While I learn a lot of history from books, you can't beat a good experience. I learn more and make my writing more authentic by doing the things my characters do.
So when the afternoon quieted down I snuck out to the blacksmith shop to give it a try.
Yes, I was supposed to be giving tours of the gristmill, helping people with fishing, walking the ground to talk to people who had come to enjoy the park.
For some reason there were no tours, no fishers, and very few people walking dogs. Jim Neubauer, the blacksmith, came in and invited me out for lesson #1.
I have watched the smith pretty much every week since the Newlin Grist Mill shop has been open on weekends. But seeing it and doing it are very different. Our smiths are all volunteers who do it for love or to have access to a forge. I have seen hinges, nails, dinner bells, forks, even a sword take shape on the anvil. Hooks, every kind of hook imaginable.
Jim had been working at the forge for several hours when I joined him. Everything was ready for me when I got there. The coals were glowing red, the bucket of water used to quench the hot metal was full and waiting.
First Jim showed me how to use the hammer. It moves like a pendulum in a partly open fist. The hammer does the work, not the arm muscles. I’m not sure I did this right, but next time…
What I really wanted to do more than anything was work the bellows. Our bellows look like ones you would find at any fireplace, only huge. To pump them the smith reaches his left hand up to about ear level, grabs a ring and pulls down with a steady force to suck in air, and lets go to send the air into the fire. I am told I will get good enough at this to be able to deliver a steady stream.
I had time to do the first curve on the S-hook. You can see in the photo the curved end as well as the unfinished end showing what I started with.
So now Sam Bly, in Death on the Delaware, my work in progress, will come alive on the page.