Organized in 1978, the
Appalachian Blacksmiths Association is an affiliate of ABANA. We represent blacksmiths,
bladesmiths, and farriers in West Virginia and its surrounding states of Pennsylvania, Ohio, Maryland, Virginia, and Kentucky.
We publish a quarterly newsletter which keeps our membership up to date on events. The newsletter also features many metalworking tips.
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Appalachian Blacksmiths Association
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The Philippi Covered
Bridge in 1916
The covered bridge at
Philippi has survived many calamities in its 150 year history.
The flood of Nov. 1985 wiped out
over 30 bridges including the massive iron trestle on the B&O
main line at Rowlesburg on the Cheat River. That the Philippi Covered
Bridge suffered only minor damage, mainly the loss of siding
boards on the downstream side, is a testament to its structural
strength. The covered bridge was back in use as soon as the
Feb, 2, 1989—Gasoline leaking
from a tanker at a nearby gas station flowed into the bridge and
ignited. The beam hanging above the vehicle is a steel beam. All
of the siding and roof burned but most of the truss members and
the arches were spared serious damage.
1850—Typhoid Fever epidemic
decimates O’Brien’s crew (17 dead). Bridge delayed for one year.
1861-65—During Civil War, bridge is almost burned (two occasions).
Ice jams and/or floods posed threats in every decade.
1934—young boy falls through hole in wood bridge deck to his death.
This prompted a concrete bridge deck to be installed in 1938.
How Did They Build It?
Chenoweth would have
used derricks made from logs, probably Ash, to lift foundation
stones and the large arch sections. Most of the derrick’s
hardware, rigging, pulleys, chains and hooks were likely
custom-made by local blacksmiths or at the project site.
The head and hook blocks would have had 3-4 sheaves each
allowing for a multi-part hoist line. These blocks and all of the
rope likely were purchased from the Baltimore shipyards. The
derrick’s boom would have been banded at intervals of 5’ or so
to prevent splitting. The boom would have been 8”-12” in
diameter and 30’-50’ long. The mast would have been half that
length and may have been guyed by ropes rather than log spars.
The most intricate hardware on the derrick was the swing-swivel
at the base of the boom that allowed for the boom to raise or
lower and swing to the left or right.
Derricks are easily moveable. They would have been setup in the
riverbed or on the causeway, positioned so they could “pick”
anywhere along the length of the span.
The heavy foundation stones were lifted into place with pairs
of grabs (compression tongs) rather than bound with chains. One
worker, Mr. N. Poling, wrote in a letter that he and another man
operated a capstan (winch) to hoist the stones and heavy wood
beams. The derrick and capstan were old technology, having been
used on ships for centuries.
The bridge superstructure was “launched” on a crude trestle
which supported the span until all of the beams were joined. The
trestle (also called falsework) was then removed.
Derricks were used to erect the Empire State Building (1931).
The derricks “jumped” from floor to floor as the building went
SLEDGE & MAUL
Chenoweth hired Emmett O’Brien, a
skilled stonemason, to build the abutments and center pier for the
bridge. Three prominent sandstone veins outcrop in the immediate
area and were quarried for architectural stone in that era. O’Brien
would not have been new to this task and probably supported
himself handily as a mason.
To “cut” the stones, O’Brien would first drag a maul or
similar tool across the rock while strikers with sledges tapped
the maul. After establishing a groove for the fracture line, the
strikers would hit the maul harder and harder. Surprisingly, these
sandstones split cleanly with less effort than you might think.
Stones were typically cut on a 2’ x 2’ x 4’ pattern and
would weigh about 1.33 tons. Smaller stones of similar ratio are
also evident in the foundations of the structure.
A skilled mason like O’Brien could “read the grain” of
the sandstone and would cut accordingly. Thus, the stones were not
identical like brick.
The stones were laid in place on shims, usually wood but
sometimes iron. The stones are too heavy to lay on a bed of
mortar. Once the stones were leveled and plumbed, the masons would
grout the joints with mortar, mixing clean river sand with cement.
Cement was made by burning coal, limestone, and clay in a kiln. (It’s
still made that way.) All three ingredients are available in
A blacksmith would have supplied the O’Brien crew with
sledges, mauls, wedges, and pry bars up to 6’ long, for the
quarry work. He also made shovels and hoes to mix the mortar, and
trowels to place the grout. He also may have made drill rods with
chisel bits for the stone cutting operation.
Once cut, the heavy stones were rolled onto horse-drawn sleds
for transport to the jobsite. The wood runners of the sled were
banded with iron to reduce drag.
Along with this assortment, O’Brien would have needed several
chains and the large grab tongs used to lift the stones into
How do you split 20,000 shingles?
One at a time!
After the shingles were split with a froe, they were stored in
the river to keep them “green” until nailed in place.
photo courtesy www.furnacecreekforge.homestead.com/index.html
The Slip Scraper (also “scoop
shovel”) was the prime earthmover in olden times.
The scraper was pulled by one horse and the operator, a “teamster”,
used the dual handlebars to set the scoop to dig, slide (travel),
or to dump. The scraper held about 1/8 cubic yard of soil. The
loaded scrapers, along with the horses, also compacted dirt as
they traveled over the fill area.
Slip scrapers were used well into the 1930’s to build
projects such as flood dikes and levees for the Tenn. Valley
Quarter sawn lumber yielded a nearly
perpendicular grain pattern.
predicted in 1850, this bridge ultimately did carry live loads of 10
tons (the 600’ man would have weighed 20,000 lbs.) before the wood
deck was removed and replaced with a concrete deck.
TO MAIN STORY
the Appalachian Blacksmiths Assn., by David G. Allen, Editor
photos reproduced from "Milestones; a Pictorial History of
Philippi" (reprint brochure); courtesy of Barbour County Museum,
Philippi, WV Clipart:
Capstan/derrick (www.probertencyclopaedia.com); maul/sledge
(www.furnacecreekforge.homestead.com); lumber (www.frankmiller.com)