There were many jobs in the old west that we often take for granted and yet most were crucial in keeping a town alive. Blacksmithing was one of those jobs. In fact, the larger trail drives might include having a blacksmith along.
Before I did research on blacksmithing for Texas Forged, I assumed incorrectly that the blacksmith took care of shoeing horses. Well, he indeed had the knowledge to shoe a horse but this particular job usually fell to the farrier.
In the early days, one didn't attend trade schools to learn various jobs. Instead they apprenticed to a skilled laborer. A boy could apprentice to a blacksmith as young as eleven or twelve and while a teen this young couldn't do the heavy work, he could assist in keeping the forge hot and other small jobs that made the blacksmith's day easier and was mutually beneficial. He'd be required to clean and to replenish the supply of coal in the forge. He'd be asked to retrieve supplies as needed and as he grew older and stronger, he might be asked to pump the bellows.
The day began by building the fire in the forge using coal. When the fire burns hot enough, the coal becomes coke which tends to burn in a ring round the fire thus giving a more controlled heat. Metal rods were placed into the fire until hot enough to work using a striker and anvil. The hot metal was called "heats." Metal was shaped, cooled, reheated and shaped some more until the desired product was formed. It was then filed and polished.
In my story, Texas Forged, the hero owns a small smithy even though several blocks away, a larger company employs many blacksmiths. Please enjoy a short excerpt:
Galin pulled the yellow-orange iron from the coals and placed it on the anvil. With powerful strokes he molded the metal until it took shape. The process intrigued her but not nearly as much as the man himself.
A cry sounded, instantly snagging her attention. Where was Spencer? She jumped from her seat, frantic with worry. Galin dropped the hammer on his work table and shoved the rod back into the forge before gathering Spencer to his chest. “Let me see.”
“I never saw him get up.” She rushed forward, ashamed she hadn’t paid more attention.
“Not your fault.” Galin tried to hush the boy’s wails. Finally the boy held his arm aloft for his inspection. “Looks like a spark burned his arm. Best get some cool water on it.
He led the boy to the trough out front and shoved his arm into the soothing coolness. Aubrey stood aside, still mortified that her mental wanderings had prevented her from keeping a better watch. “Why don’t you let me care for him?”
“Not your job.”
If she were a more violent person, she’d take the hammer to the smithy’s hard head. “Do you close yourself off to everyone you meet or just me?”
“Just like a woman to get riled for no cause.” He lifted the arm out of the water and studied the red mark. “Be tender for a while but you’ll live. Next time, stay put when you’re told.”
“I want my mother.” He sniffed back tears and rubbed his nose on the back of his sleeve.
“Maybe I can take him to his mother,” she offered, wanting to make up for her irresponsibility.
“Spencer, you head up those stairs and make yourself at home. There’s some leftover biscuits in a towel covered bowl. Help yourself. Be up in a while to check on you.” He pointed to the set of outdoor steps that led to his apartment. The boy trudged up the incline, holding his arm until he disappeared from sight. When he disappeared into the second floor home, Galin rounded on Aubrey. “Spencer’s my concern. Not yours.”
His hand reached for her hat and came back clutching a twig. “Do you always wear hats like that?”
“Like nature stirred up a hornet’s nest.” His voice softened in a way that sent awareness skittering along every nerve cell. “The artist that conjured that monstrosity ought to be shot. At the very least, tarred and feathered.”