This article originally appeared in the Garland/Mesquite section of The Dallas Morning News on Sept. 22, 1995.


By Michael R. Hayslip

In real-horse-powered times a good blacksmith was at least as essential as an automobile mechanic of today. In fact, when automobiles appeared, the “smithy” was often the only mechanic available, applying his metallurgical skill with a seasoning of common sense. The more creative artisans fashioned hardware and decorative items as well.

Wrought iron was the blacksmith’s raw material. While cast iron products, created with metal of high carbon content, tended to be hard and brittle, wrought iron was almost carbon-free, giving it malleability, particularly under extreme heat. In a blacksmith shop that heat was generated in a forge, which in this area was a wood-fired oven whose fire was superheated by oxygen forced in by a bellows, or air pump.

Manipulated with tongs and hammers, which formed and shaped the metal against the contours of an anvil, hot iron yielded itself to many and divers designs. Hammering flattened the crystalline structure of the material into a linear grain pattern, so that it could bend without breaking. Wrought iron could also be cut, by hammering it against a sharp edge, or welded, by hammering heated edges together. All this was accomplished without the aid of acetylene or electric arc.

Pumping the bellows while heating the material, holding hot iron while wielding the hammer and dragging heavy objects about usually required more than one man, even a strong one. The blacksmith’s helper was known as a “striker,” since he frequently swung the hammer as directed by the smithy, who held the work piece from the opposite side of the anvil. The striker also built the fire for the forge and managed the tools.

Around the turn of the century Rowlett’s black smithing was practiced by George Drum, also a local farmer who had transplanted his family from Pennsylvania after the Civil War.  George Francis (or Francis George, depending on the resource) Drum (1847-1914) had taken root in these parts about 1878, still limping from a hip wound sustained while fighting with his Pennsylvania cavalry unit in the Union Army. Presumably he had arrived here with sufficient tools and talents to make himself useful to the Confederate neighbors who needed his help.

According to the account of Miss Irma Buhler, writing in 1912 for the Silver Anniversary Edition of the Garland News, the first Rowlett blacksmith was Charles Warren, who was succeeded in that capacity by Page and Coldwell, Ben Page and then Drum. Sometime prior to 1912 Drum had sold out to a G. Shipley, but the shop remained in its location on the north side of Main Street, where the Farmers’ Market now stands.

Despite calls for wagon repair and hardware needs, the staple of a blacksmith’s business was shoeing horses. Although no record exists of when Drum’s first local work was performed or what it created, the event may have even pre-dated the founding of Rowlett itself, which occurred after 1886 and the arrival of Katy railroad.

Besides his home settlement of Liberty Grove, Drum’s trade area would have included early farm communities such as Pleasant Valley, Cottonwood, Tuckerville, Morris and, if a problem were not too serious to risk the distance, even Centerville and Rose Hill to the south.  All of these are now incorporated into the present boundaries of either Rowlett or Garland.

Aside from do-it-yourselfers, the closest and stiffest competition would have come from Garland, whose town census of 1900 boasted four blacksmiths and two wheelwrights living inside the city limits. As the title implies, the wheelwright concentrated his efforts upon the wooden parts of wheels, buggies and other implements for which wood and iron were both employed in parts. In cases where demand was insufficient for both a wheelwright and a blacksmith, the smithy frequently marshaled his skills in carpentry and performed both functions.

Photo not available


Photo caption:

George Drum shoes a horse at his blacksmith shop in Rowlett about 1900. Apparently, he also repaired wagon wheels (background). Included in the tool box beside him would have been hammers, puncheons and tongs of various shapes, as well as parting tools for trimming the horse’s hoofs.

Photo courtesy Earl Hammond.