Issue # 55, February 2012, ISSN 1913-4134
As I prepared the final draft of this newsletter, I quickly realized that we just had more information than the newsletter spacing allowed us to use! The only solution was to eliminate many of the beautiful photos which were submitted with each article, especially Paul Bogaard's remarkable collection of photos of the reconstruction of a working forge for the renovated blacksmith shop (described in detail in The White Fence No. 54)! This accurate and very detailed reconstruction was an effort requiring the efforts of many talented people. I agonized over how this could possibly be accomplished since each one of these excellent photographs was worth "a thousand words"! Then a bolt of light ("inspiration" would be the correct word here) struck me. We can include all the photos but just divide the single newsletter into two issues! So, dear readers, enjoy the efforts of Paul Bogaard documenting the remarkable renaissance of the Job Anderson/Campbell blacksmith shop's forge and see for yourself how our valued donor contributions have been used to accomplish this and preserve Tantramar's heritage. And once you have absorbed all this detailed information, just prepare yourself for another wonderful issue with more of Jeff Ward's fascinating contributions about many of the region's inventive characters. If you derive as much pleasure reading both issues as I did editing them, you will not only remember them for many years to come but, like me, will read them many times over, before putting them away…if ever!
- Peter Hicklin
The forge we wanted to reconstruct was meant to be new . . . but also old. The masonry and fit-up of our forge are all brand new, and the work was completed last summer. But we also did everything we could to make it as "old" as possible. We set quite a challenge for ourselves by insisting that today's Museum should have an operating forge just like the two that would have served Jimmie O'Neal and Herb Beal and all the other blacksmiths who fitted out carriages, wagons and sleighs with a remarkable array of wrought iron fittings at the original Campbell Carriage Factory. Part of our challenge arose from no one being able to remember exactly what the two Campbell forges were like, certainly not in the kind of detail we would need to rely upon. The other part of our challenge was not being able to find anyone who had actually built an old-style masonry "side-draft" forge. Actually, that's not quite fair. Our mason - Darrel Morice - had many years of brick-laying experience including fireplaces, and he certainly understood the principles that applied to forges. But he told us, up front, that he had never actually constructed a working forge. We also made contact with one the handiest blacksmiths around - Paul Fontaine - a working blacksmith specializing in heritage wrought iron. Paul had very successfully designed and constructed a working forge of his own. But he had chosen to construct the key inner chambers for his forge out of the material he knew best - iron. A jacket of bricks was added around the outside, but it works well because of its iron interior, not because of the handsome bricks. We owe a lot to the experience and generosity of both these fellows.
In a typical fireplace, the fire (and most of its heat!) goes straight up through a "smoke chamber" and then up the chimney. With a side-draft forge, the fire is located on a workbench and there is no masonry chimney directly above it to get in the way of larger items the smithy might need to heat up. The iron rims being welded for a 52" cartwheel, for example, would need lots of space above. Some blacksmiths who know they will only be working on smaller items, might place a hood and chimney directly above the fire . . . but not at a carriage factory! As must have been the case with the two forges the Campbells had built by 1860 (and at the Hum Amos blacksmith shop), the chimneys were constructed to one side of the fire. They could get away with this only if the opening in the masonry was just beside the fire, the size of the opening was just right, the distance up to the smoke chamber had to be just so, and even the height of the chimney was critical. If everything is just right, something quite wonderful, almost magical, happens. The fire leaping up from blazing coal turns abruptly to the side and is completely drawn up the chimney. When everything goes just so . . . there is little or no flame and smoke going, as you might fear, out into the shop.
This was all a very exciting prospect, but the gamble was whether we could construct everything so that all the proportions and correlations were just what was needed. By mid-August, when Paul Fontaine helped me light the first fire in our forge, we knew (and only then!) that we had managed it. It was truly a beautiful sight, watching that flame blaze forth, the bellows encouraging it to leap out of the coal, only to turn precisely into the masonry opening waiting for it, and disappearing safely up the chimney.
So let me take us through some of the steps that led to this happy conclusion: Relying on the best technical specifications we could find, we worked out detailed plans. Dick MacLeod pointed out that the Hum Amos forge made use of local sandstone for the base, so we incorporated that feature into our plans.
We also needed the means for securing in place a "fire pot" with the traditional device hidden underneath - still called a "tuyere" - which directs the forced air from bellows up into the fire pot. Our biggest problem here was finding a fire pot. The only ones still around were the wrong style or broken. Paul Fontaine was willing to lend us one he was not currently using . . . but the plan was to have a replacement re-cast for our own forge at the local foundry. Darren Wheaton confirmed they would be able to do this for us, but as most readers will appreciate, our local foundry - the only foundry still in operation throughout the Maritimes - had a roof fall in from snow load last winter. And, as if that wasn’t bad enough, more recently there's been a huge fire. There is still some hope the foundry will spring back from these ashes, but in the meantime we have Fontaine's fire pot and tuyere installed.
Darrel Morice was confident all these features could be built into a masonry forge and once EnerGreen's carpenters completed renovations on the old Anderson Blacksmith Shop, we were eager to get started. This sequence of photos, with captions, will take you through the highpoints of this reconstruction.
By August we had reached the point where there was nothing left but to give it a try. We were able to obtain a supply of "smithing coal" which has to be of a particularly high grade and ground into bits of the right size. This makes it easier to handle, and more likely that the coal will efficiently burn off its impurities, leaving "coke." It is the burning coke, at the centre of the fire pot, that produces the temperatures required to forge iron.
Our very first fire was tried out on August 12th (just in time for the grand opening on the 14th!) and that afternoon made all our planning and a summer's work worthwhile. Dan Lund, whose generosity (along with his brother, Ken) made this project possible, was there that afternoon, and he and I could not have been more pleased. Paul Fontaine was on hand to help light the fire, and then to make the anvil ring. Dan made sure that the very first iron object "wrought" in the new forge and hammered out on Hum Amos's old anvil - a simple hook, handsomely twisted, and brought to a point permitting it to be nailed into a beam - has been saved, so that we can put in on display. Paul Fontaine made it all look so simple, just as Darrel Morice had made it seem like just a job of bricklaying. But we knew better!