How the Auto Industry Ended Our Family Craft and Resurrected It 100 Years Later
I received this nice letter from Eric K. from Hadlyme, CT. Eric was at the 2011 Open House this past weekend and mentioned the story that I told about my great grandfather, so I figured that I would share it with you guys.
More than 100 years ago my Great Grandfather John Smith, like millions of European immigrants, came to America with not much more than a few bags, his new bride, and his skills as a Blacksmith.
John and Francis Smith settled in a small town in the Allegheny mountains of Pennsylvania. He would become the town Blacksmith and they would have six sons, the youngest of whom was my Grandfather, Ted Smith.
As a young boy, I was raised listening to the stories that my father would tell of John Smith and his six sons and all their adventures. I remember one story where John Smith was summoned to help a stranded steam engine with a broken turnbuckle. Up in the remote mountains, without many tools, John Smith built a furnace and forged steel bands which he used to wrap bundles of fresh cut trees that were then used to splint the broken shaft… Strong enough to return a locomotive more than 50 miles to the station! Those days people had to innovate solutions, and their motivations were, at times, perhaps more serious. Still, from those stories I learned that we are, in many ways, living and repeating the lives of our those who came before us.
From our family stories, I think my great grandfather was a realistic version of Longfellows’ poem, “The Village Blacksmith”. On Sunday after Mass, his wife would have him open up his shop to let the neighborhood women gather and bake bread in his furnace. The tradition lasted many years and while metal was forged six days a week, friendship and community was formed on the seventh day as folks gathered to bake bread and enjoy each others company. John Smith was known as a very honest and hard-working man and I enjoy thinking of the modest way he forged friendships in a small town a hundred years ago.
Within a decade or so of the turn of the century, the need for Blacksmiths was already fading. The advent of the automobile would spell the end of my family’s traditional craft, and John Smith would tell his sons to seek other paths. Other than the name SMITH, the trade would be left behind for a three generations.
When my brother and I started Factory Five Racing in 1995, it was my father who reminded us that we were returning to our family tradition of Blacksmithing. The tools were different for sure… The bellows and furnace were now CNC cut steel and MIG welding machines… But Blacksmiths we were once again!
There are many parallels about what we do at Factory Five Racing, and what our Great Grandfather did a hundred years ago.
The fact that it was the automobile which spelled the end of our family craft that had endured for so many generations, would be the very thing that would return Smith boys to the Smithing… That was one thing.
The community is another shared aspect of what we do. Friendships forged at my great grandfathers Blacksmith shop a hundred years ago, were made the same way we make them today, and Factory Five is indeed an extension of that same fellowship and community. We work hard, no doubt, but just as important is the way in which we work.
As you get to know Factory Five, the most amazing part of the company is the community we’ve built and the stories shared by so many. There’s something special about building your own car and often times, the stories you make along the way become more important than the amazing car you built.
On behalf of the families, customers, suppliers, vendors, and friends of Factory Five Racing, I want to extend to you a warm welcome. Bring your stories, traditions, and skills and be ready to gather every now and then, between our work, to forge friendships and community.
Letter from Eric K.
“My father and I attended your open house this past weekend. We had a fantastic time and truly appreciate the effort you and your employees put into such an event.
We took part in the factory tour that you led, and I just wanted to let you know how much I enjoyed hearing about your family blacksmith history. The part that stood out most for me though was when you took a moment to get “political” in the sheet metal shop. Thank you, thank you, thank you !!! You are 100% correct and I couldn’t have said it better myself.
There are many men and women in this country that have great ideas along with the talent and drive to bring them to life. These are the people that can improve the economy as well as the quality of life for their employees, their customers, and of course themselves. You are one of these people. Thank you for being proud to state what you believe. The success of your company is a shining example of what can be achieved by those willing to put forth the effort.
I’m sure Factory Five will do well for many years to come and I wish you success in all of your future projects.