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Everyone Watches The Blacksmith
Imagine red hot steel being pounded on a huge anvil by a person covered in soot and wielding a heavy hammer. What are they doing, what is that thing they are making? After repeated stops and starts, moving the steel to and fro in the fires of the furnace, pounding and bending, shaping and forming, a beautiful gracefully-curved garden hook emerges from the steaming cooling bath of water it was placed in. The blacksmith had taken a bar of nondescript steel and made a useful work of art from it, through sheer hard work and a lot of heat. And now it’s cleaned and up for sale.
So what makes this such a mesmerizing sight to see at county fairs and small historic recreations around the country? It has to be the rarity of it all; the fact that a trade once practiced all over the country at one time – in every town in fact – is now a curiosity to behold. Everyone from bus drivers to brain surgeons all seem to stop and watch the blacksmith at work – something you just cannot get from looking at a three inch phone screen.
When I was a kid, and later as an adult, I found it fascinating to talk with older folks about what they did when they were younger. I was most interested in, and had worked at, skilled labor trades from a young age, so I tended to seek out folks who had a background of working with their hands. One of my great uncles was a plumber, when plumbing was pouring hot lead into the hubs of cast iron pipes to seal a joint, not gluing plastic pipes together with some foul smelling adhesive. Now do not get me wrong, I am all for progress and I do love the fact that PVC pipes rarely, if ever, leak but I also think knowing the history and the older practices make for a better plumber today. It is also fascinating that my great uncle taught me how to pour a lead joint, upside down!
Today we have all sorts of high tech, electronic, computer controlled everything, which really is amazing. I totally get it, progress and innovation are a constant, it is how we move forward. But I would also love to know what Leon, a man of eighty something years old, whom I had met and subsequently purchased my first metal lathe from at the age of sixteen, would think of a computer controlled milling machine today, or more interestingly, what would he think of the operator of that CNC machine.
As machines and methods evolve, the workers and operators also must evolve. It almost seems like the machinist of today needs more computer knowledge than machining knowledge. Back in Leon’s day, he not only had to know everything there was to know about the endless mechanical machines he relied on, he also had to be an engineer and mathematician, knowing all the theories of geometry as well as all the properties of the metals he worked with. It is not like these fellows did not do anything complex; remember he was part of the greatest generation that built some of the most awesome peace time and war time machines ever, and at record speed. We also had similar fellows build spaceships that landed on the moon using slide rules relying on guidance computers about as powerful as a 1980s calculator.
It is so very important to know where we are going, to attempt to plan out a good future for everyone. But it is just that, a plan, and we all know what happens when we plan something. What is just as important is the understanding and preservation of the history of how we got where we are, and to learn from it when we make those plans as we forge ahead. That is a key piece of the ZIPPER JUNCTION™ Project as well as what will make the destination so powerful of an experience. A good amount of living history, restoration, and engagement with past processes is critical to not only understanding the present but how to innovate for the future. Seeing modern day techniques and machines being used to restore their historical predecessors, rebuild and repurpose vehicles, all while being the very platform for teaching and innovating is an awesome concept! It will also engage and include people of all ages, right into the workings of it all, which will lead to conversations and interactions between generations that may not have happened – and that is really awesome!
And remember, just because something is old does not mean it isn’t significant to the future.