The Forge of the Blacksmith


THE VILLAGE BLACKSMITH by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow


        During the infant years of our century[1], Vaiden, Mississippi, was a thriving community of farmers and commoners in need of new and easier methods of bringing the crops to market.  The job of plowing and harvesting in the fields was not an easy or joyous task, and the upkeep of a farm required lots of will, determination, and more than often, a shove from the Almighty himself in order to complete the chore.


        It was in 1920[2] when my maternal grandfather, John C. Hambrick, built and operated Vaiden’s first[3] blacksmith shop.  The large building, still standing today, was constructed of metal and bricks with a tin roof.  It quickly became a rather bustling place of business.


        Grandfather was said by some to be a handsome and strong man.  He was 5’8” in height and weighed 165 to 170 pounds.  His Indian bloodline was noticeable in his high cheek bones and in the shape of his nose.  He had dark blonde hair, sparkling blue eyes, and an olive complexion.  Johnnie[4], as many of his friends called him, was a hard-working man who never let his work leave his shop until he was sure that it was done right.


        During the summer months, when the work was plentiful, the farmers were in constant need of plow points to be either sharpened or rebuilt. There were also plenty of horses to be shod and wagon wheels to be repaired or re-spoked.  A most interesting sight was for one to watch as Grandfather worked with iron heated in a hand-turned forge.  Each time that the handle was turned, air would blow on the hot coal in the forge, causing the coals to glow hotter.  When the iron would become red-hot, he would remove it from the fire with long-handled thongs, place it upon the anvil, and beat it into whatever shape that the situation at hand called for.  He would then place the still-glowing iron into a large iron tub of cold water to cool before handling it.  Plow points that had to be rebuilt were done almost the same way.  Borax would be put on the work point as a new piece of hot iron was beaten onto it.  While beating the red-hot iron, the combination of Borax and heat would weld the new point onto the plow.  It would then be cooled, put into a vise, and sharpened almost to the sharpness of a straight razor.


        Horse shoeing was also a trademark of a good blacksmith.  Sometimes, upon getting a mean horse, Grandpa would have to place a twister over the horse’s nose.  As the hooves were being prepared to be shod, the twister would be tightened by William Davis, his helper[5], until the horse would stand still.  In shoeing a horse, Grandpa would place the horse’s hoof between his knees, pull off the old shoe, clean the hoof, file it with a rasp, and select the proper size shoe for the horse.  He would then nail the new shoe into the hoof with horseshoe nails, snip the end of the nail off as it came out the other side of the hoof, and file it smooth so as not to be noticeable.  The horse did not feel any pain as the shoes were nailed on because a horse’s hoof is much akin to our own fingernails.


        In the winter months, with all of the crops harvested and in storage, he would take orders for wagons and buggies and make them from the axles up.  He would build them, paint them, and finish them with beautiful scroll designs that he would paint by hand.  During this time he would also make horseshoes, horseshoe nails, and various other tools needed for the coming of spring.  Grandpa once invented a new “Middle-buster” plow and applied for a patent.  A competitor supposedly took his application from the mail, sent it in under his own name, and soon appeared with the very same plow for sale.  One of his prototypes of that plow is still in my possession[6].


        Possessing the name of “Blacksmith” seemed to entail more than sweat and hard labor.  Grandad was a man of wit and charm and a lover of children.  Being considered to be a “Jack-of-all-trades,” children would gather to hear his ghost stories.  Each year, as school teachers would bring children by his shop, he would entertain them by bending iron bars with his teeth and by shoeing ponies.  He owned the second car in Vaiden and bought a new one every year thereafter.  He was the first person in Vaiden to have a radio.  The radio was a crystal set with ear phones and neighbors would stop by to “listen in” each night[7].  He was also the first person in town to have a television and would often be asked by his guests if the T.V. entertainers could also see the viewers.  From having heard of his wit, I can only assume he told them yes.


        These are only a small portion of the accounts of my Grandpa as explained in my many conversations and letters with my mother and of her recollections of his early years as told to her by her relatives and friends.  Fond memories are surely the best recollection of all.


        Grandpa Johnnie Hambrick died three years before I came into this world[8].  I only wish that I could have known him well enough to tell you of first-hand memories of my own, but at least I am a better person for having known of him by words of kindness, love, and praise.




[Ed. Note:  The above story was written by me (Ronnie Collins) for my Hinds Community College English Composition class, and was submitted on November 3, 1987.  I have reproduced it here as it was written, including the many grammatical errors that appeared in the submitted paper.  The only additions I have made here are the inclusion of superscripted notations with footnotes for clarification, as seen below.]




[1]           1900s


[2]           Approximately


[3]           Grandfather built the first Blacksmith shop in Vaiden, to my knowledge.  There is no indication of any previous blacksmith shops in Vaiden prior to this one.  However, if I can identify a blacksmith shop prior to this in Vaiden, I will duly note it in these footnotes, without disturbing the integrity of the preceding text.


[4]           Sources indicate he spelled his nickname as “Johnnie,” rather than “Johnny”


[5]           It is uncertain whether or not of the colored men in this picture is Will Davis.


[6]           I will include photos as soon as possible.


[7]           See The RUSH WEIR STORY at rush_weir_story.html


[8]           Grandfather Johnnie Hambrick was born April 3, 1886, and died on February 2, 1951.