When We Shot Grandpa's Anvil

"Shooting anvils" was a popular sport when I was a lad. It was a performance executed in celebrating special events such as weddings, election victories, "bellings," birthdays, etc.

World War I ended when I was only six years old, but I remember the celebration that followed the announcement of victory. Grandpa and his five sons, being filled with exuberant patriotism, rose to the occasion.

Grandpa was a prominent Jackson Township farmer and also the community blacksmith. His shop provided the anvils used in the celebration. For the spectacular event of anvil-shooting, two anvils were used—one being somewhat heavier than the other. The larger one was positioned on a tree stump or other suitable solid base, then its upper face was spread with an even layer of blasting powder or black gunpowder.

A five- or six-foot length of fuse (like that used in the stone quarries) was laid across the center with one end dangling down. Then the smaller anvil was inverted and very carefully laid atop the powder. Now, the interesting part was in order. Some agile, daring young man would light the fuse and high-tail it away from there as fast as he was able.

The resulting blast was unlike any other sound ever heard in this world. A flat orange-colored sheet of flame shot out in every direction, accompanied by an ear-splitting sound that frightened horses in the next county! The top anvil shot upward, the height of its flight determined by the size of the anvil used. Then a perfect smoke ring, about six feet in diameter, was seen rising slowly upward.

That was supposed to be the picture, but on this particular occasion, we had some unexpected side effects. Grandpa's ninety-pound anvil split asunder, with the "butt end" traveling toward Rossburg and the other, the "horn end," taking off in the general direction of Union City (or Arizona).

Mom clapped her hands over her ears and exclaimed, "Goodness gracious!" Grandma abruptly sat down on her milk bucket, mashing it flatter than a pancake. Our yellow cat went skidding around the corner of the barn, and he hasn't been seen again to this day!

Grandpa rubbed his chin thoughtfully and said, "John, you shouldn't have filled the hardy-hole!"

Now that calls for further explanation. Grandpa's blacksmith anvil had a vertical hole perhaps an inch in diameter about three inches from the butt end of the anvil. This hole was used to hold a "hardy," which was an accessory tool used by smiths in their work. This was a hard steel chisel or punch used to cut or pierce white-hot rods or bar stock laid across it and struck a hefty blow with a three-pound hammer.

Apparently, this hardy-hole, when filled with explosive powder, provided enough extra lateral energy to make two separate pieces out of grandpa's anvil and scare the dickens out of twenty spectators.

And there ain't no way you can repair a busted blacksmith anvil!