RICES LANDING – Metal leaves, hooks, spoons, knives and crosses – each one as unique as a fingerprint when forged in fire – are just some of the items blacksmiths will create Saturday at the 31st annual Hammer-In at the W.A. Young & Sons Machine Shop and Foundry in Rices Landing.
Hammer-In – a sure harbinger of spring in Greene County – has become something of a pilgrimage for those who love old machines and those who enjoy watching blacksmiths at work.
The event is held at the historic machine shop on Water Street that once repaired riverboats, fixed coal mining equipment and even made a mouse trap or two.
The Young family business opened in 1900, and its tools, equipment and machinery, some dating to the 1870s, offer a rare glimpse of this region’s industrial past.
When the doors closed in 1966, everything was left behind, making its bevy of artifacts one of the few intact collections of its kind.
Last Sunday, Tim Schiffbauer brought his hammer down and the sparks flew as he got the foundry’s old forge ready for the upcoming show. As other volunteers oiled old machinery, cataloged inventory and stopped to watch him work, the metal he was heating and hammering turned into a leaf with neatly notched veins.
After plunging it into a bucket of river water, Schiffbauer swiped it with a wire brush and held it up for inspection.
“No one makes the same pattern,” he said. “Every piece that is forged is like your handwriting. Give it a try; I’ll show you.”
Members of Pittsburgh Area Artist Blacksmith Association and Appalachian Blacksmiths Association of West Virginia are the fiery heart of this old machine shop, but it took a community of dedicated tinkerers to recognize its worth and preserve it.
When the late George Kelly, owner of Point Auto in Waynesburg, discovered the old building and its treasure trove of tools in the 1980s, he was on the board of Greene County Historical Society and in a position to “do something about it,” volunteer curator George “Bly” Blystone remembered.
“He invited me down and asked me if I wanted to help him get some of the machines running.” said Blystone, who has been making the machines run ever since.
The historical society acquired the property in 1985 and by the next year had it open to the public. Blacksmiths began coming to the forge and the spring Hammer In became a free for all event, a real magnet for those who try their hand at hammering for the first time and end up becoming blacksmiths themselves.
Rivers of Steel, a nonprofit formed to preserve the industrial history in river towns along the Monongahela, Allegheny and Ohio rivers, acquired rights to the machine shop in 2011 and began the larger projects of a new roof and foundation stabilization. The shop is open for tours every Sunday from noon to 4 p.m. when Blystone and his volunteers are there doing their continuing restoration work with Rivers of Steel interns like Heather Adams, who is cataloging inventory for the organization this year.
“When I got here I didn’t know what a drill press or a planer was,” Adams said last Sunday as she finished up a day of documenting tools and stopped to watch Schiffbauer make his leaf. “Now I want to try doing this. It really looks like fun.”
Nearly all of the shop’s 25 machines are back in action, thanks to mechanically minded volunteers. Some of these machines are used by other restoration groups machine parts for their own collections. On Saturday the shop’s restored metal planer will be shaving off slivers of metal grates that were just cast at the Kerry Furnace in Homestead. They are designed for the firebox of a 23-inch gauge steam locomotive built in 1937 to move ingot trains for J&L Steel. This piece of living history will soon be up and running again at the Youngstown Steel Heritage Center in Youngstown, Ohio.
Blacksmith demonstrations on Saturday are ongoing from 9 a.m., and there will be afternoon auctions of tools, anvils, books and hand forged objects d’art to raise money for the continuing preservation efforts.
Rices Landing is on a section of the Rails to Trails that begins at Greene Cove Marina near Fredricktown. A landing dock in town gives boaters a place to tie off and walk to the old foundry on Water Street. For more information about the event, call Blystone at 724-710-4898.