Friday, March 12, 2010

William Foster

Sometime in the early 1860's my great, great grandfather, whose last name I bear, left his homeland. He boarded a ship bound for the United States. His ship's port of origin was likely Liverpool, Belfast or Dublin. He may have embarked in Dublin, which was just a day's journey from his native Wicklow county, or he may have journeyed across Ireland to the port city of Queenstown (now Cobh or Cove). The journey across the Atlantic was probably a long, unpleasant journey. Unlike many of my immigrant ancestors, John had two major advantages; he spoke English and had a skilled profession, blacksmithing.

John sailed across the ocean to work as a farrier for one of the many coal mines in Pennsylvania. This was at a time when mules were used to pull carts full of coal from the mines. The need to keep them shod and their hooves cared for must have been never ending. John probably also performed other blacksmithing duties as required. We have some evidence that at some point in his life he did some ornamental iron work. He didn't stay in Pennsylvania too long before he moved to Minnesota and started farming.

Several generations have gone by and now there is no one left in my family who knows a thing about blacksmithing. But that is going to change. As a teen I would often linger at fairs and festivals with blacksmiths. I remember in particular speaking with one smith and asking him if there was anywhere that someone could go to school to learn smithing as a trade. He responded that there was only one school he knew of in Kansas or Oklahoma, and that focused mainly on shoeing horses.

I realized right then that no matter how great my interest, there was no money to be made as a smith. And I moved on to other things. It never occurred to me that smithing could be a hobby. It seemed too big - too much to learn, too much equipment to buy and too much space needed. I guess I found it intimidating.

Then I met Yeti (not his real name) in college. He was a few years younger than I and had an interest in smithing. As the years have gone by, he's joined the local blacksmithing guild and has even been kind enough to host a few "Forge Weekends" where he invites people, gives them a hammer, an anvil and a forge and lets them try their hand at it. And he's good too. Ten year's ago he forged a massive unity candle stand for Ms. Huis and I for our wedding.

I went to Forge Weekend last year for the first time. I was hooked. Maybe it runs in our blood. Or maybe I'm just overly romantic about the past. In any case, last weekend I picked up this.

It's 103 pounds (roughly) and was made in 1848 by a company called William Foster. I am deeply amused to know that this anvil is old enough that my great, great grandfather could have worked on it. While the odds are a million to one, I can even imagine that this small portable anvil was one he may have used.

I'm still missing a few pieces before I can smith, namely a forge, a hammer and some iron, but I'll get there.


ShoNuff said...


Pusher said...


Anthony said...

Right, so. First things first. I think we should start on my breastplate even before my helm, cuz you'd look pretty strange walking around with just a helm. Whereas, a breastplate kinda works on its own. Now once we have the thing roughed out, I'd like an ornamental dragon just above the heart. Not too ornate. I don't want it to look all Hollywood. Something simple, yet cunning. Let me see if I can dig up some photo references for inspiration. Back in a bit...

Suzuri said...

Wah-hoo! Hammers aren't too hard to come by if you look through enough 5 gal. buckets at garage sales and such. Heck, I got one kicking around I'm not using...When you sending emissaries up this way again?

Oh, yeah, and? I'm jealous. You totally got an anvil before I did...