Clark County Press, Neillsville, WI
February 5, 1997, Page 32
Transcribed by Dolores (Mohr) Kenyon.
Index of "Oldies" Articles
In the Good Old Days
By Dee Zimmerman
The Once Busy Blacksmith Shops
The smell of hot tempering metal, the clanging of hammer against metal and anvil… the forge with flaming red coals… memories of the local blacksmith shops.
Forging… one of the original principal processes for the mechanical working of metal, used not only to shape metal but also to beat out of it slag and impurities.
The blacksmith was our first manufacturer of forgings. His shop was a forge. He worked to shape metal to usable form; to consolidate metal to make it sound and to improve mechanical properties, as in tempering by heating, cooling and reheating to acquire proper consistency for its use.
Clark County had numerous blacksmith shops at the turn of the century, some in villages and others in the rural areas.
The roaring forge of the village or townships smithy was the hearth of a community – the place where horses were shod, wagon wheels repaired, plow shares forged, and any number of things done that spelled industry and progress for a growing America. It was a place where news was swapped among those waiting for the horses to be shod or some equipment to be repaired.
In the late 1800’s, Clark County villages had one or more wagon shops which each required a forge and smithy to manufacture wagons, buggies and sleighs.
The blacksmith was a man among men… a special breed that has disappeared from our midst. Many machines have taken over the functions of the old-time blacksmith.
In the Neillsville area, there was Henry Ghent, who had a shop on Hewett Street, the former Wolff & Korman Carriage Shop. Later to be Ray Paulson’s Implement Shop. Ghent had the reputation of being an excellent forge-man. Joe Felser worked with Ghent, a man of smaller stature but a very good forge-man, also, a requirement to work for Ghent.
Frank “Ox” Ruddock, a large muscular man, had a shop on the southeast corner of Grand and 7th Street. He was credited as being able to shoe any horse that could walk – quite a horseshoer. John Betz took over Ruddock’s shop, and then Gassen owned it.
Another noted horseshoer was Lee Allen who had a shop in Neillsville, (circa 1910 to 1930) twenty years.
Art Lautenbach, a good blacksmith operated a shop in Granton until about 1940 when he went to farming near Loyal.
A long time blacksmith, Irving Carl, was in the business for many years at Greenwood, working into the early 1950’s.
Perhaps the last city of Loyal blacksmith was Carl Roder, who had a shop along Main Street, operating his business into the early 1960’s.
Two dedicated smiths, Ed Hagie, Shortville blacksmith for over 40 years, and Alfred Spiegel, who for over 30 years operated a shop on the Townline bounding Grant and Washburn townships, both retired in 1951.
Both men worked in the same era, the busy days as a blacksmith in the early 1900s, in days that needed big men, in spirit if not in body, to do big jobs.
Alfred Spiegel set up his blacksmith shop on his farm about two years before Ed Hagie moved from his father’s farm to Shortville.
Both born on a farm in the Town of Grant in 1889, he worked there with his father for a few years. The lure of the black-smith’s forge brought him to Neillsville where he served a year’s apprenticeship at the Huckstead and Barton blacksmith shop located where the B & F machine shop now stands.
At the end of his training he returned to his father’s farm to build him a forge and declare his shop open for business.
Working long hours, eventually, Spiegel was able to purchase an 80 acre farm. He ten built a shop and forge on the farm the same winter he moved, 1920.
Spiegel’s first 15 years in his new blacksmith shop were the busiest. It was all he could keep up with horseshoeing, wheel setting, sleigh building, and general repair work, even though competition then was stiff. His sons eventually helped with the farming.
The area south of highway 10 had other blacksmiths, the Hagie’s, Rudolph Frantz and Oscar Kuchenmeister. Along Pleasant Ridge, Bill Hughes had a shop on highway 10, across the road from Club 10.
The cost of re-setting a shoe was 20 cents and new shoes cost 50 cents, in 1920. A man willing to work all hours in a day could earn up to $17 on that day. Shoes cost $15 a keg.
Shoeing horses could be a hazardous task. However, each smithy learned an approach that would calm and soothe the horse, a confidence between man and beast while the shoeing was performed.
For relaxation, Spiegel enjoyed the sport of hunting and being in the woods. As he roamed the woods, he looked with a trained eye, selecting trees for various purposes and those specific types of wood were used in his shop.
The axe handles he made were a source of pride, satisfaction and a feeling of accomplishment. Painstakingly carved out of the tough, resilient rock elm with a draw shave, each one was a work of art. Such axe handles became widely known and as a result, the demand grew for the custom-made product. It was light, finey (finely) balanced and flared wide at the butt, to prevent slippage when the axe-man took a low hold for long swings. It was the work of a craftsman. Such an axe handle could be bent over a knee, bending like a strung bow, yet wouldn’t break, it had elasticity. (Anyone who has tried splitting rock elm chunks of wood, knows why the name “rock,” often the axe spring back at the axe-man).
Spiegel also made cant hook handles for the loggers in the county, neck yokes, whipple trees and single trees for wagons and sleighs. He supplied single trees and whipple trees for the Clark County fairgrounds and many other places where the horse-pulls, etc. needed strong, reliable equipment. All of that equipment started out from the hand selected timber to be fashioned and finished in Spiegel’s shop.
Times changed, however, Spiegel stuck with doing most of his repair at the old brick forge, equipped with a hand-cranked blower.
In 1951, Spiegel laid down the tongs and hammers on the anvil. Horseshoes hanging here and there on the walls were reminders of the past, it was time to retire.
At the age of two, Ed Hagie came to the Shortville area in 1897. He traveled with his family from Arkansas to settle on a 40 acre farm near Shortville. His dad, Eugene Hagie was a blacksmith, and as soon as the family was settled he built himself a shop and began work.
Ed Hagie grew up with the clang of an anvil in his ears. As soon as he was able, he started his apprenticeship at his father’s forge. A brother, Floyd also became a blacksmith and had a shop in Dell’s Dam area, corner of Sherwood & Clark Road, near Hwy 95.
Hagie recalled those were busy days for a blacksmith. Horses were used for everything except lumbering, and then oxen were popular. The elder Hagie would go up into the lumber camps each year to shoe the animals.
Horseshoeing at that time was a booming business. Ten teams a day was probably average, that adds up to 80 shoes and hooves.
At that time a blacksmith charged 15 cents for re-setting a shoe and 35 cents for a new shoe. The shoes cost 3 cents a pound or $3 for a 100 pound keg. Nails cost 2 cents a pound.
Shoeing a horse was an art, each shoe had to be fitted to the horse, and the horses weren’t always cooperative. If a crippled horse was brought in, a special shoe had to be designed for it.
Race horses were shod differently. The trotters required shoes being weighed – the heavier shoes on the front feet so the horse would pull up on his front feet more. The shoes were lighter and fashioned differently too, without the heavy cleats as on the bottom of the work shoes.
A blacksmith was a “jack-of-all-trades”. He made sleighs and new runners for the sleighs, which were all metal or wooden with metal facing or “shoes.” Broken machinery was repaired by forge-welding parts or new parts were made when necessary. Hagie often made his own tools, as well as tools for customers.
Wagon wheel repair was a big business, with wheels often lined up the length of the shop waiting for repair.
At the age of 28, Hagie purchased two acres of land at Shortville corners and built a house and shop on it. He bought some blacksmithing equipment and made the other tools that he needed himself.
He had a long wooden trough near the forge that contained a special blend of tempering oil. He paid $35 for the secret in how to make it and claimed that when he tempered steel in that solution – it stayed tempered.
To add to his work load, Hagie built portable saw mills, one of which was set up in his backyard. He also owned and operated a thresher powered by a Rumley Oil-Pull tractor, doing custom threshing in the Shortville area. The only way he could get a day free from work was to leave the premises, so picnics and other outings were planned for Sundays with the family.
As Hagie stated, “Blacksmithing was a rugged way to make a living, but the good ones liked it and stuck with it.” In the early 1900’s, the Horseshoers Union had a yearly convention in the state with many attending.
The hand bellows for a forge were replaced by a hand-cranked blower, and later an electric one. The hand hacksaw was replaced by a gas torch and a power saw. The brace and bit was replaced by an electric drill press. Next came the big power lathe and electric welder. After all the changes Hagie also retired.
The war effort of World War II resulted in no new machinery manufactured and limited parts for old equipment in those years. The local blacksmiths repaired and made parts for broken machinery – how would the farmers have gotten along without them?
Wolff & Korman Carriage Shop along O’Neill Creek and Hewett Street was a booming business in its day. The two story building accommodated a large assembly area. The blacksmith shop with forge was on the first level. Notice the double doors and platform with ramp & stairs at the second floor’s front. The completed carriages were rolled down the ramp, ready for sale. Iron wagon rims or shoes are visible along the front of the building. A farm implement in the foreground was probably manufactured there, too. It looks like a grain seeder as there is a box on top with shovels visible below, circa 1900. (Photo courtesy of Clark County Historical Society Jail Museum)
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