnoticed. Yet it is the constant striving to do the job not just well but truly right that makes The Farmers’ Museum a place where the past comes alive.
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