Prairie Blacksmiths keep trade alive at Steele City Blacksmith Shop

The Prairie Blacksmiths Association demonstrates how to make items with old-fashioned tactics. Their goal is to teach the next generations the art of blacksmithing.
Published: Sep. 19, 2023 at 10:44 AM CDT
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LINCOLN, Neb. (KOLN) - For over a century, two familiar sounds have echoed across Steele City: the rumbling train and clanging hammers. The sound of metal hitting metal is still here today because of the Prairie Blacksmiths Association.

They operate in Steele City’s Blacksmith Shop that was built in 1900.

“We’re mostly making quick, demonstration projects so people can get in and see a good handle on what goes into a project,” said Jared Russell, a Prairie Blacksmiths member. “A lot of them are surprised to see how long it takes before we actually do something.”

Russell joined the group in 2018 after he serving in the military. He moved to Steele City, and the locals recommended he become a part of it. Since then, he’s crafted items as simple as a nail and as complicated as a flintlock and barrel for a gun.

“Initially, I learned form YouTube, and some books. But I tell you it was a big jump getting to talk to some other people that were more experienced in the craft than me,” Russel said.

His YouTube channel is called Veteran Iron&Oudoors. But he’s learned from other blacksmiths who craft candle holders, fire pokers and hat hangers. One of the members even crafted a detailed rose with a stem and leaves made of metal.

“It’s mostly done for art today because there’s a lot of things that we can do that a machine just cannot do,” Russel said. “But other than that, it’s practicality. I save so much money just making things myself instead of going to the store and buying them.”

To create a nail, Russell uses a nail header and uses two processes- drawing out and upsetting. He cranks on the blower, which gives the coal enough oxygen to burn at hot temperatures. He keeps drawing it out until the nail fits all the way into the header.

The Prairie Blacksmiths hold workshops and involve members from Ainsworth, Nebraska to northern Kansas. Sometimes they’ll fashion items in the Steele City Blacksmith Shop. It was built by J.W. Peters, a bachelor blacksmith who lived on the second floor. The shop was restored in the 1980s, and it’s open by appointment or during living history weekends.

The Prairie Blacksmiths call their meetings “hammerins.” Their schedule of towns they visit throughout the year is posted here. Their next hammerins are in Belvidere, Nebraska on Sept. 24 and in Steele City Oct. 21.

Anyone is welcome to watch their demonstrations and even join their group. The association’s ultimate goal is to pass on the old-fashioned skills to a new generation.

“The comradery is like none other, and your skills will develop much faster,” Russell said.