The blacksmith shop sheltered by a giant maple tree.
R.R.2, Box 40, Lewiston, Minnesota 55952
This story begins with the childhood memory of a twelve year old boy, awestruck by the sights and sounds of an engine show. That young boy, now my 40 something husband, never forgot the wonder of that show. It has motivated him to preserve and restore, and find absolute delight in the past.
It is said that we are a product of nature and nurture. My husband was nurtured to marvel at simple machines, to salvage hand tools from piles of rust and wire brush them into something recognizable. He had a mother and father who encouraged his meager collections and fostered his interest. His father clung to the reliability and economy of the John Deere A and Minneapolis-Moline R. He practiced soil conservation and believed in the tried and true farming methods. Richard, my husband, was enthralled by the remnants of the 2 HP Sandow and 3 HP McCormick-Deering engines that once were the work horses on this nearly century old farm. He vowed that one day he would restore them. Many farm implements remain here. The old surrey hangs from the rafters of the machine shed. The wooden Rumely threshing machine and wooden rimmed tubeless tired bike still have their place.
Richard's motivation only grew as he developed skills to restore and maintain. He learned a great deal in his industrial arts courses. That knowledge has been invaluable since, as has his ability to visualize and dream. Richard began to clamor for tools of artisans of the past; particularly farmers, blacksmiths, carpenters, and cobblers. He bought frugally at auctions and garage sales finding real treasures for a quarter or less. Richard always intended to use these tools to educate one day.
I inferred that I married a dreamer, but dreams without work are only dreams. Richard was willing to work. I became a believer when I saw him transform an old farm garage into an 1860 blacksmith shop. Gradually I was being consumed with the 'for the love of old iron bug' too. The shop was complete with forge and anvil, a line shaft powered by a 1 HP Mogul engine and all the tools needed by a wheelwright and wagon maker. The false front bears a sign 'The Maple Tree Forge' designed and painted by his mother.
The blacksmith shop is sheltered by a huge old maple, always harboring a nest of squirrels and plenty of birdsong. The shop has become a refuge for us. This winter Richard is making a replica of a triple grain box made by the Lewis-ton Wagon Company in the early 1900s. Our nine year old son Timothy is in another corner busily creating his own masterpiece with a coping saw. As for me I am huddled near the crackling potbellied stove with a child's rocker and supply of sandpaper. We only stop our activity to marvel about how fortunate we are to have a quiet place with only kerosene lamps to light our way.
School children are ecstatic about tours of the shop. The forge and ring of the anvil fascinate them. It is a hands-on 'museum' where children rarely leave without making a rope with the New Era Rope maker or taste homegrown wheat flour in hot buns dripping with freshly churned butter. The children love grinding coffee beans in a mill that an elderly farmer salvaged from the ruins of the log cabin he knew as a child, located on a bluff above the Mississippi River. The mill was hardly the coffee grinder I had longed for. Richard brought the hardware home 'as is' which meant it was a mass of rust. He found one similar to it in a nearby rural museum and took measurements of the box, drawer and handle. It wasn't long before I had a beautiful mill with dovetail joints.
Tours of the blacksmith shop led to exposure in the community. Soon we were participating in Heritage Fairs and Adventure Days. For Christmas gifts our family received a butter churn and shoe last. So we churned butter from fresh country cream and nestled our last amid the cobbler's hammer and awls. Richard's mother, always intrigued by antique toys, introduced us to the wonderment of her hand crafted darning men, wooden puzzles, blocks and pull toys. Richard added tin whistles and pop guns to our collection of toys from the past.
This leads me to describing our acquisition of an old one room shoe shop situated in an alley just behind Main Street in our little town of Lewiston. The building, the oldest remaining structure in town, was destined for destruction. Its wooden frame and lean-to was less than a treasure in my mind but definitely a 'keeper' in my husband's. However could we move this quaint little shed down Main Street to our farm yard on the west edge of town? It looked so despairing to me. For Richard it was a dream come true, particularly since we already had the original cobbler equipment from that 18th century business. Every spare moment Richard was working on the shoe shop. He spent days burrowing beneath the building, reinforcing all of the floor joists, dismantling the chimney, and determining how he would get the building home. Delays included numerous rainstorms that washed the blocking out, only to begin again.
Richard used telephone poles as skids and hooked log chains to the tractor drawbar. Confident his plan would work, Timothy, our proud son, led the way home on his bicycle. Townspeople came out to watch. Down Main Street she came, to rest beside the village blacksmith shop. Richard and a carpenter friend shingled the roof of the building. The shop was painted a fresh white, window panes were replaced and the plaster was restored.
While most folks wouldn't be impressed, our latest building acquisition is a genuine two holer outhouse. We brought the outhouse home on a three point bale mover. Needless to say, we generated a little attention on our three mile trip home.
Usually, I am only 'support crew' for restoration, the real elbow grease being my husband. But one beastly hot summer day I spied a 'gem' of my own. Actually, we were following a lead on a farm gravity box when 'lo and behold!' I spotted a giant flywheel in the nettles and burdock. I casually mentioned it to Richard as I've often been mistaken, but alas it was a 6 HP Fuller & Johnson hit and miss engine. We talked to the owners and learned the engine belonged to her retired father and that it might be for sale. Our quest was no longer for a gravity box but a Fuller and Johnson engine instead. The retired farmer sold us the engine with our promise that the engine would be restored.
That very afternoon we loaded the heavy old engine with a come-along onto our trailer. The only 'hitch' was that bees had set up housekeeping in the engine's cylinder, as the ignition was missing. They were not pleased with the imminent move, and told us so.
Richard had many a sleepless night as he lay thinking about the engine's restoration. First, we scraped years of grease and grime from the engine. The restoration process began by loosening the frozen piston, giving it a valve job and having a comrade hone the cylinder. After the magneto was checked out, he adjusted the bearings and soldered the holes in its gas tank. The engine was sandblasted and assembled, and with some adjustment ran perfectly. Securing the proper colors, Richard set out to paint the engine and try his hand at pin striping. The final step was to make a cart of oak beams from a neighboring Amish sawmill and wheels taken from an old silage cutter. Completely restored it was a sight to behold! We pulled the resurrected engine onto the elderly farmer's quiet residential street. The resounding hit and miss certainly was music to his ears.
Our rewards in collecting and restoration have been manifold. It is evident in the stack of 'fan mail' from area school children who have toured the blacksmith shop. It is the crowd that gathers 'round your engine marveling at the quality of workmanship and sense of pride apparent in machines of the past.
It is enjoying a hobby that brings family together to make something that was once good, good again. It's the pleasure of meeting and making friends with bountiful information and the willingness to share it.
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