Forging fun at Frontier Days

Jeremy Hobmeier was sweating a bit Saturday at the annual Frontier Days celebration at the Fort Museum. It’s hard not to when you’re spending the day alternating between standing next to a hot, coal-fired forge and hitting red-hot pieces of iron with a rather heavy hammer.

Hobmeier is fairly new to blacksmithing. He’s only been at it since December.

And what was his inspiration?

“I watched an Amish blacksmith working,” he said. “That gave me the bug.”

After he acquired some tools, he began working teaching himself the craft.

“I just went out and hammered things,” he said.

Saturday, among other projects, he was making S hooks. They are created from a piece of 1/4-inch square bar stock that he twists, bends and flattens.

He enjoys working in front of the public and answering questions.

“It helps me to learn,” he said. “It’s a lifelong learning experience.”

When he finished one of them, he gave it away. Valerie Kittleson, of Clare, got to take it home.

“I think we might have to get a plant to hang on this,” she said.

Kittleson liked the samples of his work, which included various cooking sets for camp fires.

“We might have him make us some,” she said.

Hobmeier’s mom, Susan Hobmeier, was on hand to watch and help. She said blacksmithing is part of the family heritage.

“His great-grandfather came over from Denmark,” she said. “That was his trade.”

While she’s proud of her son’s work, she’s still not the owner of one of the pot scrapers he makes.

“I’m paying you,” she said. “Make me one.”

Maybe he can fit it in – or not.

“I still don’t have one,” she joked.

Aubri and Joerg Rochlitzer, of Wellsburg, were staffing the printing shop in period costume.

Joerg Rochlitzer’s research has uncovered a bit of history about the hand-cranked 1873 vintage press.

“It may be from The Messenger,” he said.

A couple working side by side in a shop would not have been out of place on the frontier.

“She would operate the press like me, she would be a typist, the typesetter, the photographer and the journalist,” he said.

In other words, the work would be divided equally.

“It was very normal actually,” Jorge Rochlitzer said. “It was completely equal.”

While women may not have been allowed some of those jobs in more settled parts of the country at the time, on the expanding frontier, there was a simple reason why the discrimination wasn’t there.

There simply were not enough people. Everyone, regardless of gender or age, had to work.

“It had to be done,” he said.

Of course, getting sick on the frontier was an experience that most would not want to have.

John Bonner, of Vincent, was on hand with his collection of vintage medical instruments and the book that tells him how to use them, the 1832 published “Manual of Surgery.”

He said that people usually react in one of two ways to the collection.

“Some of them go ‘Oh my God, gross, I can’t imagine that,’ or they go ‘That’s really neat, we’ve come a long way,'” he said.

While some of the tools he owns look medieval or at the very least, something from a horror movie, many of them would be immediately recognized by a modern physician or dentist.

There is one key difference.

“They use anesthesia,” he said.

One of the first of those, ether, was often abused, poorly dosed and sometimes, because of the perceived problems, even denied to wounded soldiers.

He said that those put under by the drug would often scream. It wasn’t from pain though. It was from a hallucination the patient would suffer right before going under and right as they woke up.

“It wasn’t the pain,” Bonner said. “It was the green monster.”

Don Riedinger, of Fort Dodge, wasn’t seeing any green monsters. He did, however, see some of the green he brought with him to the celebration disappearing.

“I got a dollar left,” he said after visiting several food stands. “I’ve got to find a place to spend a dollar.”

Frontier Days continues today from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Fort Museum. Admission is $5 per person for a wristband that was good for all three days of the events.