IMAGINE, you are a Journeyman smith and the war has started.
You've been called to action as a smith and told to bring your tools!
This aspect of going to war had not occurred to you and you are caught unprepared.
You have been training with the militia for over a year.
Marching and rifle practice under your Master who is also a Captain in the militia.
Your Master is staying behind to
produce armaments while you are now the regimental Blacksmith.
You are provided a small farm wagon and your Master donates
100 pounds of bar stock and a horse to pull the wagon. The
portable steel forge is an invention of the future so you are going
to have to make do on the road. You load your tools including a
small well worn anvil of about 100# and the bellows you've been
building for when you start your own shop. The tools are a motley
collection of tongs, punches and hammers you made during your
apprenticeship. On the way out of town you barter a pair of tongs
for a fired clay tuyer pipe at the potter's. The cabinet maker
stops you and loads you up with some oak lumber and some hickory
handle blanks. Your unit is moving out and you've done a better
job packing your tools than caring for yourself.
On the march it is hard to concentrate but you know you need
a forge and don't have all the necessary materials. The muddy road
reminds you that you should have gotten some wet clay from the
potter. You ask your commander if you can stop at the next stream
and get some clay. He says you'll have ten minutes and he doesn't
want any stragglers! He also assigns you a helper. You are lucky
and find a clay bank just to the left of the crossing. You grab as
much as you can using your bare hands (what shovel?) and also toss
on a pile of flat sandstone from the creek bed. You've got to
move. The column is just about out of sight and your wagon is
considerably heavier than it was ten minutes ago! You remind
yourself that you need to look for some brick and ask around if
there is a carpenter. You wish you were back in your Masters well
equipped shop. This would be an easy job there. The sun is
getting low and you hope they break for camp soon.
Luckily no one has needed your services during the day. The rumor
is that there may be fighting tomorrow. Again circumstances make
it hard to concentrate on the job at hand. You are supposed to be
your unit's Blacksmith, yet you still don't have a forge. You
finally remember to find that carpenter. It is pitch dark now
except around the fires which make it even harder to see when you
look away. The carpenter you find is just 16 years old but says he
can make anything. He has brought along a few tools but says they
are getting awful heavy to carry along with his pack and rifle.
You offer to let him store his tools on your wagon. He volunteers
to help build your forge.
You explain to him what you need, a box about 12, no 16 inches deep
and two by three feet. It will need a hole in one end about two
inches in diameter. All the lumber you have is two inch, much
thicker than you need but it will have to do. While your new
friend is working on the box you set about cold cutting some iron
straps to mount your bellows with. It is hard work and not the way
you'd prefer to do it. You nick your anvil and dull a cold chisel.
You wonder how you are going to resharpen your chisel without a
grindstone. Maybe one of those pieces of sandstone will work?
This is going to be more difficult than you thought. Now you are
finally thinking of all the things you didn't bring with you. The
carpenter made wood pegs from one of the hickory handle blanks. He
is using pegs to put the wood forge box together but you need some
nails or spikes. More cold forging? No. You carry your anvil
over to the nearest fire and drop it. The thud surprising those
sitting there. You tell them what is on your mind and ask for
some help. Two eager fellows help with the bellows. One holding
them in position while the other pumps erratically. The nozzle of
the bellows has been wedged between two rocks and another set over
it. You rake a pile of coals in front of the blast telling your
helper to pump just enough to make a nice bright glow. He finally
gets the idea. The small fire is refueled from coals from wood
that is still being fed to the other side of the campfire. Nails
do not require much heat and soon you've made a couple dozen while
kneeling at the anvil and fire. You wonder how many times and in
how many places other smiths have had to resort to forging at a
campfire? The cold and stiffness in your knees tells you its time
The next day the rumors of battle are even worse and the
previous excitement has turned to quiet tension. Your carpenter is
still at work in the back of the wagon while you lead the horse and
wagon on foot. With every bump in the road both you and he realize
that the forge you are building is going to need to be securely
anchored. You and your wagon are ordered to pull aside with the
supply wagons and your carpenter back to his unit. He has finished
and a neat job at that. As you pick up your rifle and prepare to
leave with him but a passing Colonel tells you to stay and finish
your forge. "It will be needed soon". You are shocked, you came
to fight for freedom! Then you remember that you were not brought
to fight but to be sure others could.
Soon rifle shot can be heard in the distance and then cannon.
You are forced to finish your forge with the supplies on hand. You
borrow a shovel and half fill the forge box with loose clay dirt
from the side of the road. You position the clay pipe tuyer and
make a surface of clay over the dirt to help hold the bowl shape in
front of the tweer. Now you remember that you will need a water
barrel too! Some rocks are placed around the edges of the forge
box and a large flat one at the back to protect the bellows from
the heat. You wished you had been able to find some bricks, this
water saturated creek stone may not hold up. Worse it may spall
and shatter from the heat but its a chance you will have to take.
The battle rages and you can hear the battle cries and screams
of the wounded in the distance. Commanders on horses race up and
down the line of wagons yelling orders to evacuate the wounded.
Meanwhile, you use the spikes you made last night to anchor the
forge to the wagon floor. The rough cut bars are used to support
your bellows and more spikes are used. There is not enough room in
the small wagon to square the bellows with the forge. The nozzle
of your bellows fits but leaks too much air. Clay is used to make
a seal and dirt and stones are piled around to hold it in place.
Now you build a small wood fire in the freshly lined forge.
Hopefully the clay will dry in time to take forging heat.
Then comes the retreat! Retreat? Why? Don't ask questions, just
move. All is chaos. You throw your tools back into the wagon and
start moving without putting out the remaining fire in your forge.
That night there is no revelry in camp. Many are injured. You are
set to work repairing cannon carriage and wagon parts. Rewelding
broken chain, straighten bent parts. There is no time to do
anything right. Just fix it good enough to be ready to move.
When, no body knows. Soon maybe. The list of things to repair
grows and grows. Finally an officer is put in charge of priorities
and you are given a helper. You work through the night.
Occasionally the wood sides of your forge start to smolder and
water is applied with a hiss. Your feet are wet. You find
yourself working in a mud hole of your own creation. Sometime
before dawn you are told to pack up. Unfinished work would have to
wait or be left behind. You rapidly pack up, tossing anvil and
tools in the back of the blackened wagon. The fire is quenched,
something you know better than to do lest it damage the forge. All
is done in haste. You do not remember the passage of time.
Soon you are on the road. Traveling to another battle? It is then
that you remember you haven't slept for two nights and can't
remember when you last ate. You sleep sitting up in the wagon, the
horse doing the driving. Occasionally you wake with a start from
the pain in your neck from sleeping upright. That night when camp
is made you remember to eat before starting work. You inspect the
rough clay lining of your forge. It is cracked and loose. You
smear some mud in the cracks and on the exposed wood. You start a
forge fire without waiting for the mud to dry. It hisses and
steams. All the time you are in the field, the forge, a box of
dirt and clay, will be patched, rearranged and a stone or two
replaced, but no more. It will never be "made right".
While getting up a heat you survey your tools.
You lost a pritchel, a drift and a pair of small tongs while packing in the
dark and mud of the previous morning.
You curse and tell yourself
to be more careful. What else is missing? You ask about your
carpenter friend. No one knows, they'll ask around. While you are
working the news comes. The carpenter didn't make it. He was one
of the first casualties. You notice his leather tool roll in the
corner of the wagon. You choke back a rising swell of emotion.
You had only known this boy, no, man for one night. The two of you
had barely talked. Yet he seemed like a brother. How could that
be? Later you would open his tool roll and find tools obviously
made by talented caring hands. The polished hard wood parts of
each tool delicately decorated. Carved just deep enough to be seen
yet not so deep as to affect their use or make them rough to hold.
Each marked with the makers initials. All you had known him by was
Jake for Jacob. Never asking his last name. You carefully replace
the tools and stow them in the wagon.
Days, weeks pass. How long has it been? Every day the same,
what day is it, no one knows. Pack, move, advance, retreat, the
work of one day the same as the next. You are cold, tired, dirty
and hungry. Many are sick with "camp fever" and will die. You are
not wounded but lack of sleep and bad food has taken its toll. You
fire your forge with wood. The wagon mounted forge warms your face
but the rest never warms. You find yourself hunching over your
work try to warm yourself. Your back and shoulders become stiff
from this bad working posture. To work becomes torture.
Then one bright morning an officer introduces you to a young
man that he says is a Blacksmith. He is fresh and sharp of eye.
You shake hands. He has the grip and calluses of a smith. The
officer says you can go home now! You mumble something about these
being your tools. The young man says he'll take good care of them.
The officer doesn't understand, but says you can take the horse you
came with, the NEW man has his own. You are too tired to respond.
You pack your bed roll and your unused rifle. While tieing them to
the horse you remember one last thing. The carpenter's roll of
tools! You add them to your traps, say good by to no one in
particular and leave. You never see the wagon, forge or your
Journeyman tools again. On the way home you think of the
compactness of the carpenters tool bundle compared to the wagon
load of tools you had just left behind. You say to yourself, "My,
wouldn't it be fine to be a carpenter!"