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The Black Smith – America’s First Country Auto Mechanics

In the first decade of the 20th century, if you owned a “horseless carriage” and lived in or near the city or town where you purchased it, service and repair work on it could be accomplished by a local dealer or garage. However, once a car owner decided to take a trip with their automobile in the country, “all bets were off.” If a repair or an adjustment was needed, the motorist or a local blacksmith were usually the only ones that might be able to fix the machine.

  • Blueprint of an early wire-wheeled “Curved Dash” Oldsmobile from the owners manual.

If you happened to be traveling through Munich, North Dakota (founded in 1904,) with a population of only about two-hundred and fifty residents and needed assistance with your vehicle, the crew at the Munich Iron & Plow Works were likely to be the only help around to get you back on the road. The Smithy in this image is posing with an iron buggy “tire” he has rolled and forge-welded, and his assistant is sitting in an early “Curved Dash” Oldsmobile (1901 to ’07).

Share with us what you find of interest in this photo via, and learn more about a 1902 “Curved Dash” Oldsmobile in the video (below) courtesy of the Owls Head Transportation Museum.

27 responses to “The Black Smith – America’s First Country Auto Mechanics

  1. Cool trade sign anvil up on the roof.Long time ago merchants had a representation in metal or wood of what they did because a lot of people were illiterate back then.A cutlery shop had a giant scissors made of wood hanging off a sign post,etc.
    An old church around here has a sheet metal anvil atop its weathervane signifying God’s anvil- like love.

    • I think many people in the past were much better educated that we think, today. I don’t believe the ratio of enlightenment vs. ignorance has changed much over time. I also believe that blacksmiths were some of the best problem solvers, and resourceful people in small communities where genuine need was a matter of survival; hence, they could evaluate, and solve many horseless carriage problems (caused by dirt roads). However, a valve job would probably been a problem for a country blacksmith.

    • Both of my grandfathers (born in rural eastern Kentucky 1890-91) went to school just long enough to learn to read and write (3rd grade), then went to work. Neither was well educated in any formal sense, but they were not illiterate. Historical data from the National Assessment of Adult Literacy shows that less than 11% of the adult population was illiterate in 1900, down from 20% in 1870.

    • The forge appears cold no smoke , no raised pile of coal/coke .
      I did the central character just break the wooden spokes from the iron tire ?

      • Like many ealy photographs people pose with objects outside in the light for itinerant photographers. The forge shown is a portable forge (it doesn’t look complete- needs a wooden handle to pump the ratcheting flywheel that works the blower), There would be a brick hearthed forge (or two ) inside the shop. The iron tire served to “tie” all the wooden pieces of a wagon or buggy wheel together. In time the wood would dry and shrink in size and the tire would become loose. The iron tires would then be “shrunk” (thickening the metal to shorten the circumference) to be refitted.

  2. In the lead picture, the OLDSMOBILE appears to have backed into its position and then straitened the front wheels – observe the tire tracks.

  3. It’s interesting to see two Horseshoes positioned on the center of the Doorway as I understand that not only was a Blacksmith considered “Lucky” but to have two Horseshoes in the center must have “doubled the Luck”. These double mounted Horseshoes may have been a “Marketing ploy” by the Blacksmith or have some significance by the owner’s place of Birth. My other comment in the Horseshoe position with the opening of the shoes pointed downward appears that the Luck may be “running out” as I was always led to believe,but others have stated that in this position they capture “Good Luck” and impart that to all to enter this establishment. I was also told that with the open end of the mounted horseshoe facing upwards that the “Luck” would be held in place and not spill out ,but this belief has also been thwarted in that “Good Luck” may have been held in this manner more so than with the opening of the mounted horseshoe facing downwards. Either way a horseshoe or in this case horseshoes mounted above a Doorway gives “Luck” to all to enter……

    • My first thought as well, “Hey, those horseshoes are upside down.” But another point: Did these folks ever pick up anything? I mean, wouldn’t you at least kick some of those wood scraps out of the way to avoid tripping over them every time you walked in or out? I bet it was dark inside that shop from all the accumulated soot. I’ve been trying to ascertain what that poster or illustration is at the very left but no luck. Anybody have an idea?

  4. This is one of the evocative of many cool photos you’ve featured, David. There’s a whole story there. My great-grandfather was a blacksmith in Portland, Oregon, in the 1880s and into the early twentieth century , and I’ve often thought about the amazing changes he saw, from repairing farm implements to fixing bent axles on cars like that one. In the photo, that broken-down device (a horse-drawn cultivator?) on the left and the Oldsmobile on the right are like the bookends to blacksmith’s career.

  5. When I was a child in the 1950’s there was a true blacksmith’s shop across the street from my grandparent’s house in far upstate NY. A cool place to visit as the smithy was friendly and allowed us to work the bellows and hammer small pieces of heated metal on his anvil. My brother and I buried those ‘treasures’ on a small island in the St Lawrence river near our family’s cottage.

  6. Back in 2003, I was at an event where there was a couple of curved-dash Olds. One of the drivers started it, set the throttle and tiller and let it go around in circles while he walked alongside. Luckily it was on a cement circle and it was quite happy to circle until it ran out of gas or the owner ran out of patience.

    I did notice a steady stream of oil drops wherever it went.

    Still, they look like fun and are affordable.

    • Didn’t they have a total loss lubricating system? Oil drops onto the bearing, then onto the ground. when the oiler is empty, you put in more.

  7. Curved Dash Oldsmobiles are very popular in the 60 mile London to Brighton Veteran car run. (England)
    About 20 CDO’s took part in the annual autumn event in 2019 out of a field of 300 + vehicles. First Sunday in November.

    • And as I alluded to earlier, in the London to Brighton run, the Olds is one of the more affordable entrants….one of the few ways to do the race for less than $100k.

      A few years ago, there was a proposal to establish a rolling cutoff to allow entrants past 1904…to a point…I believe to 1907 or something.
      It was shot down by some xenophobic old UK types who envisioned a “hoard of Fords” in the race, without doing the math and finding out that a lot of early Ford’s simply don’t exist. It came across the old guys were more interested in protecting their investments than expanding the event and hobby.

  8. Munich, North Dakota was a hot bed of early automotive activity. Will Elenbaum had a 1905 Cadillac that he regularly used to drive to Cavalier, North Dakota to visit his brothers — a trip of 75 miles on modern highways. Newspapers claim he could make the trip in 5 1/2 hours – not bad for the roads of the day. Usher Burdick, who would later become one of North Dakota’s more famous politicians, also had an early auto which “turned turtle” on him. Many stories to be told. And I should shortly be posting the name of the blacksmith in this photo!

  9. That is an early Curved Dash with wire wheels and no outboard brakes. Like most cars of that era they would be obsolete and stuffed in the back of a barn or scrapped within 6 years. Bob

  10. My great-grandfather owned and operated a blacksmith shop from 1910 to 1921 in Viroqua, WI. In 1921 he moved to Florahome, Florida and built, then operated another blacksmith shop until his retirement. His three sons each became auto mechanics operating their own shops. From the 1950’s into the 1970’s there was a “Halverson Garage” operating in Viroqua, WI, Florahome, FL and Gainesville, FL.

  11. Hi All, great photo Jim and David. The poster on the top left looks to be a Case Tractor logo of a American Eagle perched on top of the Globe. Is that a wheel hub on the ground bottom left of the man door? If so… it is huge in comparison to those around it.

  12. Thank You so much “OLD MOTOR” for including the Cured Dash Oldsmobile information. it truly was the very first time for me to enjoy seeing this great car under motion istead of just in a ‘static display’ in a museum.

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