Ornamental Iron Gates
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Volume: 1, Issue: 2, Month: June 2005

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Blacksmiths of Walnut Grove Pioneer Village

Friday, May 27th, 2005, Local blacksmiths keep trade of the past alive, By David Burke

A sense of becoming too familiar with modern life led Bob Tuftee to take up blacksmithing more than 25 years ago. We do stuff the modern way, but are we any better than the blacksmiths? I asked the 54-year-old Bettendorf man, who works at a millwright and general mechanic at Alcoa Davenport Works. I work with steel, the modern way, welding and stuff, and I couldn’t do it the old way.

It was a challenge at first to see how they did it the old way.

Dan Dirksen, Riverdale, Iowa, pulls a piece of hot iron from the fire while working in the blacksmith shop at the Walnut Grove Pioneer Village at Scott County Park.

Tuftee has gone from buying his own forge more than a quarter-century ago to becoming a resident blacksmith at Walnut Grove Pioneer Village at Scott County Park. He demonstrates blacksmithing to tour groups, school field trips and to visitors this Sunday and Monday at the village’s annual Heritage Days.

An estimated 2,500 people will make their way to the village, north of Park View, Iowa, for re-creations of shootouts and bank robberies by the Wapsi Wranglers, a petting zoo, pony rides, kids games and crafts, and the Bison Saloon and Walnut Grove Soda Fountain. Music will be performed, and crafts demonstrated throughout the days.

Tuftee is also on the board of the Upper Midwest Blacksmiths Association, and assisted in re-establishing a blacksmith stop at Galena, Ill. It’s a hobby that got out of hand, he said with a laugh, as he pounded out hot metal over an anvil in the blacksmith building, originally built in about 1860.

Tuftee is among about a half-dozen blacksmiths in the Quad-City area. He’s recruited others to join him, including Dan Dirksen of Riverdale, Iowa, a deputy with the Scott County sheriff’s department.

Dirksen started taking classes three years ago, just making stuff out of hot metal.Today, he gives demonstrations to tour groups, especially wide-eyed kids.

A nail only takes a couple of minutes to make. Their attention span is good enough to watch a nail,” Dirksen said. “People like to see you make something from start to finish, so it needs to be pretty quick.

Welding isn’t child’s play, Tuftee said, but there are some childhood aspects to it.

You can become a kid again, because you get to play in dirt, play in fire and play with water,” Tuftee said. “All the things you can’t do when you’re little.

The welding shop is a popular stop for those taking a tour of the 18 historic buildings, said Tara Youngers, site coordinator.

Some tourists just come out and look at the buildings, others do a little more, she said.

Visitors can watch as Tuftee stokes the fire to get coal to temperatures as hot as 2,300 degrees. (That’s white hot 2,000 degrees is only red-hot.)

The only danger is having too many irons in the fire , get the meaning of that cliche now? which decreases the ability to get individual irons heated.

He’ll rhythmically take the hammer to the anvil to pound out anything from functional to decorative pieces.

What do you need? he answers when asked what he makes. “Anything but horseshoes. That’s a ferrier’s job.”

Tuftee said he’s becoming more interested in decorative works. He plans on making an iron snowman this fall and winter, and he’s been inspired by welded versions of tennis shoes, skirts and pillows.

It’s mindboggling what they can do, he said. You go home and realize, ‘I really don’t know that much.’

Tuftee said he’s far from mastered the art and craft of blacksmithing.

Every time you light the fire and every time you get into it, you learn something, he said.

May 28, 2005=HOME


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