It's about 92 degrees outside with a hot wind from the south not exactly the sort of day that inspires one to suit up in long pants, a long-sleeved shirt and vest and spend eight hours in front of a 3,000-degree fire.
But here is Brian Westover, sweating it out in a room with no air conditioning, pounding red-hot metal into the shape of hooks, forks and tomahawks so that tourists in flip-flops and tank tops can see what it was like to be a blacksmith in 1857.
"It can be miserable," concedes Brian, wiping his forehead, "but I like what I'm doing too much to complain. Besides, the pioneers certainly didn't have air conditioning. If you want to experience what they did, this is as authentic as it gets."
This is the fourth summer that Brian, 39, has worked as a blacksmith and historical interpretation coordinator at This Is the Place Heritage Park, Salt Lake City's favorite place to step back in time and forget about cell phones, e-mail and gasoline prices for an hour or two.
Although July is Brian's busiest month, he wanted to get together for a Free Lunch of farmhand-sized roast beef sandwiches at the Monument Cafe during a break from forging utensils, tools and frying pans used in the park's pioneer homes.
"It used to be that it wasn't unusual for a town of 1,000 people to support 70 blacksmiths," says Brian, who became interested in heavy metal 10 years ago after taking his Boy Scout troop to a mountain men rendezvous. "Without a blacksmith to supply the tools, nobody else could do their job."
In fact, he says, blacksmiths were among the wealthiest and most respected people in town the equivalent of computer engineers and air traffic controllers today. But it wasn't a high salary that drew Brian to This Is the Place.
"When I decided to give blacksmithing a try, I got an old anvil that belonged to my father-in-law and set it on a chair in my kitchen," he says. "Then I lit the gas stove and started to make a few tools. When my wife caught me, she made me take it outside, but I was hooked. Now that my hobby is also a full-time career, it's like a dream."
After a quick lunch, Brian hurries back to the shop, where tourists watch in fascination as he bends hot metal into nails, hinges, door handles and grates. An apprentice operates a bellows to deliver extra air to the fire and increase the heat.
"A real apprentice would have to do this every day for seven years and not get paid," Brian says, motioning to 16-year-old MacKenzie VanEngelenhoven, who also likes to play with fire and has signed up to help for the summer.
MacKenzie grimaces at the small audience in the shop. "He won me in a poker game in St. Louis," she says, "but I'm lucky. I get a place to sleep and a new suit of clothes every year."
She continues working the bellows as Brian answers questions. No, he has never set the shop on fire, although he once set a broom ablaze. No, he doesn't make horseshoes that's a farrier's job. Yes, with sparks flying in the shop, he has burned his fingers a few times.During downtime on the job, he says he has another duty at the park. "I'm also the town's bank robber," says Brian, pointing to his money bag. Blacksmiths today need all the help they can get.
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