Eric Klaus’ life is a blend of old-time blacksmithing and present-day technology.
This weekend, the Beatrice man is demonstrating the art of 1800s-era blacksmithing at Clemmons Park in Fremont. His demos are part of the Living History Encampments during the John C. Fremont Days festival.
Blacksmithing isn’t his occupation, however.
Klaus works as a computer network and server administrator for Exmark in Beatrice.
Yet on Friday, Klaus was taking adults and kids on a trip back in time – showing them the art of blacksmithing.
Klaus makes a variety of items for re-enactors who come to the park and for the general public. He makes heavy duty tent stakes, “S hooks” – used to hang pots and pans over a fire, and fireplace and cooking tools.
He also makes decorative and other items for the modern-day home, including wall hooks, bottle openers, crosses, old-time dinner bells and bouquets of roses. Klaus even creates a steel rose that is red. It includes a little cloth in the center with rose oil on it to provide a scent.
Klaus has been involved in the art of blacksmithing for about a dozen years.
He even has a family tie to blacksmithing. His grandfather, Clarence Minge of Hanover, Kan., was a blacksmith.
“Through the years, I’d seen demonstrations (of blacksmithing), but it never really caught my attention that much,” he said. “But one night I was at a men’s Bible study group and we went to a blacksmith shop.”
There, a blacksmith at the Bible study provided some spiritual analogies comparing a craftsman creating a work of art with how God shapes and molds people.
The blacksmith talked about shaping the raw materials to make something.
“Sometimes he puts it (the object he’s creating) in the fire and sometimes he cools it off in the water,” Klaus said. “Sometimes, he hammers it and changes its shape and, of course, the iron doesn’t understand what’s happening, but in the end, the maker has made a useful tool.”
That caught Klaus’ attention.
A couple weeks later, Klaus took a two-day class from blacksmith Jim Bernard of Holmesville. Bernard encouraged Klaus to join the Prairie Blacksmith Association.
Klaus began going to the group’s meetings. He read many books on the subject, took classes, watched videos and began blacksmithing.
About 10 years ago, he started demonstrating the artform at Table Rock, where the historical society presents a living history day for fifth-grade students.
“I figured out that I really enjoy demonstrating and so I go to as many events as I can,” Klaus said.
Klaus said he enjoys talking with kids and kids-at-heart who like blacksmithing.
“People are just amazed by it. I don’t know if it’s the fascination with the fire and the smoke and the noise or seeing a piece of raw steel turn into a leaf or a hook. It’s not something people can see every day.”
After one of the blacksmith’s demonstrations, an older spectator asks a boy – albeit a bit tongue-in-cheek – if he wanted to help “tune” one of the blacksmith’s forged metal cowboy dinner bells.
The older man, Steve Ott of Joplin, Mo., pulled on one side of the triangular-shaped noise-maker and Evan Cech, 9, of Fremont pulled on the other – in a tug-of-war fashion.
“Pull!” Ott said.
After they pulled, Ott rang the western-style bell with a metal rod and asked if it didn’t sound better after they’d “tuned” it.
Eric thought so.
“It was cool,” he said afterward.
Klaus, who has been coming to the festival for at least six years, continued his demonstrations for onlookers.
Next week, Klaus will return to his day job, which he notes is much different than his hobby.
“They’re on totally opposite ends of the technology spectrum,” he said.