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Historical Blacksmithing in Texas

Houston's "A Son of the Blacksmith"
by Robert DeLaney to be in print soon

by Richard Boswell

Texas has needed blacksmiths ever since the first colonialist began arriving and needed tools, wheels for their wagons, and hardware for the kitchen and house. Houston was an early focal point of modern Texas with indusrtial applications and its value as a port city. The railroads brought in lumber and took out steel. Then Spindletop's gusher gave the world fuel for its fire. Opportunity and need were met by many men and women who raised their children and taught them what they could.

Robert DeLaney is one of those children born and raised in Houston as it met its 20th Century destiny to build with steel. He has written a book soon to be published and has provided HABA some portions to share with it's Members. His father was a blacksmith, and this book is about what the son learned from the hands of his father.

If you are interested in obtaining a copy of this limited first edition to be released late Spring, you may contact HABA, or the author directly at rdelaney@htcomp.net. He is at home on his cattle ranch in Lamkin, Comanche County, Texas , and would love to hear from you.

Mr. DeLaney said "I am sending Ch. 3 to you now... Please write me any questions or comments. Let me add that my Dad †made his own tools. I wish that I had them but I don't. I have one large tongs about 4 feet long. My older brother Cecil got most of them to use in his forge shop when we sold out. The name of his shop was The Texas Bridge & Forge. I have given my tongs to my son.† I have watched my Dad Case Harden the steel with Cyanide Potassium and forge weld all steel that he was working on as needed. I thank you for being interested in my book... Sincerely Robert "

The following paragraphs and photos are selected excerpts from the book provided with permission from the author who reserves all copyright. Please contact him for permission to republish. Click on a photo for the full image.


Mr. DeLaney cast several anvils in brass for his sons. Isaac Delany, an Irishman, arrived in Texas in 1836 with the Davy Crockett wagon train. Three generations later, James Cecil DeLaney, ďthe BlacksmithĒ was born. As a young child, he traveled to Houston, Texas via wagon train. During this trip, he met Henrietta Taylor whom he married in 1911. They had three sons, Cecil, Robert, and John Henry. Cecil, the oldest son, built the ďwheelsĒ for the first Moon land rover. Their youngest son, John Henry was Chief Engineer for the DeLaney Co. overseeing fabrication of steel for bridges, locks and dams on the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers. Robert, my father, a rancher at 88 years of age tells his life story as ďA Son of the BlacksmithĒ. Covering time from horses and Model Tís through the Great Depression, World War II and into the twenty-first century, this is a living testament to the generation born in the early nineteen hundreds. I salute my Dad for taking the time to write this book; may it help us all learn from his lifeís experiences.

James Cullen DeLaney

I am thankful to Robert DeLaney, my dad, for the opportunity to write this foreword to his book, ďA Son of the Blacksmithh My view of the world, as a child, was very egocentric. I depended upon my parents for every need and had no other thought, but that they would meet those needs. As an adult and especially as a mother with two grown daughters of my own, my views of my childhood have changed and I now see that not only did they meet my needs but also they exposed me to many adventures that most people can only imagine. It is from that perspective that I write this foreword.

My dad believed that we should learn through experiences. I will never forget that we were studying the cliff dwellers in school so that summer our family went to Mesa Verde to see the site first hand. To make a hydrometer, you called a meteorologist. To better understand Pompeii, we flew over an erupting volcano in a prop plane. We were lowered into a salt mine in a bucket so that we understood the origins of salt. My brother and I had every pet from a flicker to a goat with a hundred dogs in between. No word was ever left undefined. No idea was ever squelched.

This small book is a collection of remembrances of a life well-lived: of a young boy who overcame ill-health to become a Naval officer; of a young man who went to college, met and married the woman who was to be his life partner; of a teacher whose careers spanned the Navy, purchasing agent for a steel company, college professor, and rancher; of a father who came a grandfather and great grandfather extraordinaire; of a man on a life long quest for answers, knowledge, and experiences.

So this book of memories is also a book of philosophy. My dadís lessons for living a life full, and while not devoid of pain, a life of adventure and love.

Bobbie DeLaney Whelan

This book has deeply touched my soul. I also grew up during this era; therefore, it brought back many memories. Some of the early twentieth century, World War II, growth of a large and beautiful city, Houston as well as personal accounts of Robertís father. He was truly a wonderful, loving, and intelligent man, a pleasure to know.

Robert, Sybil, and I attended Southwest Texas University in San Marcos along with many members of my extended family. The three of us chose teaching professions and were fortunate to further our careers in the Houston area. This gave us the opportunity of remaining close to the DeLaney family and the ability to maintain a dear relationship with our own Campbell family.

Sybil and I grew up in Lamkin. It is possibly a bit ironic that Robert joined us in literally coming home to live out our lives in a beautiful countryside. It was an ideal environment for anyone willing to face hard work by learning the ďinís and outísĒ of ranch management. Robert, Sybil, my husband Rodney and I spent untold hours together enjoying this world we live in.

Gayle Campbell Love

DeLaney Blacksmith Shop on Yale St.
The shop building shown in this photo was blown away on August 16, 1915. The little boy in the fore ground of the picture is that of Cecil DeLaney Jr., my older brother. He was born on June 26, 1912. He looks large for a three year old, but he was a medium, average size boy. He must have been at about the maximum age he could be when the picture was taken; so I would guess that the photo was taken in early August, 1915 before the Hurricane came on the 16th.

J. C. Delaney Sr., the "Blacksmith", was a genius. Our backyard was like a park. He built better toys than money could buy. He put a four-inch steel pipe about sixteen feet long, four feet deep in concrete in the ground. At the top, he attached an automobile brake drum with bearings and from the drum he hung four six-foot to seven-foot, equally spaced, chains. At the bottom of each chain, he attached an eight-inch diameter, steel ring that he forged out of half inch round steel. This looked like a May Pole. Four boys would each grab a ring and run lickedty- split, lift their feet off of the ground. The roller bearing swing would carry them around and around through the air. What fun it was!

He also built a "see-saw" mounted with u-bolts on a steel pipe sawhorse. The board was a two-inch by twelve-inch yellow pine about fourteen feet long with a curved cutout, sanded smooth, to fit a childís legs and seat. The Blacksmith also built a "merry-go-round" for Cecil, our friends, and me. This was a heavy wooden circular platform about ten feet in diameter with a pipe handrail extending about four feet in diameter from the center. This is what we held on to. This handrail had about six equally spaced handrails running out to the outer edge. About four to six boys would each grab the outer edge of one of the handrails and run as fast as they could and when one gave the signal, all would jump on the platform for a merry spin around and around. The platform was mounted on roller bearings.

What a great dad he was. The blacksmith was respected and admired by every man, woman and child for miles around. And yet he was as modest and humble as any person I have ever known. He taught his boys the value of humility, he said this was a characteristic that Jesus wanted us to have and use.

The huge steel door of the janitorís closet slammed shut when five, big, eighth-grade boys, led by Edward Thornton, shoved me into the room. When I screamed that my hand was caught in the hinge end of the door, the boys quickly opened the door and ran. Some one carried me bleeding and crying to the principalís office. My parents had no phone so he called my daddy at the Southern Pacific Railroad Shop to come get me and take me to the doctor. The end of the finger was crushed and hanging by a thread, bleeding profusely all over my clothes and the floor despite the tourniquet the principal had hurriedly applied to the middle part of the middle finger on my left hand.

The Principal gave me two aspirin and asked me, "Who did this? What were the boys names?" I sobbed and said, "I canít tell you. Iíll never tell anyone." The principal responded, "Robert, you have to tell me. Those boys must be punished. Iíll expel them so they will never do this again." I said, "Thatís why I canít tell. I am no tattletale and the boys didnít try to hurt me. They were playing in fun. They are so scared and I promise that they will never do it again. It could have been me doing the shoving. Iíll never tell even my mother and daddy and not even my brother for he would beat them up. (Until this is written eighty-plus years later, no one has ever been told who was involved in this incident. I wonder if Edward Thornton still remembers? I know he does, if he is still alive. I havenít seen or heard from him since 1926 when I was 11 years old and in the seventh grade at John Marshall Jr. High School in Houston.)

Soon daddy came, all out of breath and rushed me in the Model-T to the doctorís office. The doctor said, "Mr. DeLaney, I have to remove the end of the finger at the knuckle joint." Daddy said, "No, absolutely not." "If we try to save the finger, the chances are 99 to 1 it will not grow back and the chances are about 3 to 1 that he will get blood poisoning."

"Letís try to save the finger, The Lord will guide you."

The doctor said, as he took my hand out of the pan of warm water with iodine and painkiller in it, "We will give it one week and then decide what we must do. I am going to sew this up the best that I can and then I will bandage it. The bandage will stick to the finger. Every evening about two to three hours before bedtime, have Mrs. DeLaney boil some water, let it cool to barely warm, pour a tablespoon of iodine and about three tablespoons of Epsom salts in the water and have Robert soak his entire hand until the bandage comes off. Then keep his hand in the water for another 30 minutes. You can substitute table salt for Epsom salts in an emergency. It would be good if you can leave the open wound, unbandaged for a couple of hours at least to absorb the clean oxygen air. Rebind the finger every evening before going to bed. Before going to bed every evening and upon arising in the morning I want you to put his finger up to your nose and if it smells bad, call me at once. Also inspect his hand and arm and if a red streak is going up his hand or arm, call me at once. Otherwise just bring him in a week from today and then every week for the next month." Following the above procedures, and except for a scar and a little disfigurement, my finger healed and is normal.

Mother had two cousins that had huge watermelon farms near Hempstead, Texas. They were the Ward Ueckert and Jessie Smith families. The blacksmith owned and operated the Heights Carriage and Wagon Works on Yale Street in Houston before and after he and Hettie were married. He had a beautiful horse that he loved and had it trained. When he rode up to a group of girls, my daddy would knock his hat on the ground and he would ask the horse to pick up his hat and hand it to him. The horse lifted it with his mouth and the girls were charmed.

Before Cecil was born, Hettie had been visiting her cousins on the watermelon farm. My daddy grew lonesome. On one hot summer Saturday, the blacksmith closed his wagon works, saddled his fabulous horse and began the fifty-mile ride to Hempstead. He rode fast. The heat and humidity became almost unbearable. He only stopped for about fifteen minutes, every hour for he and the horse to rest. He got to the watermelon farm just before dark. He led his horse to the water trough and this great horse fell over dead. Everyone cried but the blacksmith was the saddest of all.

The 1915 hurricane blew the blacksmithís shop away. This is when he went to work for the Magnolia Brewery and later the Southern Pacific Railway. One day my dad got a postcard from Hettieís cousins in Hempstead asking him to gather up some young men. They needed help at 8 AM the next Saturday, at the SP railroad freight yards, helping unload several boxcars of watermelons. They would ride in the boxcars with the melons and would be ready to unload when it arrived. We loaded several Model-Tís with of friends and neighbors to meet the train. We had a row of "Wonder" watermelons stacked in a row about four feet high and half-a-city-block long. After the boxcars were all unloaded, Ward Ueckert called everyone together and asked them to take as many watermelons home as each family wanted. This was the pay, which was happily accepted. The blacksmith took six watermelons home that weighed from 50 to about 75 pounds each.

When I was twelve years old, the Blacksmith worked for Eller & Gripp, one of the largest automobile repair shops in Houston. They were also distributors for the new Federal trucks. Eller & Gripp built a forge shop for my daddy in one room of their two-story building. It was a fabulous forge shop with a blower and an anvil. Daddy had made all of the tools, large tongs about five feet long, smaller tongs, flatters, punches, etc. One of the Blacksmithís primary jobs was to remove bent and damaged axles from cars and trucks, heat the axles until they were red or white-hot in the forge and straighten them on the anvil. His helper, who swung an eighteen-pound sledgehammer on the flatter, did the straightening. When the axle was straight and correct, the "Blacksmith" would quench it in a barrel of cold water to chill it quickly and made it cold hardened (not soft where it would easily bend again). Another primary job of the "Blacksmith" was to build wooden custom-made bodies at the rear of the frame (behind the cab) on the new Federal trucks customers bought. It seemed the most popular body was a stake body made from selected oak.

There was a busy garage on Boundary Street at the city limits of Houston named Georgeís Garage. They repaired a lot of cars. One evening, George came to visit the Blacksmith at home. He knew daddy well and called him Cecil.

He said, "Cecil, you can do a great job straightening axles. I have an average of one or more bent axles a week. I have been selling new axles to replace the bent ones but they are very expensive. I would like to make a contract with you to straighten all of my axles. If I remove them, stack them up for you to pick up, straighten and return, can you do it and what would you charge me?"

The Blacksmith said, "I would have to build a forge shop in my barn. It would take me two weeks to finish it by working nights and Saturdays. I can give you a better price if I have several at a time. If it would be okay, I could, say pick up the axles every Friday and return them to you the next Friday. That day, I would pick up more axles. There may be some nights where I have to work at Eller & Gripp but my boys can help me on Saturdays. In emergencies, I could probably get them out sooner by the boys helping me at night. It will take me about three hours to straighten one axle and Iíll likely use fifty pounds ($1.50 worth of blacksmith coal) and $1.00 worth of electricity on my blower for each axle. How does $20 for the first axle and $18.50 for each of the others I pick up at one time sound?"

George said, "Fine. Iíll hold the axles for you until you are ready. I have two now. Let me know when you can start and try to beat those two weeks if at all possible."

Daddy built the forge shop at one end of our barn, far away from the hay. The forge was about six feet in diameter and about thirty inches high. In the center, at the top, was about a twelve-inch circle where the fireclay tapered down to about a four-inch hole. There, a four-inch pipe ran down another foot and at right angles piped into the blower for air pressure to the fire powered by blacksmith coal. Blacksmith coals are small cubes of bituminous coal about 3/8 inches in diameter. The Blacksmith straightened axles for about a year, all the time thinking there must be a better way. He was concerned that heating the axles even though they were cold-hardened, might remove some of the temper and they would easily be more bendable than the original axle.

He created a tool with about an eight-foot handle from round tubing with several attachments for grabbing the axle from any position before removing it from the car. He took his tool to George and tried it out on several cars. It straightened the axles perfectly in about one hour each. He then got a patent on the tool and named it "The Wizard." He made about twenty-five sets of Wizards in the barn forge shop, peddling them to garage owners throughout Houston including George.

One morning, he took the Wizard to Eller & Gripp and laid it down by a Model-T that was waiting for him to remove the axle for straightening and reinstallation. He then went into Mr. Ellerís office to invited him to come watch a demonstration. Mr. Eller watched him jack the wheels up, hook on "The Wizard" and in about thirty minutes, the Blacksmith had the axle perfectly straightened cold without removal and without itís losing any temper by heating. Mr. Eller was elated.

He said, "Cecil, I want to buy your patent. We will pay you a royalty of each one sold. Daddy made the greatest error of his life. He turned Mr. Eller down and sold him one for about $60. He remained a mechanic peddling "The Wizard" on Saturdays until all the garages had one. He did sell one in Brenham. Daddy did not have the wherewithal to market them state and nationwide, Mr. Eller did. In a few years, all of the car manufacturers made cars without front axles and "The Wizard" became as obsolete as a dodo bird almost overnight.

The Blacksmith swung an eighteen-pound sledgehammer. He bought a sixteen-pound one for Cecil and a twelve-pound one for me. You could not choke the handle. Daddy made us grab the handle by both hands on the end and swing it like a wheel vertically by our side and then over our heads. The swing was just like the railroad spike drivers did when laying rail for the railroad. It was very hard to do particularly because daddy warned us to strike the iron or flatter or punch as appropriate. It was a disgrace to hit the anvil.

When Cecil Jr., John Henry and I were in our teen years or approaching them, the Blacksmith took us to visit the farm where he was born in Hagensport. We walked through a dense forest but as we walked, we noticed furrows that had been plowed years before during the time my father farmed the area. As we walked along, we discussed the plowing of these fields. Plowing was done by mule or horse drawn single plowshares; the farmer walking behind guiding the mule or the horse. We noticed how deep and true those furrows were. Farmers of yesteryear prided themselves on being able to have a well-plowed, straight-rowed crop. (Compared to todayís tractor use walking those furrows encompassing possibly forty to sixty acres per field. That takes weeks to accomplish. These were men of strong character, physically, mentally, emotionally as well as spiritually. Our forefathers were men to emulate. We would do well to honor them by utilizing that strength as fathers, grandfathers, and great-grandfathers today.)

The DeLaney Company When the old shop was destroyed, my Dad went to work for the Magnolia Brewery in Houston . Their shop was on or near Franklin St. about two blocks east of the viaduct.One of their buildings was still intact there 4-5 years ago.While there he kept those big Clydesdale horses,[ they pulled the brewery wagons] shod. I am sure that he did all of the steel repair work on the wagons at the forge shop there.I think that the old shop was on just a lot or 2-3.

The Delaney Co. structural shop and forge shop was established in 1935 at 6119 Fulton ST , Houston, on about a 5-6 acre site of My Mother's and Dad's homestead.I have devoted the entire chapter 8 to a story of ,The DeLaney Co.We prefabricated structural steel for all kinds of Bridges, [Highway, RR, Lift], Dams; schools, refineries and chemical plants and churches all over the country. We had a large forge shop on the site that produced forgings of all sizes except small closed die forgings.Some of our customers were Halliburton Oil Well Cementing co, Dow Chemical Co, Chance Vought Aircraft,and many major contractors, it's all outlined in my book. My book is just finishing the final editing in NY.


Robert DeLaney
March 2004

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