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Blacksmiths hammer away at John Deere Historic Site in Grand Detour

Boot scrapers, triangular dinner bells, Celtic crosses, and even a few twisted shovels were just some of the steel creations that came to life at the John Deere Historic Site’s 2014 Hammer In Aug. 2-3.

The biennial event, held at the Grand Detour homestead of John Deere—inventor of the first self-scouring steel plow nearly 177 years ago, featured blacksmiths from several states doing what they do best, hammering steel.

“We have a great turnout,” said Brian Holst, manager of the historic site. “And you can’t beat the weather.”

Sunny skies and 80 degree temps on Saturday welcomed a steady stream of visitors to the site that is marking its 50th anniversary this year.

Visitors could learn about Deere’s early life in Illinois touring his home and the excavation site of his original blacksmith shop where he forged his plows before winding their way past current-day blacksmiths who were happy to talk about their trade to onlookers.

Nearly 10 people watched as Paul Novorolsky, Elburn, made a one-piece twisted shovel at his blacksmithing tent, heating the steel and then hammering it into a usable tool.

“It takes me about 3 hours to make this here because I’m always stopping to talk about what I am doing,” said Novorolsky. “At home it usually takes me about half that time.”

Novorolsky said he uses scrap metal for most of his projects. “It’s steel from junkyards, scrap yards…leftover pieces. Blacksmiths are great recyclers,” he said smiling. “A lot of what we do is made out of a piece from here or there.”

What blacksmiths “do” is the reason the Zettle family from Forreston makes sure the Hammer In is on their “to do” list every other year.

“We can’t wait to come down and see all this. We just really enjoy it,” said Mary.

When the noon bell rang, all of the blacksmiths hammered on their anvils 50 or so times marking the official “Anvils Ring”.

Visitors also watched as a mega-sized replica of Deere’s plow was unveiled on the southwest corner of the site.

Holst said the replica, which is twice the size of Deere’s original plow, was made from steel by a small team of blacksmiths.

Rick Trahan, one of the site’s resident blacksmiths, helped direct auctioneer Mark Ebert, Polo, as donated items including homemade pies, quilts, and creations from the blacksmiths were sold.

Proceeds from the auction went to the Upper Midwest Blacksmith and Illinois Valley Blacksmith Associations, both event sponsors, to help fund scholarship programs for aspiring blacksmiths.

The historic site held its first Hammer In event in 2004, with 75 blacksmiths, attracting thousands from around the country. Hammer In events have been hosted here every other year since then.

For more information, please contact the John Deere Historic Site at 815-652-4551. The site is located nine miles south of Oregon in Grand Detour.

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