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Frailey's Foundry

Samuel Hays 

Lot six in the west end of Emmitsburg was about the same size as other lots, 50' x 150', but this one housed three business enterprises. These were the Frailey’s Foundry, complete with cupola and molding department, a pattern shop and shed for drying lumber, and "Duke" Frailey's blacksmith shop, with space outside for scrap metal and a watering trough for thirsty horses.

Saturday mornings, during warm weather, usually began with a deep moan from the cupola blower, signaling that Mr. Oscar Frailey was lighting the fire to melt the iron. In about two hours, all hands would be expected to assemble and pour the molten iron into the molds. We Hays boys never needed a second invitation to help, for during the time required, we considered ourselves to be special. Truly, the work was dangerous, but having grown up with every phase of the operation, it was "old hat" to us. Our chests swelled with pride when we could warn other kids, looking with fear and excitement at the metal being poured, to "stand back a little - you might get hurt."

My best friend, Duke Frailey, generally took charge of the pouring. First he would tap the cupola with a long sharp spear, then twist it right and left several times and as he withdrew the spear, the molten iron would flow into the ladles. Duke, his two brother’s Oscar and George, Tom Hays and others, all strong men, carried the ladles filled with the liquid metal, and poured it into each sand mold. One boy accompanied each man and, with a long iron rod called a skimmer, held back the slag from each ladle to prevent the slag from entering the mold.

At days end, Duke would drop the bottom from the cupola, whereupon the contents, slag, surplus molten iron, coke, etc., streamed from the bottom like sticky taffy. Barrels of water then quenched the fire, and the show was over. Outside, the 80 or 90-degree heat felt cool, and all helpers wore coats until they cooled off and became acclimated to the outside atmosphere.

Another day finds Duke in his blacksmith shop, preparing to "shrink" a tire on a wagon wheel, the tire being a piece of iron about an inch thick, 3" wide and about 30" in diameter. Wagon wheels were of wood, which in hot weather, would dry and shrink.

Tires thus became loose and had to be made smaller, hence the expression "shrink a tire." To do this, Duke would build a bonfire out in the street, along the shoulder, and then heat the tire until it became red, at which point it was time for Oscar and George to come and help. A loud roar from Duke would bring them running, and now the three of them would pick up the tire with tongs, quickly place it on the wooden wheel and immediately dunk the whole wheel in water. No one thought the open fire was dangerous, nor that the atmosphere was being contaminated nor passerby intimidated. No one objected to the street being partially blocked. In fact, most men would have willingly helped, if asked to do so.

One day, while Duke was shoeing a horse, I wondered out loud how hard it was to hold a foot. Duke satisfied my curiosity by letting me try. I had the foot in complete control until the horse tried to lift another foot so as to stomp at a fly. This didn't work out very well for me and I gave up blacksmithing in my dreams. I'm not sure now strong Duke was, but I have seen him hold onto a leg which the horse was trying to kick with.

Duke was full of stories. He once told me about an evening of fun when he, with several of his cohorts, decided to go to Rocky Ridge to a church social. Without bothering to shave, shower or shine, they headed for the Emmitsburg Railroad, fired up the engine, and took off. Reaching Rocky Ridge, about five miles away, they crashed the party, wiped their greasy hands on the girls' faces and left, in a hurry, jumped in the engine cab for the return to town. No one was arrested for using the engine, no one lost his self-respect for mistreating the pretty girls. Next day it was business as usual and laughs for the whole week.

Busses were not plentiful in those days. Matter of fact, the only one was a hack drawn by horses, which met the two daily trains and carried "drummers' to the hotels. The driver was Henry Bowman. How I envied him his job! So with no buses, we youngsters passed Duke's shop, as we walked back and forth to school, twice a day. Duke's favorite pastime was to spit tobacco juice on our feet as we passed by his shop. With absolute accuracy he could catch either foot without leaving his forge. Our reaction was a few choice words which never reached his pride, reaching only his funny bone, which fed his good humor all day.

On Sundays Duke went to the shop, but no work; just a chance to sit on the sawbucks in front of the windows and chat with each person passing by. Of course, when the bell rang, he was off to church. It didn't matter too much whose church, just so he could sit near the back with friends, and keep them in stitches with little quips at the opportune time. Duke didn't curse or swears he just used words that carried the message directly to the heart. His whispers were often loud enough to be heard in the front of the church, with the obvious reaction of hushed whispers and snickers. So what! Christians ought to be happy anyway, and in Duke's presence they generally were.

Duke served with General Wade Hampton during the Civil War, and one didn't know Duke very long before this became evident. When Joe Hoke operated the general store across from the blacksmith shop, customers would sit around the stove on Saturday evenings and might swap stories about the crops, the government, church school and the Civil War. This often included such first-hand witnesses as John Mentzer, John Stonewall Jackson, Jim Hospelhorn, John Horner, Ed Rowe, Duke and Oscar Frailey, John Witherow and many others. Here the news was received, dissected, corrected and spread for local consumption. For sure, Uncle Duke would relate at least one of his escapades with General Hampton, and about 12:30 or 1:00 A. M. the crowd would disperse, and with arms full of groceries and hearts full of new stories or old ones, everyone would go home.

Some people discredited Uncle Duke's stories, especially those about the war, but maybe they were true after all. And when the weather is cold, you have no radio or T. V. and you don't know how to read, what's the difference if it ain't quite correct? You can always discuss it again next week.

When Duke began blacksmithing, no thought was given to business records. He owned the shop, various pieces of iron, an anvil, some coal, forge tools etc. People generally paid cash for their work, but in case of a shortage . . . . "well, pay me when you come again. I'll remember it." No Master Charge, no ledgers, just honesty. Duke didn't die rich, but he walked erect. In stature he was about 519", but in character, at least 10' tall.

Read other articles by Samuel Hays

Read Samuel's brother, William's memories of Emmitsburg

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