Tuesday, October 25, 2011


The ringing of metal striking metal on an iron anvil was my first alarm clock.  It had a rhythm unlike anything else...ding, ding, ding, ding, ding-up, (pause), da-ding, ding.  It was the sound of my grandfather working and it became the background score, the music of my childhood.  It reassured me that everything was right with the world.

That was my grandfather shaping metal into a perfectly fitted horseshoe, or metal rim for a wagon wheel (they still had a few), or some metal part needing to be custom-made.  He was left-handed and pounded for hours a day.  His first shop was the wooden structure (which burned down in the 1920's) pictured below.

A Postcard of Grandfather's First Shop
(He is on the far left watching Frank Kemp, his helper trim a horse's hooves)

Frank Kemp helped my grandfather and has his tools in a wooden carrier on the ground next to the horse he is attending.  The man in the center is unknown to me.  People wait on the side for their work to be done.  To the far right is my grandfather's house, which he built for a grand total of $900 in the early 1900's.  Looking over a statement from his business, all things were inexpensive by today's standards.

He did woodworking, custom metal work, car repair, sales, service, and was a decent farrier.  You never knew what you'd be stepping into at Grandfather's shop.  During the killer influenza epidemic he made wooden coffins and remarked that they stacked to the ceiling in his first shop.  

I recall him saying he had worked for a Mr. Walter Ware, an undertaker, for Mr. Andrew Foxwell, a blacksmith, and had interned with a blacksmith in Virginia Beach before marrying my grandmother.

A Postcard Dated 1903 Sent to My Grandmother from Virginia Beach

My step grandmother, Inez, and I visited the shop daily in the summer, bringing a pitcher of iced water.  Except for the rain barrel, there was no water in the shop, no snacks and eating between meals.  Three square meals a day was all he ever knew.  He ate a sandwich with a knife and fork when it was presented to him because he had never seen one in his life.  He held the phone upside down and talked into the earpiece so it was futile to phone him.  I am so getting to this point with all the I-gadgets.

He wore long sleeved shirts and long pants all year long to protect him from cinders, which flew off the forge occasionally, and clinkers (bits of red hot metal residue from the beating on the anvil).  I managed to find clinkers with my bare feet in summer.  After shaping the red hot metal, he plunged it into the rain barrel with long tongs and it made the neatest shwooshing sound.

I surely loved that forge.  I hand cranked it until I thought it might fly off the ground.  It didn't.  Grandfather never scolded me once.  He had the patience of Job.  It would be great to talk to him again.

Grandfather at 81
(He Died at 94)


  1. Reminds me of my Pepop who wasn't a smithy, but was a Superintendent of Patapsco State Park in MD for a while. He never scolded me either.

  2. I remember him exactly as he looks in that last picture.

    All this took place at the corner leading down to Ware Neck from Route 14 (aka Flat Iron). I remember the house well but also that he had a lawn mower repair shop with his son.

    I wonder if the Kemp man shown in the picture is any relation to his first wife who was Mary Ann Kemp? (Correct me if I'm wrong with these details but I know she was a Kemp.)

  3. This is an amazing, wonderful story. Amazing to me because your grandfather was just enough older than any of my grandparents to make a difference in their experiences.
    I enjoyed this very much.

    Kay, Alberta, Canada
    An Unfittie’s Guide to Adventurous Travel

  4. Love these stories. What happened to your grandmother?