Thursday, May 26, 2011

Demonstrating at TPNP

On Saturday the 21st of May I did a blacksmithing demonstration at the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve. Ken and I set up under a walnut tree near the historic stone barn as we have done quite a few times since Heather Brown, Chief of Interpretation and Visitor Services, first asked us to volunteer seven years ago. We try to make everything fit in with the late 1800's period theme when the ranch was young.

These are two links for more information:

On Saturday we made a step set to show one way a horseshoe can be made. We started by making two tools, chisel and rectangular pritchel punch, out of S7. Then we made each step from 1/4" x 3/4" x 11" A36 hot rolled stock.

It was the first time I ever made a shoe although I have seen it done quite a few times. We chose to demonstrate the shoe because it was likely farriers who did most of any forging done on the site. I have looked at a lot of the ironwork in the various buildings on the site and concluded that most of it was factory made. Sometimes we forget how widely available this was by the 1870's.

It is fun to visit with the folks who stop by to see what we are doing. They come from all over the world but the majority are from closer cities. I often have a regular visitor who has come several time before.

I can never really anticipate what people may want to see but we have developed a small repertoire of things to suggest; a taper, an upset, a cutoff, a punched hole dropping a slug, a square nail, an S hook, etc. Most visitors know little about coal, iron, the tools, how the fire works and the difference between a blacksmith and a machinist and the history of it all so I enjoy the teaching opportunity.

Over the seasons we have experienced a variety of weather; sunny and windy, cloudy and windy, cold and windy, hot and windy, windy with rain and windy with lots of rain. A nice breeze is something we can depend upon up on the hill where we can see the prairie for miles to the south.

Several women usually cook a wonderful meal demonstrating the historic cooking processes of the time period; open fire, Dutch oven and ranch stove cooking and serve it to the volunteers at noon. We eat outdoors if the weather is nice and in the barn when it is challenging. Other volunteers demonstrate old time methods and crafts and music is a regular feature.

Construction will begin soon on a new visitors center so I won't be doing any more blacksmithing demonstrations this year and I may not continue next year anyway because the setup and takedown gets a bit harder each year and takes a day longer to work out the stiffness.

I am working to secure another blacksmithing demonstrator for next year and beyond. I have one younger friend who seems interested and has worked in the past at a National Park Service site. I'll keep my fingers crossed.

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