Time stands still at foundry in Greene County

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"If you were knocked out and opened your eyes, you'd think you had been in a time machine," Chris Holt says of the experience of walking into the W.A. Young & Sons Foundry and Machine Shop in Rices Landing, Greene County. "The tools are still there, time sheets, uniforms hanging up."

Today from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., the 25th annual Hammer-In will be held at the facility managed by the Rivers of Steel National Heritage Corp. Blacksmithing demonstrations and foundry tours will be given, and an auction will begin at 1 p.m. Admission is free.

Event co-hosts are the Appalachian Blacksmiths Association and the Pittsburgh Area Artist-Blacksmiths Association, represented by members of the Fort Allen Antique Farm Equipment Association in Scottdale.

Fort Allen members Ed Appleby, Wayne Kelly and Terry Viviani will demonstrate from 9 a.m. to noon. From 2 to 4 p.m., demonstrators will include Tim Schiffbauer of Morgantown, W.Va., president of the Appalachian Blacksmiths Association.

The Rices Landing Volunteer Fire Department will sell refreshments, including hot dogs and hamburgers. "The morning coffee is the most important thing on the menu," quips Ms. Holt, who is a blacksmith and secretary of the Pittsburgh association. Visitors are invited to bring fishing equipment and fish from the nearby pier.

William Young built his shop on the banks of the Monongahela River in 1900. When his descendents closed the business in the 1960s, they left the machinery in place, preferring that to auctioning it off. The building holds 25 operational machines, some pre-dating the building.

"What makes this very unique is that it is a line shaft-driven machine shop," Ms. Holt says.

"The machines are powered by an intricate system of leather belts and wooden pulleys mounted to the ceiling that were originally operated by a single steam engine and now are run by a gasoline engine," according to an Appalachian Blacksmiths Association article. "The foundry section of the building includes the original coke furnace and metal ladles.

"Wooden forms that were once used to make molds, including a large form believed to have been created for a gear on a river lock, still sit as they were left many years earlier."

The Greene County Historical Society purchased the building 20 years after it closed, and in 2009 Rivers of Steel took it over, replacing the roof and updating the electrical system.

The auction of unique ironwork items donated by the blacksmiths benefits the foundry and the blacksmith associations. "There will be tools of interest to blacksmiths," Ms. Holt says, "but also wonderful decorative items like a steak turner, garden hooks, a foot scraper ... from the heart and hearth of the forge.

"We'd like people to experience what a hand-forged item is, compared to something manufactured overseas that's quick and dirty, just pushed out and bent. There's a real quality to these things made from a raw piece of steel. And they're American-made."

The blacksmith associations involved used to take part in the annual hammer-in at Touchstone Center for Crafts in Farmington, but the Fayette County facility adopted a different format five years ago, Ms. Holt says. "There's no comparison. They are a state-of-the-art educational site. This is a regular shop that's caught in time."

Students take blacksmithing classes at Touchstone while visitors observe at the foundry. The Touchstone Hammer-In will be held May 4-5. Registration packages, which include tuition, materials fees, lectures and events, and offer meals and lodging, run from $45 to $115. Information: http://touchstonecrafts.org or 800-721-0177.)

Tours of the Greene County foundry and machine shop may be arranged throughout the year, but the hammer-in is the largest and most popular event, Ms. Holt says. The Foundry address is 120 Water St., Rices Landing 15357. Information: 724-774-6757.


Post-Gazette art critic Mary Thomas: mthomas@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1925.


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