Granny's Notes - the writing of Sue Gerard

Learning extra skills gave farmers home advantage

My father, O.D.Meyers, had his own forge, anvil, drill, ball-peen hammers, tongs and other tools for blacksmithing. In the early 1920s, farmers did their own machinery repair and other metal work to save time and money when things broke down or they needed something to make life easier on the farm. The nearest blacksmiths were in Columbia or Harg, both four miles away. Dad could improvise with his own forge and workshop. On rainy days, he made the non-rush things they couldn’t buy or "invented" things that made work a little easier.

He used several pokers and other simple tools he made of scrap iron from discarded metal from farm and dairy machinery. In other words, some farmers were skilled craftsmen at a forge and anvil. Sometimes it saved hours - maybe days - to be able to fire up and create something he needed or to repair some part for a hay rake or ensilage cutter that broke on a busy day. He took the big jobs - like sharpening plowshares - to the more skilled smiths and went back for them a week or two later.

Expert blacksmiths made a good living keeping wagons and buggies rolling, plowshares sharp, farm machinery repaired and horses and driving mares shod. Between tasks they made various sizes of horseshoes, nails, log chains, household hangers, ornaments, kitchen tools, oil "Betty lamps" and the like. Many blacksmiths were artists who made the ironwork used around the fireplace and kitchen.

Dad and my late husband, Chub Gerard, designed and made andirons in the l930s to keep wood from rolling out of our fireplace. Dad’s first truck, a 1917 Model TFord, was long gone, and the scrap pile contained some old pistons. Other scrap piles did, too. Dad had taken a four-week course in auto repair in Kansas City at Sweeney’s School so he could do his own auto mechanics rather than face a lifetime of expensive repair jobs.

Pistons were bright, shiny, cylindrical metal things, and there seemed no use for them except in the vehicle engine for which they were manufactured. They were useless but "too good to throw away."

Chub was learning metal work at the engineering school at the University of Missouri-Columbia, so he and Dad devised a way to join cylindrical pistons in line on long rods. They also used rods to stabilize side pistons and irons that stood alone and withstood fireplace heat. It was a difficult, fun job and a great surprise for Mom. The pistons made the andirons, which were usable in the fireplace even after the rods finally bent from years of being in hot fires.

Dad wasn’t unusual in his skills of home blacksmithing. Neighbors were better at plumbing, finished carpentry or heavy construction. They exchanged work on a friendly basis, improvising and creating for necessity and recreation. Chub’s hobby was collecting antique tools.

In his collection were two unusual corn knives to be worn on the workman’s leg. It solved a problem. When cutting corn stalks for shocking, a man needed both arms to gather and hold the long stalks. Blacksmiths devised ways, adding scraps of leather, to attach a short, sharp blade on the outside of one ankle so a man could cut the stalk near the ground with a kick and gather the long, loose stalks into his arms before they fell. Another task that needed "fixing" was to give horses better footing on icy roads. Skilled blacksmiths made spiked metal plates with leather straps attached to fit over horses’ hooves.

Wasn’t this the kind of ingenuity that recently gave us computers?

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