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Old Photography.


Garry Keown

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Few people realize the man power it took to get us where we are today. When you think about that period from post-Civil War to WWII, it is incredible. Every ship, every sky-scraper, railroads, trains, cars, tanks, bridges... no robots, no automation, just men and tools.

 

Sometimes we think it would be cool to work old-school like that, but I'll bet those guys were glad to put their feet up for a couple hours between fourteen hour work days and six day weeks.

 

 

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I love photos like this.  Look at the size of the hammer in front of the kid sitting on the ground.  Then read what Don wrote a second time :)

 

There is a video of guys forge welding on a locomotive wheel at a Westinghouse factory back in the day.  One of the guys in that video handles a hammer that size like it is a 16oz framing hammer!

 

 

-Brian

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That hammer is also a  two man hammer - note it has two handles.

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Speaking of how much labor it took to build the world as we know it.  This is a hand spindle

See the source image

 

Up until about 1500 (when the first spinning wheels became commonly used in Europe) all fiber for cloth was spun on something like this.  If you've never seen one used, you wrap the raw fiber around the hook, give it a spin and drop it.  The weight pulls the fiber into thread and twists it.  You then wrap the thread around the shaft and do it again.  Larger ones were used to twine threads into yarn.

Ever scrap of yarn for everything from clothes to blankets to sails was made this way.  Imagine how much sail the  Nina, the Pinta and the Santa Maria needed.  It took a huge effort to produce what the population needed, and cloth does not become a commercial product (with factories producing thread and yard and spinning that into cloth) until the 1700's.

You might guess that the Lady Wife is a spinner and historical reenactor nerd.  We have more spinning wheels than anvils AND guitars.

 

g

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"The worst day smithing is better than the best day working for someone else."

 

I said that.

 

If a thing is worth doing, it is worth doing badly.

- - -G. K. Chesterton

 

So, just for the record: the fact that it does work still should not be taken as definitive proof that you are not crazy.

 

Grant Sarver

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2 hours ago, Gazz said:

That hammer is also a  two man hammer - note it has two handles.

I didn't even notice that, nor did I know there was such a thing!  I can't imagine trying to use something like that in tandem with another person :blink:  I uncoordinated and erratic enough when I'm trying to hammer by myself...

-Brian

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I can't imagine the heat coming off those links as they were forge welded closed or the forge it took to bring them up to welding temperature.  That's not to mention what it took to move the links around.

 

Doug

 

HELP...I'm a twenty year old trapped in the body of an old man!!!

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That two-handled sledge was used on the long round flatter the guy on the right is holding, to smooth out the weld lines on the links.

 

Regarding the amount of labor it took before heavy machinery, the historic site where my local guild meets had an event Sunday called Woolly Days, in which they shear the sheep, spin wool, and weave.  Kind of small this year, nobody was dyeing the wool, and nobody was doing a sheep-to-shawl demo.  But, the blacksmiths were supposed to be demonstrating "olde timey stuff" as well.  So we did nails.  Now, I know a good nailer can make a nail in one heat, and an excellent nailer can do two in one heat, and with enough irons in the fire can produce two or three nails per minute.

 

Well, none of us are good nailers. So, the crowd was watching us take three or four (or six or eight) heats and two or three minutes to make a nail.  We got lots of comments on how they never realized how much work went into something so simple. We got a lot of mileage talking about how in the old days, it was children and old women doing the nailmaking.  We got all the usual questions one gets when doing public demonstrations of blacksmithing, but only one person asked, in my opinion, the best question.  The site is supposed to represent a frontier homestead farm in 1780 in what was then outside the boundaries of the original 13 colonies.  After I finished my last nail for the day, one woman said "So this was the frontier, right?  Where'd they get the iron to make the nails with?"

 

I got to explain how most of it early on was imported from Sweden in the form of nail rod, but yes, there were obvious difficulties getting that shipped from the coast across 600-800 miles of wilderness trails and mountains to the farm where we were standing (particularly with a war with England going on at the time), but that just three years earlier, in 1777, a Scottish ironmaster had set up a furnace and bloomery shop on a creek about ten miles north to fix that very problem, and that by 1820 upper east Tennessee led the nation in iron production in terms of tonnage produced.  She then said "So to make that nail, someone would have to dig the ore, smelt it, and forge it into rods before you guys ever even started making nails with it? I'll never look at a nail the same way again!"  One of the smiths then said "Yeah, you learn real quick to be more careful about dropping them."

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I don't know that this is true, but I have heard that in the Colonial period they would burn down buildings to recover the nails and other hardware.

 

g

"The worst day smithing is better than the best day working for someone else."

 

I said that.

 

If a thing is worth doing, it is worth doing badly.

- - -G. K. Chesterton

 

So, just for the record: the fact that it does work still should not be taken as definitive proof that you are not crazy.

 

Grant Sarver

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Another thing just struck me.  What did it take to move an anchor chain that size to the anchor locker locker on the ship that they were building?  I know that they had steam powered winches to lift it but what kind of a cart was needed to move the chain with?

 

Doug

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HELP...I'm a twenty year old trapped in the body of an old man!!!

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At a recent market I shared a stall with my neighbour around the corner, I had my table full of knives and he had a little forge going, making nails in a very relaxed manner.

 

People were amazed B)

 

I cannot count how many people have asked me if I melt the steel to make a knife, admittedly younger people

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I always liked the kids (and adults for that matter) that watched what I was doing at the forge with serious curiosity, asked good questions, and had that "I'd love to learn this" look in their eyes.

 

I always dreaded the ones that said "can you make a sword like in Minecraft?"

 

We were doing a Christmas garrison one year and it was below freezing that evening. One of the visitors asked if the ice on top of the water buckets was real or if we had brought it in. Also heard people ask if we actually ate the food we were cooking over a fire.

 

 

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16 hours ago, Geoff Keyes said:

I don't know that this is true, but I have heard that in the Colonial period they would burn down buildings to recover the nails and other hardware.

 

g

 

That's one of those things "they" always say, but there are no actual records of having happened.  There was, however, a law enacted by the Virginia House of Burgesses in the mid-1600s making it a crime to do so, so it must have happened at least once to annoy people enough to criminalize it. These very early settlements did use a lot of nails, all imported ready-made, and were built as timber frame structures sheathed in boards or, more rarely, wattle and daub, and were placed very close together for defensive purposes.  Burning one for the nails and hardware would have constituted a hazard to the whole community, thus the law against it.  

By the 1750s in the southern colonies, houses and other structures away from the coast were almost uniformly built of logs (another long and interesting story of how that came about for another day), and used comparatively few nails.  By the time the house at the site I mention was built (supposedly 1779), a good cabin builder could produce an entire four-room house using not one single nail.  Everything was notched, pegged, tenoned, and otherwise joined without metal.  All you needed was an axe to build a crude cabin. An axe, broadaxe, saw, and froe for a top-notch (no pun intended) cabin.  

 

16 hours ago, Doug Lester said:

Another thing just struck me.  What did it take to move an anchor chain that size to the anchor locker locker on the ship that they were building?  I know that they had steam powered winches to lift it but what kind of a cart was needed to move the chain with?

 

Doug

 

That would have been made in the shipyard or close enough to be moved by water.  The entire concept of labor was different then.  I was once having a pint with an old gentleman from Wolverhampton in the Black Country, and we got to talking about the industrial history of the area and the infrastructure involved.  That started when he told me where he lived, and I said "Hey, my anvil was made just over the hill in Dudley!"  Extremely long story short, the greater Birmingham area has around 250 miles of canals that served the forging and fabrication industries, and connected with the national canal network by which any amount of heavy stuff could be shipped by water to Liverpool, Belfast (in the case of the Titanic), Bristol, London, and so on.  The boats were 6'9" wide and up to 70 feet long, capable of holding upwards of 100 tons, pulled by a single (large) horse. Looks like three of those links would be a ton or so.  Anchor chain at that time generally came in lengths of 50 fathoms (300 feet), and if more was needed two lengths would be joined with a shackle on board ship.  Those three links are about one fathom, so it occurs to me that the length of a shot of chain may have been determined by the capacity of the boat that transported it...

 

This gentleman then told me about how, within his memory, one of the boilermaking houses would regularly build giant boilers for ships under construction on the Mersey.  The boilers were too big for the doorways, so every few months as one was completed they'd just knock the end wall out of the shop, extract the boiler, and rebuild the wall.  In brick.  The boilers went by rail, as the canal tunnels and bridges were too small to allow passage.

 

8 hours ago, Gerhard Gerber said:

I cannot count how many people have asked me if I melt the steel to make a knife, admittedly younger people

 

I get that about my hawk heads all the time, often from professors...

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