1939: Papa’s blacksmith shop

When Papa bought the farm in 1925, he only had a small barn with one large bin for corn and a few tools. There was a lean-to on the south side for the wagon. After a day in the field, he parked the cultivator nearby, removed the mules’ harnesses and turned the animals into the pasture through the side gate by the barn with a pond in the pasture ready for their drink.

He shucked corn and fed the mules and hogs, then walked up the hill to the house he had built long ago, along with a log cabin over our cellar, which he dug, and a smoke house, but he had to make-do with the small barn for several years until he could build the barn of his dreams.

Papa was certainly well aware that he needed to keep the feet of his animals in good condition because rocks were everywhere underfoot. He never worked any of his horses or mules which needed new shoes, even if he had to take them to Zoe or somewhere else fairly close. 

As soon as a load of cotton was picked, he took the cotton to the gin in Heavener. The drive was always hard on mules if they didn’t have good shoes on their feet. He used a farrier in town a few times, but it was simply too far to take the animals to Heavener every time they needed to be shod. The effort to change that situation was long before I was born, but he soon resolved that problem out of necessity.

One summer after the crops were laid by, Papa set about building a much-needed blacksmith shop NE of our house. Actually, the back of the building jutted into the south corner of the garden. As I grew older, I became well-acquainted with the well-stocked shop. There were two wood windows on hinges that could swing open to let in light and fresh air.

A large forge was in the NW corner with sides made from rock and cement. The top was solid except for the large forge grate. I don’t know how Papa knew how to build a forge, but he did. He had a set of bellows that made the coals burn brighter and hotter when air was pumped beneath the grate.

At the end of the forge, he had several very large chunks of coal. Between the forge and the “counter” was a hefty length of a large tree on its end with an anvil nailed to top of it. In spite of their weight, both were just the right height for a blacksmith to work. He placed a couple of 10-inch boards across the bottom of the entrance to the shop to prevent coal dust from leaching out the front door.  But the floor inside was dirt and mostly black.

By 1939, I was only five but very aware of just how busy Papa was at given times. He would not let me come into the shop when he worked, but I liked to stand and watch him hammer the red-hot iron with red flakes flying everywhere. He always wore a leather apron and something over his face and eyes while working there. My memories are peppered with the many sounds of Papa hammering away.

He made horse shoes, wagon rims, bridal bits, knives, hoe blades, keg iron bands and many other things that I can’t recall.

I don’t ever remember an animal kicking him, but I do remember how he shod them. When he was ready to shoe a horse or mule, he or Jack simply led them from the pasture to the shop and tethered them in the shade of an oak tree. Papa retrieved the shoes and laid them on the ground. He gently stroked the animal while talking calmly; then, clamping a few shoe nails between his lips, he gently backed up to one leg of the horse or mule, picked up the foot and held it between his knees.

He pulled out the old nails, removed the worn-out shoe, and cleaned out the dirt caked inside the hoof. Then he smoothed the edge of the hoof to get a perfect shape for the shoe before nailing it to the hoof. If the nail tips emerged from the top of the hoof, he simply hammered them down and filed until smooth so they wouldn’t catch briars and weeds.

When finished with one foot, he simply set that foot down and picked up another. This was the routine he followed until all four hooves had been shod.

Over the years, he shod literally dozens of hooves. Occasionally, Dr. Butler or Ben King, our neighbors, or another neighbor came to our house for Papa to re-shoe their riding horses. We enjoyed a respite from each of our jobs just to watch the “spectacle,” along with our “customers.”  Papa always had an audience of us kids when animals were shod, but we were told to stay away and not to make a sudden noise; we did as we were told. His work was fun to watch. Years later, I realized that Papa was just good at everything he attempted.

On the wall of the blacksmith shop were several nails that held coils of baling wire, barb wire or clothes line wire, perhaps a rope or two, even rusty hinges of different sizes. No matter where he went in the field or when he was walking the fence line to see if mending were needed, he carried a hank of wire with him. If he didn’t need it, fine. If he found another piece of wire somewhere, he simply added it to his stash. Nothing went to waste on our farm if it could be used then or maybe in the future. In the SW corner of his shop stood some long and short boards leaning against the wall. Certainly, no piece of wood was burned that could be used for a door latch, barn latch, etc. Even the blacksmith shop had a big wooden latch with which to close the door. 

Papa’s blacksmith shop was a marvelous place in which to pass an afternoon. Sometimes, Earlene and I enjoyed an afternoon going through everything in the shop. Occasionally, we built a fire in the forge. When hot, we put an aluminum jar lid in the cup of a long-handled iron “dipper” and held it over the fire. When the metal melted, we poured it into another lid to let it cool. Sometimes we dribbled the liquid on the counter. When cooled, we picked up the beads of metal and melted them again. We also liked to hammer metal lids flat on Papa’s anvil just to wield his big hammer and to listen to the loud clanging sound. That didn’t last long because the hammer was too heavy for us.

As children, we found the contents of the shop always interesting, a diversion from our regular routine. In later years, those days were wonderful memories for all of us when we gathered at home with our parents one more time. But time passes; my parents and all of my siblings are gone, and these memories remain only with me now -- to remember.

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Heavener, OK 74937