RICES LANDING — On Saturday, April 16, as many as 10 blacksmiths with many more tailgating with their anvils and tongs on the grounds will converge in Rices Landing for the annual Hammer-In.
Starting at 9 a.m. and continuing throughout the day till 5 p.m., the blacksmiths will demonstrate their craft that was so essential to rural life in the 19th century and before. Some will also set up shop to sell everything from hooks, trivets and ornamental animals to hinges and elements for railings, doors and gate latches.
Farriers from the Fort Allen crew of the Pittsburgh Area Artist Blacksmith Association and members of the Appalachian Blacksmiths Association headquartered in Morgantown will add to the number of smithies attending the popular event, held annually at the W.A. Young and Sons Foundry and Machine Shop in Rices Landing.
“Throughout the day, as many as 10 blacksmith will demonstrate their skills, including Tim Schiffbauer of Morgantown and Gary Sriver of Waynesburg,” said George Blystone, the foundry and machine shop caretaker.
There will be more to the Hammer-In, which is free and open to the public, than blacksmithing and anvil pounding. Blystone will also operate the antique machinery left behind intact when the owners closed their doors in 1969 due to a lack of business.
“Basically, they just locked up and left,” said Blystone, who will discuss the machinery operations and answer questions about the antique lathes, pipe threaders, presses and shapers that are still operational.
We’ll also be running several machines that haven’t been operated for at least 20 years.”
One of these, a metal planing machine, will plane coal grates throughout the day for locomotive #58, housed at the Youngstown Steel Museum in Youngstown, Ohio.
The local Boy Scout troop based in Rices Landing will also sell food, such as hot dogs, hamburgers, potato salad and cake, and at 1 p.m. a live auction will feature the sale of duplicate relics from the foundry as well as items the blacksmiths and others bring to the Hammer-In. All proceeds from the auction will go toward restoring the foundry and machine shop as will any donations received from the public throughout the day.
Last year’s improvement to the foundry included raising the entrance 3 inches, and pouring in a new footer and adding new siding to the front portion of the building. This year, work will consist of restoring the old windows and adding new siding to the other sections of the building.
“We took pieces of the old siding to a mill and had them replicate the original to make the restored building look as authentic as possible,” Blystone said.
Via a set of stairs, the public will also be able to see the second floor, which holds a hardware store, office and pattern shop, all built in 1900. Although the foundry and machine shop is equipped with an old, hand-operated, rope-driven Otis elevator, it is unusable to transport people between the first and second floors because of safety concerns.
At this time, the second floor is not handicapped accessible, but plans are being made to videotape the upper floor and screen the video on the ground floor for those unable to navigate the stairs.
Those who might not be able to make the Hammer-In but who would still like to see the machinery operate can visit the foundry every Sunday from noon to 4 p.m. There is no admission charge to the foundry, although donations will be accepted. For more information, call 724-710-4898.
Currently, the Rivers of Steel National Heritage Area, an historic preservation organization based in Homestead, owns the foundry and machine shop. Rivers of Steel would eventually like to open the foundry to the public on a more frequent basis, build a dock on the river for patrons arriving by boat and install a gift shop.
According to Blystone, the Young family started their enterprise in Rices Landing along the Monongahela River in 1900 with a machine shop. Mr. Young, a pattern maker of parts for paddlewheelers and coal mine and other industrial machinery, later added a forging area to the two story building. The foundry came along in 1930 and was used to cast gears, wheels and grating for riverboat boilers.
“Originally, the shop operated by firing up a boiler, but the owners installed an electric motor in the 1920s to run the machinery and forge,” Blystone said.
After the enterprise closed in 1969, George Kelly, a Waynesburg mechanic, and Farley Toothman, a Greene County judge, reopened the doors around 1972 after getting the key from the family, who wanted to put the building to good use.
“Looking the place over, they noticed the electricity had been pulled out of the building, except for infrastructure for turning on the lights,” Blystone said. “Over a period of years, Kelly reconnected the electricity and eventually got the belts and machinery running again. Everything I learned about the equipment and machinery, I learned from him.”
Last year, 266 people visited the foundry during the Hammer-In. This year, organizers are hoping for an even larger crowd.
“The event is a great experience for children as well as adults,” Blystone said. “Just come on down and enjoy.”