The Hunting Knife

Lessons from the blacksmith’s shop survive passage of time


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At left, Doc Brassfield Chambers

At left, Doc Brassfield Chambers.

Image courtesy Gary Chambers

As a boy, Gary Chambers spent summers with his grandfather, Doc Brassfield Chambers, in Cleveland, S.C. During those summers more than half a century ago, Gary worked at the steam-powered sawmill his grandfather managed. His recollections capture the end of an era when steam fueled agriculture and industry in America.  

It was summer vacation again and time to go to Grandpa’s house in South Carolina. I was 13 years old and packed up and ready to get on the Greyhound and take the big journey. It was a long ride and I must admit I slept most of the way. I took a large bag with sandwiches, fruit and a few candy bars that Mom had made for me. She knew I would get carsick if I didn’t keep a full stomach.

The trip took overnight to the late afternoon and Grandpa was the first person I saw when I got off the Bus. His full name was Doc Brassfield Chambers. He was tall and slender and always wore a Stetson hat and a white shirt with black suspenders to hold his black dress pants up. He wore shiny black lace up high top shoes. He hardly ever smiled but had a slight smile on his face when I looked at him. He was the type of man that you listened to and never talked to unless asked.

We arrived in Cleveland just before dark. Grandpa’s house set high on a hill. The house was painted white; in fact, it was the only painted house in Cleveland. The house had a big front porch that looked over the valley and the main focal point was the sawmill that towered over the two-lane highway.  

I got the bedroom with the window looking out to the front porch. Grandpa said I had better get to sleep because we had to get to work in the morning. The next thing I heard was “up and at ’em.” It was six o’clock in the morning. I could smell bacon and coffee. Miss Denton was Grandpa’s housekeeper. She was a widow woman who lived next door and cleaned and cooked for Grandpa. She was a chubby, short woman, always smiling and laughing.

I got into my jeans and khaki shirt and laced up my work boots. I walked in the kitchen and “Miss DD,” as I called her, gave me a big hug and said I must have grown another foot since last summer. Grandpa was reading the morning paper and had waited for me to sit down before saying morning prayer. Miss DD would always stand in front of the stove and lower her head and say “amen.” The table was decked with a big platter of bacon, fresh homemade biscuits, a bowl of sawmill white gravy and a plate of farm-fresh fried eggs. I had a big glass of milk and a small bowl of applesauce for desert. Grandpa always ate a ripe tomato with his breakfast.