Portable Blacksmith Shop Brings Old Trade to Shows

A mobile blacksmith shop made from parts from a hog-moving trailer and lumber from an old barn helps preserve an old craft at a nearby show.

| July 2016

  • The interior of Larry Whitesell’s portable blacksmith shop is surprisingly spacious.
    Photo by Chad Ramsey
  • Larry made repairs to this wagon wheel, although such work typically falls under the wheelwright’s umbrella.
    Photo by Larry Whitesell
  • These letter openers were handmade from 3/8-inch square stock. Getting the blade to look like this, however, either requires a lot of filing and sanding or the use of a belt grinder and polisher. Some smiths use modern equipment in their craft; others prefer to do it all the old-fashioned way.
    Photo by Larry Whitesell
  • This chandelier was a group project for members of a satellite blacksmith group.
    Photo by Larry Whitesell
  • Larry, pulling his portable shop onto the show grounds.
    Photo by Glenda Whitesell
  • Produced on the forge, this trivet can be used to hold a dish hot from the oven, or as a support for a pot when cooking over an open flame.
    Photo by Larry Whitesell
  • Larry, in the process of rolling a tire.
    Photo by Larry Whitesell

At the Mid-America Threshing & Antiques Show held every August in Tipton, Indiana, this country’s agricultural heritage comes back to life through demonstrations and displays. Events like this are held all over the U.S., giving enthusiasts ample opportunity to attend and get involved in preserving traditional agricultural practices and equipment.

Several years ago, I decided that I would demonstrate the blacksmith trade at the show in Tipton. After loading, hauling, unloading, setting up, demonstrating, loading, hauling, unloading and putting the display away each year, I began to consider the merits of a portable blacksmith shop. It increasingly seemed that the demonstration itself had become the lesser part of the operation.

Compact size correlates to shops of the past

I purchased an old hog-moving trailer for the frame and hydraulic system and an old barn that I tore down for the lumber. I think my neighbors thought I had lost it when I started building this 10- by-20-foot building in front of the main door to my main shop. Later, they learned it would be portable. When it’s time to head to the show, I simply back up my tractor, hook to the drawbar and connect a hydraulic line. Up it comes and I’m ready to go.

In terms of size, the shop is as big as a lot of shops were many years ago. It has a line shaft that powers a Hawkeye helve hammer and a post drill. It’s also equipped with a forge, anvil, vise, slack tank and many other items found in a blacksmith shop. When it is set up like this, the trailer’s wheels are hidden under workbenches on either side.

The shop is very heavy, so I don’t go very fast when I’m moving it. It’s good that I live only a few miles from the site where the show is held. Once I get to a spot that looks pretty level, I just let it down to sit flat on the ground. Then I unhook the tractor and throw a piece of binder canvas over the hitch to camouflage it. A metal wall on one side is hinged at the top; it swings out to make a shed roof, almost doubling available workspace. Two columns drop down by removing a wooden peg, creating a nice area for spectators to be sheltered from sun or rain.

Smith looms large in memories

The first few years I took the shop to the show, people were more interested in how I moved it than they were in blacksmithing. But it’s always fun to talk to folks who come to watch the demonstration. If I see elderly persons approaching, I can almost bet what they are going to say. Almost without fail they will remember going to the blacksmith shop with either their dad or granddad when they were young, generally to have plowshares sharpened.

6/19/2018 12:56:00 PM

I dreamed of doing this when I retired:(:(:(:( Traveling to fairs in New England... Ha, I can't even swing a hammer today:(:(:( I truly wore myself out...………..

6/19/2018 12:55:40 PM

I dreamed of doing this when I retired:(:(:(:( Traveling to fairs in New England... Ha, I can't even swing a hammer today:(:(:( I truly wore myself out...………..


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