Friday, February 14, 2014

Blacksmithing at Mojave River Valley Museum

An old blacksmith's shop is the newest exhibit at the Mojave River Valley Museum.

By Trevor Summons
The San Bernardino Sun

I was leaving the city of Barstow the other day, when I thought that I would just stop in at the Mojave River Valley Museum. It had been two years since I went there and it’s always an interesting place to visit.

I was glad that I did as the president of the organization, Robert Hilburn, was on hand to show me their latest acquisition. It was a blacksmith shop that originated in the 19th century and was now in full operation again.

Initially, I was surprised because I expected to see a large fire in a corner, but the shop here has a wheelbarrow-type container that was the main fire source.

“We use a mixture of coal and coke,” Hilburn explained.

He himself is an experienced metal worker and knows about the blacksmithing art.

“Coal burns hot, but then there is charcoal that burns even hotter,” he explained. “For the best heat you have to have coke.”

Coke is a refined form of coal that has had the impurities removed. When a current of air is passed through the burning embers, the heat intensifies enough that metal can be worked and reformed.

Hilburn puts on regular demonstrations in this compact workshop, but for my interest, he showed me some tricks with cold metal.

Rolling a rod of metal on an anvil, he showed me how a blacksmith would hit the rod where the light shines beneath it.

“That’s where the term ‘beating the daylights (out of you)’ came from,” he said.

The Mojave River Valley Museum is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year.

Before the collection exhibits were gathered, most of the items were stored in people’s garages. An offer from the San Bernardino Museum allowed the use of a building, the writing of a catalog and storage of a wide range of artifacts.

If you would like to see a demonstration of the blacksmith’s work then it’s necessary to make an appointment. They will be happy to oblige.