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I Forge Iron




S0021 Grandpa's Anvil

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IForgeIron Stories
Copyright 2002 - 2007 IFORGEIRON, All rights reserved.

S0021 Grandpa's Anvil
by Gerald Franklin

Aubrey Fox walked toward the wagon where his brother waited, ready for the signal to pull out. Aubrey said, "Just take it easy, Jamey, we ain't leaving with the train."

"Not leaving? How come?"

"Captain VanDyke wants us to build a new heel chain clevis for the Willis rig. It pulled in two as he was coming up to get in line. The captain is pretty mad."

"I'll bet he is," Jamey said. "He is always on everybody about checking things."

As they climbed aboard their wagon, Captain VanDyke rode up on his big dun gelding. "Aubrey, you and Jamey will have to take Willis under your wing. He's a storekeeper, not a muleskinner. I'd be obliged if you'd check his rig pretty close while you're fixing that clevis. I don't like surprises like this."

"We'll check him close, Cap'n, but we will have to build him another clevis. I looked at it and the old one is wore plumb through. We can't weld it without charcoal. These chip fires don't get hot enough."

"Well, do what you can. You and Willis can catch up to the train pretty quick with your mules. I have to get the train moving or we won't make the Register Cliffs by dark. There's timber there and we will stay long enough for you boys to burn some charcoal. We're bound to need it sooner or later"

"Alright, Cap'n," Aubrey said. "We'll see what we can do."

VanDyke started to ride away, then stopped and said, "I've told two of the scouts to lag back to keep an eye on you and Willis. They are riding a loop on our back trail from yesterday. They'll be back before you're ready to pull out. Keep your eyes peeled. They can't see everything."

"You bet, Cap'n," Aubrey said. He clucked to the mules and headed toward the Willis wagon.

Jamey said, "It'll be good to burn some charcoal. Buffalo chips is alright for making coffee, but poor for iron work."

"We'll have to make it work, Jamey. When we get over there, we'll need that small anvil of Grandpa's, and the hand bellows. Don't worry about unloading the big anvil."

While Aubrey coached Willis through building up the breakfast fire, Jamey climbed into the wagon and loosened the clamps on the smaller of the two anvils they were carrying. He liked the smaller anvil even though, at less than a hundred pounds, it was thought to be too light for serious work. Both he and Aubrey had learned their craft on that anvil and Grandpa had given it to them when he got too old to work. Jamey wrestled the anvil from its clamps on the floor of the wagon bed and slid it toward the open tailgate. He pushed the small hand bellows and a toolbox toward the rear of the wagon and jumped to the ground.

Aubrey returned to the wagon and said, "I'll need a piece of that iron strap that we cut from old man Parker's stove. It's not the best thing to forge this clevis from, but it will have to do. I'll take the anvil, you bring the rest of the stuff."

"Does Willis have enough chips for the fire," Jamey asked.

"Yes, but take him the bellows first thing and show him how to use it so he doesn't burn the snout off it. You have to watch him close, he ain't much of a hand."

As Aubrey and Jamey set up their equipment beside Willis' fire, the last of the wagons bumped across the shallow creek and disappeared over a small rise. Most of the wagons were pulled by oxen, a few by mules. To an observer not with the train, it moved surprisingly fast. If you were with the train, eating dust, the pace was painfully slow behind the lumbering oxen. Aubrey was anxious to get the Willis wagon rolling again so that they could catch up with the train. He felt jumpy being separated from the group.

The buffalo chip fire glowed as the bellows blew air into it. Aubrey heated a piece of iron and forged it into a clevis that was close to the size of the original. As Jamey helped Willis hitch up and prepare to move, Aubrey inspected the wagon and harness. He made note of a few items that needed repair, but nothing that couldn't wait until they got to Register Cliffs.

When he was finished checking the wagon, Aubrey announced, "Alright, Mr. Willis, you should be ready to go. Jamey and I will load up and "

A rider coming from the northeast distracted him. Aubrey recognized him as Bill Plummer, one of the wagon scouts. He appeared to be in a great hurry as he spurred toward the campsite.

"Come on, Jamey. Let's get this stuff in the wagon. Plummer has bad news, I think," Aubrey said.

They tossed tools and materials into their wagon as Bill Plummer's horse slid to a halt between the wagons.

"Get them wagons moving. There's about eight or ten Injuns three rises over. Headed this way. Let's go boys, make tracks."

Jamey and Aubrey both grabbed Grandpa's anvil and lifted it onto the wagon bed. Not waiting for another invitation to get moving Willis headed for the creek at a good clip.

Aubrey said, "Just shut the tailgate, don't worry about clamping the anvil down. There's no time." He bolted for the wagon seat as Jamey came around the other side of the wagon. They hollered at the four big mules who lurched against the traces.

"Let's go, boys. Whup them mules on the hairy side or them Arapahoes will have them for supper," shouted Bill Plummer. "I'll ride back for a look. You boys just GO."

Aubrey slapped the mules into a run. As they approached the creek, Jamey yelled, “Too fast. You'll turn us over.”

Aubrey sawed at the lines trying to slow the mules. He managed to pull them back into a high trot, still too fast, but maybe they would stay upright. Water sprayed them as the mules entered the shallow water. The frightened team lurched toward the far bank of the creek as Bill Plummer returned from looking over the hill. The wagon bumped and bucked over the rocky creek bed.

Plummer was hollering them on. “Keep ‘em moving, boys. They're just two rises away.”

The mules sped up when their feet hit solid ground at the far bank of the creek. Aubrey tugged at the lines to slow them down, but the spooked animals hit the dry bank at a lope. The front wheels of the wagon left the ground as they cleared the sharp lip of the creek bank. Aubrey went to his feet and started over the dashboard of the careening wagon. He was dangerously close to going over when Jamey grabbed the seat of his britches with a free hand. Both men recoiled toward the back of the wagon as the rear wheels hit the creek bank. A sharp KE-RACK came from the tailgate as the loose anvil crashed against it, splintering the wood. As the wagon hit the ground, the tailgate dropped open, and the anvil tumbled out and down to the water.

“The anvil,” Jamey screamed. “We lost it.”

Aubrey had the mules at a dead run, now. Bill Plummer was along side pointing toward the other wagon scout who was coming toward them from the north. They were gaining on the Willis wagon whose mules were beginning to tire.

“Aubrey, its the anvil. Stop, for God's sake.”

Bill Plummer got the drift of what Jamey was saying. He pointed at Aubrey and hollered, “Forget that durn thing, it ain't worth it.”

Aubrey shouted at Jamey, “Get back there and hang on to things, we'll lose everything.”

Jamey scrambled over the seat into the swaying wagon bed. Dust choked him as it drafted up from behind the fallen tailgate. He managed to grab the loose bellows and kicked the tools that had spilled from the overturned toolbox toward the front of the wagon. He gazed back toward the creek where Grandpa's anvil lay in the shallow water.

* * *

Brian Ward squinted into the bright sun. Diesel smoke belched as he sunk the bucket of his backhoe into the gravel and muck of Antelope Creek. He hadn't really wanted to work this Saturday, but he needed the overtime. Platte County didn't pay a lot of overtime but the spring thaw had clogged a lot of culverts, particularly along the usually slow moving creeks and all crews were busy.

Ray Meadows, the mechanic, watched as Brian made a few passes with the hoe. They had just replaced a blown hydraulic hose and Ray didn't want to leave until he was sure the hose didn't leak under pressure. He was putting tools back into his truck when he heard Brian's machine idle down.

Brian jumped from the backhoe. “Hey, Ray. I got something here.”

“What is it?”

“Looks like an anvil. Help me drag it out,” Brian said, splashing into the shallow water. He was standing the old anvil on end as Ray waded in to help.

By the time they wrestled the anvil to the bank, Brian was jabbering like a kid at Christmas. “Boy, my Grandpa is gonna love this,” he said. “He's a nut over this stuff.”

“How old is it?” Ray asked.

“I don't have a clue, but Grandpa will know. He has a bunch of them.”

“Old Fred Clark in town will probably buy it from you,” Ray said.

“No way I'll sell this, man. Help me get it to the truck. This is gonna be Grandpa's anvil.”

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