FORT LARNED — Pete Bethke of Larned remembers watching westerns on television when he was growing up as a youngster. He’s always had an appreciation of history, even dating back to the bustling Fort Larned days.
Bethke, a Fort Larned seasonal ranger, gets to recreate the blacksmith’s version of living history on the weekends at the Fort Larned National Historic Site.
“My favorite part is telling a historical story that relates to a particular time period,” Bethke said. “That time that Fort Larned was thriving is one of my favorite times in American history.”
The blacksmiths were important to Fort Larned moving smoothly. The soldiers’ time was too valuable, so civilians had to help in their chosen trade.
“Once they started, they were responsible for handling any job,” Bethke said. “Their time was spent on chain repair and wagon-wheel repair.”
Bethke has been performing blacksmith work for nearly 30 years, some years as a full-time trade. He grew interested in doing a blacksmith’s job after attending some Mountain Man festivals.
“It started as a hobby, developed into an occupation and now I get to enjoy what I do best,” he said.
Portraying a blacksmith is hot, dusty work filled with coal dust. So much so that Mike Rowe of “Dirty Jobs,” portrayed one type of blacksmith, a farrier who fashions horseshoes.
The flame’s temperatures approach 2,000 degrees using a bellows, a device that delivers pressurized air in a controlled quantity to a controlled location. The color ranges from red, to orange to yellow to white (the hottest). One of Bethke’s favorite items is a circular chain-link that could be used for a variety of purposes.
“The color of the flame tells me whether it’s hot enough to do the work,” he said.
Bethke is sensitive to the heat and makes sure he takes breaks and stays hydrated. A gentle breeze on a 100-degree day is always appreciated.
“You build a certain tolerance to the heat,” he said.
The fire burns best with coal possessing low sulphur content. Bethke has personally gathered the coal directly from a mine just south of Coffeyville in northeast Oklahoma.
“You want coal that burns hot,’ he said.
A modern blacksmith creates objects from wrought iron or steel by using tools to hammer, bend and cut. Blacksmiths produce objects such as gates, grilles, railings, cooking utensils and weapons.
The holiday weekend culminated Monday with a full day of activities. Fort Larned will feature historic weapons demonstrations of the rifles used by soldiers at Fort Larned and the fort’s cannon, the 1841 Mountain Howitzer. Living history personnel staffing the historic buildings. Fort Larned is six miles west of Larned on K-156.