Passing of an Era Saddens Blacksmith

Sunday Courier & Press: “Only thing I’ve ever done: Passing of an era saddens blacksmith”
Picture: “Sunday Courier & Press – 1977”

POSEYVILLE, Ind. – His hands are large and calloused, darkened from the many years of working with metal and building coal fires in the forge.

A short man, 72-year-old Carl Nix is much slimmer today than during his prime as a 200-pound blacksmith. Once he whittled wood shavings, lit them and gently scooped soft coal onto the fire, but today uses gasoline and coal for a quick blaze.

Nix, whose German-born father bought a blacksmith and farm machinery shop in Poseyville in 1900, spends three to five hours daily at work. He is limited by age and poor health.

The shop where Nix still does blacksmith work on occasions has outlasted 27 other “smithy” operations in 77 years in the small Posey County community. Now known as Carl A. Nix Welding Service, the shop is the third oldest family owned business in town.

Stoking a forge he built at a former shop downtown, Nix says, “When you don’t do this every day for awhile you get a little rusty. The coals have to get red, just like coals on a barbecue grill.

His father was born in Frankfurt, Germany in 1859 and moved to the United States in 1871. The family lived in Ingraham, Ill., northwest of Olney and was in the blacksmith business there until 1900. Nix’ father moved to Poseyville and purchased one of four blacksmith shops there at the turn of the century. Two sons, George and Joe, took the shop about 1910 and 19-year-old Carl began managing the business in 1924 He continued blacksmithing until 1957 when the present shop was built and Carl Jr. joined the firm. Illness forced Carl Sr. to turn the shop over to his son in 1971. In 1975, the senior partner’s grandson, Bill, was taken into the business after studying machinery at Vincennes University and working at Babcock and Wilcox plant in Mount Vernon, Ind.

The blacksmith finds it somewhat depressing and “sad” to see his lifetime occupation die out.

“I worked in the shop and helped my Dad from the time I was old enough to tighten a bolt,” Nix said while shaping a steel gate hook with a hammer and anvil. “I was about 10-years-old or less. This has been my stomping ground, but I haven’t shod a horse in 20 to 30 years.

“Back then, I’d start about seven in the morning and work 10 hours a day shoeing horses, repairing and building wagon wheels and shaping plow shears.”

“After I was old enough to work for my brothers, I worked for them for about two years and then took it over. It’s the only thing I’ve ever done.”

“I’ve enjoyed this type of work…you don’t have the same thing to do every day. Something was always happening to keep you on your pins. You had to be your own engineer and have a lot of imagination to make this stuff come together.”

“But blacksmithing is almost out of the picture due to modern machinery. Instead of using a forge and anvil, you just throw it on the welding bench. It takes less time and you can do a better job. It’s more or less depressing…there are times I don’t build a fire over once a month.”

Nix shod horses and did wagon repair work from 1924 and 1949 when he discontinued shoeing and started working with acetylene and arc welding. He calls his blacksmith talents “a lost art.”

Turning the eye and working on the latch portion of the gate hook, Nix wears no gloves while handling the cooler end of the hot metal. “Gloves only get in the way,” he said.

Nix once made 150 hooks and 300 staples for an auction barn in Poseyville. The hooks took him only five-six hours to fashion.

“I don’t know of anybody (in the area) in active duty with blacksmithing,” he said. “With my age and the length of time I’ve been doing this, and the illnesses, I finally war down after a period of time.”

Nix was one of 10 children. He and wife Mary still live in Poseyville and have four daughters and one son. “I was born in Poseyville and never lived in any other town. I wouldn’t know what it would be like,” he noted.

The family’s old shop was located on Church Street in downtown Poseyville.

“Back then, if you had a forge, an anvil, a pair of tongs, a hammer, and a vise you were pretty well equipped,” he said.

He remembers the heyday of blacksmithing had only one disadvantage – shoeing a mean horse.

“We had stocks where you’d mount the horse between two bars and lift him off the floor where he had not foot hold,” Nix recalled. “We had equipment to hold the foot. That was for what I call a mean horse, one that would kick you, bite you, and paw you and swing his hear around and try to hit you. We used to get $2.50 for four new shoes nailed on the foot. Today, they have people who travel around and do that for $25 to $30.

“It wasn’t a bad life. It just depends on the slant you take on life. If you like to keep busy and put your heart and mind to it, it’s an enjoyable way to go. If I was able, I’d still enjoy coming down here and doing blacksmith work rather than go on a picnic.”