Volume II, No. 3, Spring 1975
Howdy. Are you some of my Lebanon boys? Come on in and join my loafers.
I'm glad to have young fellas here. I was raised in this shop. My dad had a shop on the corner of these two lots here for years and years. My granddad had a shop here. I believe he was discharged from the Civil War in eighteen-sixty something.
I've got his discharge. And he come here and put up a blacksmith shop. That was the first blacksmith shop here in Richland with the same name.
I've been in the shop all my life. I was in here when I was just a little bitty kid. I could put a horseshoe on a horse when I was seven years old. They had to be gentle, but I could do'er .... but I'll have to give 'er up one of these days. When you get up pert'n near a hundred years old as I have, it's about time to quit.
When I was sixteen years old one time in Lebanon, I proved I could shoe more horses than two bigger men. They were big fellas and they made fun of me, you know. I just laughed and went in to shoe horses. There was three big men and I just weighed one hundred and thirty-five pounds. The fast man is supposed to be at the head of the list, and I went in there, and why hell fire, I could just go all around them. I know the first night we was there--I think that day I shod twenty-five, and I remember when the day's work was over and we took off our aprons and set our boxes out of the way, one fella said to the big boys. He said, "What do you think of the kid a-shoeing horses now?" One of them said, "Why he's the fastest little son of a gun I've ever saw."
I was twenty-five when I went in business for myself. I hired out to shoe horses when I was fifteen. I built this shop building in 1925 by myself.
I'll tell you, boys, you make just as much as you want to make if you want to work hard enough. I'm satisfied now if I make--oh, maybe ten dollars one day and twenty the next and somedays eighteen, twenty, twenty-five. And if I don't feel good, sometimes I don't make more than five. You make just what you want to--how you feel. I have made 'er here. I've made enough to get as good a farm as there is in this part of the country and get 'er covered with black cows.
But it wasn't easy. Sometimes it was hard going for my customers to pay anything. I had to go to California during the depression to make some money. The bottom was out of everything and I'd been blacksmithing here. It hit other places before it did here. The first year we begin to feel it here, I wasn't afraid. I wasn't afraid of my customers. I done their work for them and charged it to them. But by the next year, there wasn't a thing. They couldn't pay nothing. I shod their horses all through summer and fall when they wanted to do hauling. I had a big pile of old shoes that I'd took off and I'd tell them, "Now you can't use them barefooted. You gather you up some old shoes and I've got a bunch of them." I fit them and I shod, I bet, a hundred horses for those old poor boys on these ridge farms. Didn't even charge it to them. Didn't make no record of them 'cause they couldn't have paid it to save their lives.
But one winter here during that--it was in '35--farmers had brought me in corn and hogs. I had twenty-five hogs and plenty of corn. One old carpenter was here and he hadn't had a job for a year. He just couldn't get a dime's worth of work to do. One day he came down and told me. He said, "Fred, I'm going up to your house and kill a hog and dress him. We've got to have something to eat." And he did. He'd kill one and give me half of it. And sometimes he'd go up there and kill three or four and we'd just pass it around to people with big families. We killed ever one of them.
Boy, that was tough going. A fella that never went through that, he doesn't know what hard picking is. I've come here to the shop many a week during that depression and not make two dollars. People didn't have it and they couldn't get it.
So I went to California to get me a job. I left here December 13, 1936, and come back in '38. I got a good job there in the oil fields and paid up what I owed here and bought me twenty-five cows when I got back. When I left here, I think me and my wife and boy left here in an old Model A. The best I remember I had about eighty dollars. We took off. But I went to work just as quick as I got there. I'd work at the oil fields five days a week. Then I'd come to town and the blacksmith there in that town, he had mules and horses scattered over the country that he'd go out and shoe. I went out with him quite a while. Then I went out on my own on Saturday and Sunday. I'd go out to those ranches and shoe their horses and sharpen their plows. I made more on Saturday and Sunday than I did the days I was working in the oil fields. Boy, she was tough going then.
I've been here ever since. I'm going to stay here as long as I can stand up to use the hammer. I wouldn't quit this shop--I could make it all right without it. I wouldn't quit here if they offered me a thousand dollars a month pension. This is my life right here. I'm always glad Saturday night I don't have to come back the next morning, but Monday morning I'm ready again.
I work just the same in the wintertime with a three foot snow on. I'll close that door and come in here. I make something that'll bring me anywhere from twelve to fifteen to twenty-five dollars a day. I make a walnut cracker--twenty-five bucks. I may not get my money until next summer, but I'd better be a-doing that as setting on my ass.
Last year I made a hundred steeple pullers--you know, that you take a hammer and drive it in to pull the steeple out? I made a hundred of them and put them in a box there. I was out, oh, by the first of July. It didn't amount to much but it was fifty dollars worth. I made them in the winter when there wasn't nothing else to do.
You know, it's a fact that you will rust out quicker than you'll wear out. You sit on your ass and don't do nothing, it will get you a whole lot quicker than working ever day. You'll rust out. It takes a long time to wear a man out. You just keep bucking.
Boys, come over here. There's the art in blacksmithing right there--that forge. I built this one in 1925. Before that I had one that turned with a crank. I used one with a long arm when I was a kid. I've stood on a box--the bellows would be as high as pert'n near to the ceiling--and I've stood up on a box with a rope fastened on to it and pumped the thing. It wasn't a steady blast. It was just a "shwish, shwish." I don't see how they blacksmithed with it.
With this forge you can make anything if you just want to bad enough. Back in war time I make many a piece for a tractor they couldn't order. Many and many a piece. But you can make anything they bring you if you want to and will try.
To learn how to use the forge you got to know quite a little bit about steel--what a piece of steel is. You can burn an inch rod in two in just a little bit there. It just takes a few minutes for it to get hot as a hen laying a goose egg. Why I can burn that horseshoe up there. You have to watch that fire there or you'll get it too hot and then it's no good. Just get it hot enough that it'll melt together. You can tell when it's hot enough by just working at it long enough. You just know when to wait.
I'm used to working at a fire like this. Now I can't work fifteen minutes out in the sun though I can work by that fire all day. When you're around a fire, you can take it in here, but you go out and work in the sun and it turns your damper down.
I'm doing all the work in here now myself that three men used to do 'cause it was all done the hard way. We didn't have no grinders, no power. Had to turn the drill by hand.
I don't shoe horses anymore. I just make the shoes. Used to if a horse had a crippled foot, I'd take care of it. I'd repair it and make a shoe to fit it. I'd cut into a foot, open them if there was anything wrong with a shoe. I quit that when I was seventy-five years old.
I still make shoes. Somedays when I work at it all day, I get twenty-five, thirty pairs made. I had to quit making walking shoes, though. Orders came in from Jeff City and Columbia and everywhere else more than I could make in six months. So I just don't try. I just make enough for my son's horses.
If the humane society would see what some people today fix up and put on horses, they'd tote them down. A horse came to our barn shod with a part pressing in on the toe of the foot on both feet. It lamed him. It's a crime to butcher a horse up that way.
I make walnut crackers if I've got time. It takes about five or six hours to make one of them things. If you get them off the least bit they won't crack walnuts. You take black walnuts when there's moisture in them. When the walnut's bone dry, well, the kernel's bone dry. But if you'll crack them when there's a little moisture in them, you can get them out in quarters and halves all the time, 'cause it just shoves that hull away from them. I made them one winter--I made a whole bunch of them, and good gosh, they didn't last no time.
Another thing I make a lot right now are those horse shoe nail rings and spoon rings. I have a rush on them pert'n near ever year. This time it's pitiful the nice fancy spoons I cut off and make rings out of them. I've got a whole sack full. Now they're wanting me to take a longer handled spoon and make bracelets out of them--flatten the spoon out. I dread that.
I've made rings all this week. I make them for kids, the young gals around that's fell for these. I make lots of them. Don't get nothing for it, but I make them anyway. If you want to have friends when you get old, make them out of kids and you'll win. But if you're ever mean to a kid, the little ones, they never forget it. I learned better than that by experience of my own when I was a kid. When people run over you when you're a kid, it's hard to forget. You can forgive a person for something, but boy, to forget it, that's hard to do. Now I've got a good bunch of customers and I like them ever one. If I didn't, I'd be out on the farm.
You boys cold? Come over here by the fire. I have to keep a good fire here. My boys would quit coming down to visit me. I couldn't take that. That stove, it's been here for about eighteen years, I guess. I'll put a fire in it because I have a bunch of loafers in here. I can stay warm at that forge a-hammering. If it wasn't for the boys coming down here to loaf, lots of times I wouldn't even build a fire in it. But I'm lucky about my wood for down here. The chief of police here in town--he's a big old husky and he's got him a chain saw and a truck and he'd rather get out in the woods and work as anything. Last winter he piled, oh, about six big old truck loads of wood right out there.
I see you're looking at my mouse house. Some people made that in St. Charles, Missouri. They knew about my mice and they sent me that. My name is on it. I don't know if you can see it anymore or not. Fred's Mouse House. I...I like my mice.
I feed them maybe, oh...a hundred and fifty pound a winter of walnuts. They'll eat walnuts. You can crack them pecans or English walnuts and lay them down there but they'll eat the black walnuts first. I'll tell you one thing, I've saw the time here in the wintertime that I'd come up here and go to cracking walnuts, maybe there'd be fifty mice come right here to eat at my feet. They'd hear this walnut cracker starting and they knew what it was. I can poke a walnut kernel in one of them holes and they'll take it out of my fingers. I've got enough mice to carry a gallon of cracked walnuts away in ten minutes. Real cold weather I have lots of them.
I make it easy for the mice to get in.
I cut a hole out in the wall back there so they can get under the floor and then in the wintertime I've got a hole cut there by my anvil and they can go under and out here or run in there. I like my mice. As long as they can't learn to open my safe or chew the horn off my anvil, why they're all right. They can't cause no trouble. Produce boys up here ever once in a while will send me down a pack of D-Con. They think I'll feed it to them but I don't.
The only trouble I have is cats can get in here. Women all over this end of town raises hell with me for running off their cats. I've told these people that if I ever caught one of my mice a-hurting one of their cats, then I'd let them fight it out. Till they do, I'm going to defend my mice.
I use a bean flipper to keep the cats away. I haven't practiced it lately, but when I'm in tune, you set five dimes out there and let me set five dimes and we take a shot a piece and I'll get the most of your dimes, I'll guarantee you, with the bean flipper from twenty foot. See that can sitting down there, down the road there? There was a boy mowing that yard one day and I bet a fella two dollars and a half I could bust his gallon gas can with it. He had a big glass jar. He bet me two dollars and a half I couldn't bust it with a bean flipper. And I busted it.
Then one day the police judge was going across the tracks home. I got right there at the door with my bean flipper.
He was in his shirt sleeves and I cut in on him--took him in the back. He said it knocked him to his knees, but it didn't. It set him a-fire and he thought somebody'd took a shot at him. He went up town and got the other law and come down here and hunted all over hell for somebody who took a shot at him. I didn't tell this, of course, for awhile. He asked me if I saw anybody down here. "Yeah, I saw a fellow going up over agin the track there a while ago pretty fast." They tried their damnedest to catch somebody with a rifle or something that shot him. He never did know what happened. The other marshall did. I told the other marshall.
You have to go? You boys come down anytime you want to. Come down and work the fire a little bit. Come back anytime you want. I'll be here. I'm as regular as a goose a-going barefoot.
Copyright © 1981 BITTERSWEET, INC.