Ushers Ferry blacksmith shop offers students a chance to practice historic craft

“It is an appreciation of how things used to be done”

Published: March 22 2014 | 8:00 am - Updated: 1 April 2014 | 10:00 am in

Yesterday afternoon, the uncommon sound of steel striking steel could be heard ringing through the Ushers Ferry Historic Village, west of Edgewood Road in Cedar Rapids.

The village’s blacksmith shop was damaged during the historic 2008 flood, and while the shop has been operational since the fall of 2012, yesterday marked the first publicly available class in blacksmithing since the waters receded.

The seven students in attendance — most of high school age — practiced heating steel bars to temperatures reaching 1,800 degrees Fahrenheit, before hammering the glowing orange bars into an “S” shape.

“It is an appreciation of how things used to be done,” said Rich Dykema, a volunteer instructor with more than 10 years of blacksmithing experience.  “And some of the genius that went into metal working before power tools.”

Dykema, who used the village’s forge prior to the flood, remembers the damage the shop endured.

“I know when I went up there after the flood, there was field trash up in the attic,” he said. “That is a good eight feet off the ground.”

But thanks to hours of volunteer labor from various groups, structures like the workbench and coal box were rebuilt, and the forge cleaned out, making it available to new fledgling blacksmiths like Will Dragon.

“I always read about it in books,” said the 15-year-old Mount Vernon High School student, fresh from pounding a neat curve into a steel rod. “I thought it might be kind of cool to try it out and see what it is really like.”

And while Dragon is among the first in the area to experience the newly renovated forge, Teresa White, the Ushers Ferry program supervisor said she is hopeful that similar classes will be available in the future.

"It is really unique to have it out here," she said. "So we are looking forward to promote."

NOTE - A second class is available Saturday, March 22. Registration is required, and information regarding registration can be found at  www.crrec.org

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