The Story of the Appalachian Blacksmiths Association

By Boyd Holtan and Dave Allen

Part Seven: 1997-2007

By Boyd Holtan (Feb. 14, 2008)

At the 2008 Appalachian Blacksmiths Association annual meeting it was announced that this is the 30th year of ABA. This led to a discussion of the history of our organization.

In 1997, I wrote some articles for the newsletter about the history of ABA titled “Rekindling the Fires.” These articles have subsequently been included under “The Early History of the ABA” section on the ABA website. So, I decided to look at the newsletters after 1997 and summarize some of the ABA history since that time.

We have only had four ABA presidents since that time. Dave Allen served through 2000, with Josh Schlicher in 2001, Bill Fugate 2002-2005, and our current president, Brian Riley since 2006.

Gil Watkins continued as newsletter editor thorough the 1997 year with Jeff Harris serving a second time 1998-2001 and our current editor, David Allen, beginning in 2001.

We have had excellent demonstrators at our Fall and Spring conferences at the Cedar Lakes shop. See chart below.

1997 Peter Ross Fred Crist
1998 Elmer Roush Hans Peot
1999 Bob Becker Clay Spencer
2000 David Fink Doug Merkel
2001 George Dixon Jerry Darnell
2002 Hans Peot Jeff Fetty
2003 Peter Happny Tal Harris
2004 Richard Sheppard Brian Gilbert
2005 Jay Close Bob Elliott
2006 Jymm Hoffman Kim Thomas
2007 Marty Reisig Michael Bendele

The annual business meeting has been held each year either in late January or early February. Until 2002, we met at the Jackson’s Mill Conference Center. But starting in February 2003, we have been meeting at Bob Elliott’s shop at Fairmont, WV. Bob has also hosted a hammer-in at his shop following the business meetings.

In the spring of each year, we have also participated in a joint meeting with the Pittsburgh Area Artist-Blacksmith Association at W. A. Young & Sons Foundry and Machine Shop at Rice’s Landing, PA. ABA usually provides a demonstrator for part of the program. Also, during the summer, some of the ABA members have hosted hammer-ins at their shops. Joe Harris has usually had one each year and there have been hammer-ins at Arthurdale, WV.


More remembrances, by Dave Allen (March 1, 2008)

Editor Gil Watkins modernized our newsletter as he was the first editor to compose our newsletter using a personal computer. Prior to this change, past editors were very limited in what they could do with layouts—basically, cut and paste. The PC and word processing greatly helped with composition of the newsletter.

Gil Watkins and Jeff Harris were also limited with reproducing photos because photography software was just becoming available. In the 1990s, our printer used an averaging process which meant that some photos were too dark and some were too light.

When I took over as editor, publishing and photo software were included in my PC software. This was a wonderful turn of events for me—the non-professional editor. All of a sudden, the editor could control the newsletter, not the other way around.

From 1996 to present, the ABA has had the good fortune of generous members. At the 1996 Fall Conference, Joe Harris organized a tool auction, and we raised over $600.00. This windfall gave us a cushion so we could plan ahead and engage demonstrators for our conferences. No longer were we operating on a dime, so to speak.

As Boyd noted above, these demonstrators attracted more members to our conferences, and we have seen membership double during the past decade.

Jerry Allen also gave our treasury a boost. He organized about a dozen of our members at his shop to build first a Rusty power hammer and then a Dusty power hammer. The ABA then raffled both power hammers.

When I joined the ABA in 1990, our events were lightly attended. Our newsletter came out whenever we had enough news to print. Today, our members are much more involved and the newsletter doesn’t suffer for photos and articles about our membership and events.

I do have a fond memory of this era regarding Fort New Salem, Fort Randolph and Prickett’s Fort. The ABA held hammer-ins at the forts to make hardware, utensils and cookware for the primitive buildings. We were able to have these on-site hammer-ins because several members had portable forges at the time. I don’t know if we’ll ever get to hold on-site hammer-ins again, but it was a lot of fun to make hinges for a century-old door rather than just turn out a pair of hinges in the shop.