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!

Friday, October 2, 2009

Blacksmith Coal, Part III

Soft Coal. Bituminous Coal. Coke. This is the fuel of the Blacksmith shop.

Our shop has two large stone forges with wood and leather bellows. When originally constructed the shop probably used hardwood charcoal as fuel because it was available locally and coal was not. Since charcoal can’t be stored outside through the winter without degrading there is a stone and brick fuel vault build onto the back of the shop. That allowed charcoal to be stored without fear of fire or decay.
By the 1840s mineral coal from Pennsylvania was available by way of the Erie Canal. That is the fuel we still use today. The forges consume more than a ton of coal each year. Each fall we refill the coal bin with another year’s supply. Coal is dumped in a pile outside of the shop. We then move several tons into the shop each fall. I will haul the coal in one wheelbarrow-full at a time. It takes about 50 wheelbarrow loads to fill it for another year. The work is worth it, as there is a sense of security in seeing a full coal bin!

The Peleg Field Blacksmith Shop is 182 years old, and has been in service at least 170 of those years. This may be the 171st time fuel has been hauled into the bin by labor and the sweat of the brow. By continuing these traditions of shoveling coal, lighting the daily fire, and working at the forge I am continuing the work of the generations of Blacksmiths in the shop before me.
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