The following interview with Claude Arrowood has been reprinted from Windfall Magazine, published by North
Buncombe High School, Weaverville, NC, Fall 1974. The interview was conducted by students Melanie Johnson, Tim
Miller, and Bill Porter. (The magazine was a class project of students of English teacher Dwight Childers.)
The day for the interview with Mr. Arrowood was somehow familiar. The sky held
a haze that promised rain and turned the mountains a purple-blue. Stalks of
corn rattled in the wind and the first of the falling leaves cushioned the
ground. As we turned off the road to Mr. Arrowood’s house, it was as if we were
gradually entering another time. We passed a small barn filled with tobacco and
a shed filled with tools. The house, set back from the main road, nestled in
its cove, surrounded by trees and tall grass.
We entered the small but fascinating black¬smith’s shop. Mr. Arrowood explained
how some of his tools worked. “This is my forge. All you have to do is clean
this here out, get the coal out of the way, put some shavings and build you a
fire. After it gets started burning good, use the blower here.” The blower,
which is connect¬ed to the side of the forge, is hand cranked. Air is forced
through the bottom of the forge. “I could build a fire if you boys wanted to
see one.” With that, he walked over to the back of the shed and gathered a
handful of pine shavings. The shavings were placed in a hole in the center of
the forge where small bits of coal had been raked aside. He pulled out a
cigarette lighter and lit the shavings. He then proceeded to crank the blower
while pushing the coal onto the flames little by little. A thick white smoke
poured from the fire. “It may make a lot of smoke. The smoke gets pretty bad.
It’ll quit smokin’ when it gets the fire going good. Coal smoke’s the strongest
smoke in the world.”
Q. How long does it take to get hot?
A. “Oh, it don’t take but a few minutes after you get started.”
Q. Were these your father’s tools?
A. “No, I bought these later after he went out. I’ve not got very many
tools here. Nothing like a full set. Just makeshift tools. I’ve got all my hand
tools and things like that in the house.
Q. Where did you get the equipment that you didn’t make yourself?
A. “You can order it. I order my equipment from C. M. McCrome in Knoxville. I
make all my little hand tools like cutters and things like that.” The smoke
began to clear as the fire got hotter,
“I worked regular with (my daddy) for years. Blacksmithing’s like a lot of
other things; they ain’t too much of it going on now. I’ve been in it ever
since I was big enough to turn the blower. I picked a lot of it up from my
daddy. I’d ask him all kinds of questions but he never give me no answers. He
said, ‘You’ll have to learn that like I did. I don’t know just exactly how old
I was when I commenced on my own. I was married and had a family.
“You can’t get no coal anywhere that’s fit to do blacksmith work. Take coal
like that, takes too long to get it hot.” He pointed to the fire which was
still not quite hot enough. “Too open. Takes fine coal to do good
black¬smithing. My daddy always bought at Carolina Coal Co. He bought there for
years. They always saved the fine coal out of the carload where they unloaded
it. Most people just call it trash coal.”
Q. Do people keep you busy bringing work here?
A. “Oh yeah. They’re here every day nearly. Mostly truck work and stuff like
that. Building truck beds. Mostly everything’s pickups now though. There’s not
very many big trucks now. Used to I couldn’t keep up with them to save my life.
If I was able to stand it and able to do work like I wanted to work, I’d be so
busy all the time I never would have time to do nothing else. I don’t solicit
blacksmithing anymore. I don’t get out drum up things. I figure I’ve done about
my part of it. I’m seventy-four years old. When a man gets that old he ain’t
gonna do much work if he can get out of it. I do a lot of work on making truck
beds and stuff like that.”
Q. Tell us about your anvil.
A. “That’s the horn.” He pointed to the cone shaped end of the anvil.
“If you want to make a great big hole, you punch a hole and drive it over the
end of that horn. Start over that and just keep making it bigger and bigger
around the horn.” He pointed to a square hole in the top of the anvil. “That’s
to put a cutter in.” Looking through a well organized drawer built into the
forge, he pulled out a cutter which was a small piece of steel with a sharp
Q. Did you ever do any horse shoeing?
A. “Yeah, back when I was young I shod lots of horses from the county. I’
ve even shod oxen. Ox shoes come in two pieces. Some of ‘em have pretty big
hoofs. There’s different sizes just like horses. I believe about the biggest ox
shoe I ever put on was a number four.
Q. Did you ever get kicked when you were shoeing horses?
A. “I’ve got swung all over the place. I‘ve had a many a one to swing me
plumb back through under his four legs with his hind feet. And I’ve had a many
a one to walk me all over the place with his front feet. Used me for an extra
leg. I got so to where I’d fix’em. Get one that didn’t want to do to suit me I’
d just rope him and make him do it. I’ve had one or two I had to dig a pit and
put’em in. Had two big mules on the county teams down there. I had to throw
both of ‘em in a pit to shoe’em.
Q. Did you keep a pit for that purpose?
A. “I had it dug and covered it like a flower pit to keep it from
weathering. I’d turn that cover back and roll one off in it with his feet a
sticking straight up and then shoe him.
Q. How many people did it take to get the mule off into the pit?
A. “I’ve got a many a one in there by my¬self. I always kept a set of
harness there and I’d put a set of harness on one of’em and pull one out of the
hole and roll another one in.”
Q. What does “turning” a horseshoe mean?
A. “Turn the corks up. They come plain, no corks. That’s how you shape
it to a foot. You ought to see some of the shoes they bring in here now. I
still turn a few number eights for a lot of the logging horses back out of
Yancy (County) over in here.”
Q. We understand that you’ve also dug a lot of wells. Did you use a
divining rod to find the water? Do you believe divining rods work?
A. “Yeah, sometimes it’ll work. It don’t work too deep. It’s got to lie
a pretty shallow vein. I’ve used a peach tree stick. Take a fork off a peach
tree and hold it just right and walk over and it’ll turn the bark on one.
Q. Did you ever fail to find water?
A. “No, I never did in my life, and I’ve dug several of ‘em. And I’ve
run along where fellows has dug a well that was down forty or fifty foot deep,
give it up and quit; and I’d go right back down in the same place and clean it
out and go on down and find water.”
Q. What was the shallowest well you ever dug?
A. “‘Bout thirty feet. I’uz always lucky to get a deep one.”
Q. Can you look at the land and figure where you’d be more likely to
A. “Well naturally you could look at the location of the land and tell
where the dampest place is, that’s the best sign to go by.”
Q. What if a man wanted a well on a hill?
A. “Well, when a man wants anything he wants it right where he wants it.
That’s the worst trouble of diggin’ another feller’s well.”
Q. Would you choose a place closer to a stream?
A. “No. A stream don’t have a thing to do with well water. When you get
down level with the stream you’re about to water, you know that, but it wouldn’
t have anything to do with a well vein at all.”
Q. Have you ever had one to cave in on you?
A. “I’ve had one to slide in on me one time. I just kept walking up as
it slid up. I come up as the dirt filled up.”
We stopped talking for a while and just stood in the misting rain. Claude
Arrowood gazed at the mountains surrounding us; and then turned, looking at his
Q. So most of your life you’ve black¬smithed, dug wells, and fixed up
A. “Well, I been lumbering in the sawmills and everything else. My daddy
used to sawmill all the time. I’ve done a little of about every different kind
of hard work you can name.”
Q. Well, with all the different things you’ve done in your life; if you
were starting out again, what would you do?
A. “Well, I’d do just like everybody’s doing now, I’d act the fool I
guess!” We all
laughed and he paused for reflection. “I’d make my life a whole lot different
if I’uz to hafta come up agin. They’s lots of things that I’ve done and worked
at a lot that I’d never touch. Put too much hard work in it.
“Course I never tell that hard work’ll hurt a bit in the world; it’s exposure,
a layin’ out in the weather, now that’s what’ll kill you. I’ve stayed out in
cold weather so long on a wagon that I’d get home and couldn’t stand up. It’d
be that cold. And that’s agin a man y’know, to his health. I’ve logged all over
these old rough mountains. All over Tennessee and Mitchell County; enough to
kill a big, stout man, much less me.
Q. Did you use a cross-cut saw to cut down trees?
A. “I never did do much of that cross-cut sawing. It was always my luck
to do the logging and let the other feller do the sawing. You know where Bald
Mountain is? Well, I logged all over the back side of that mountain. Several
million feet of lumber. We’d haul the logs out with a team.
Q. Did they build the sawmill close to the logging operation?
A. “Yeah, they’d settle ‘em down as close as possible. But a sawmill’s a
thing you’ve got to have room for. You cain’t just stick it up on a rock cliff
or a side of a mountain you know. Back then they didn’t know nothin’ but to
hitch a horse to a log, that’s the only way they had a gittin’ ‘em moved.”
Q. Did the logs roll sometimes?
A. “Yeah, and run. I’ve had many a log get loose and I’d never see it
till I’d go down off the mountain a mile or more.”
Q. How did you keep a runaway log from pulling down a horse?
A. “They’d get off it theirselves. We’d use a J-bar. You’d drive it in
the top of your log and it had a hook on it just big enough to hook your
stretcher hook behind. When you know your log’s gonna run, you’d have a little
J-hole down there. Just let ‘em outrun it down there and you’d pull your horses
in there and your log would just go on. When the long side of your stretch hook’
d come up over that J-bar it’d just wind up off it. Once in awhile you’d jerk a
horse down, when a J-bar fouled or somethin’. I’ve seen a few get killed off a
“There ain’t no place now that they cain’t git these dozers in. They’re loggin’
the whole back side of this Ramsey Mountain over here, plumb around to the
Ramsey Creek Gap. They’re a loggin’ it with dozers. They’ve even got one they
can just walk up to a tree and throw that saw out there and saw a tree down a
whole lot faster than you can git ready to trim out and saw down one by hand.
Q. Did you ever stay in a logging camp?
A. “Yeah. I’ve worked in many. It was mostly knockdown and drag-out.
‘Specially if the man runnin’ the camp, if he allowed any drinking or anything
like that; we had a time. People will get drunk; too many of ‘em together and
they’ll fight. I’ve seen many a man cut all to pieces in camps.”
Q. How many men were usually in a camp?
A. “Fifteen or twenty. Sometimes more. They’d come and go. Sometimes
they’d be lots a men and then agin they’d lack a great big bunch of havin’
Q. How long was your work day?
A. “Sunup ‘til dark. You was lucky if you got a break.”
Q. Would they have a cook?
A. “Yeah, they’d have to eat and sleep.
Even if it uz just a small job, they had that.
I’ve cooked a little in loggin’ camps myself.
I’ve done a little of everything.”
Q. Were the crews hard to please?
A, “I didn’t pay no attention to ‘em if they was. I throwed it out there and
let ‘em eat it or leave it.”
Q. That would you cook?
A. “Ah, just a general run of everything, what a workin’ man needs to
eat. Y’know, beans ‘n’ taters and stuff like that. Maybe throw ‘em up a little
dish of oatmeal for breakfast. I used to average cookin’ a fifty-pound sack of
rice a week in a camp. That’s what my daddy’d always buy when he’d buy rice, he’
d buy a fifty-pound bag. ‘Course I never did cook in any of them big camps and
things. Daddy’s camps were all I cooked in. Oh, he never logged none, he never
would fool with loggin’. He just had the men do the loggin’. If he took a job
where he had to do the loggin’, he’d just contract it to somebody and let them
Q. So he just handled the business end of it?
A. “Yeah. Why, he couldn’t hardly plow with a horse and team here on
this place. He just never did have the experience. He’d go along with the best
horse you ever seen in your life that’d mind every word you said to it. He’d
just go to hollerin’, ‘gee, gee, gee’, and after awhile he’d git that horse
excited and the next thing you know it’d be around with it’s head a jerkin’ him
around. He had too much temper for stuff.
Q. Would he haul lumber out in wagons?
A. “Well, it was mostly flumes. If we could get enough water we’d
generally flume ‘em out. I’ve seen the flumes choke up and stop the lumber.
Before they could get it opened and cleared out, two or three wagonloads of
lumber would pile up in one place. Just an average sized log was bigger than
the biggest sized log you can find now. Yeah, I’ve done a lot of loggin’.
Q. Did you prefer that kind of thing to farming?
A. “I never was much to farming. Never did like to farm. Don’t like it
yet. I just never was gifted to it I reckon. I was raised to farm and I got
started but I took off of it and I ain’t’ got to wanting to go back. What
little farming I do I do it here on my own.” He paused for a moment and a
glimmer came to his eyes. He turned to us grinning.
“I don’t brag about it, but they ain’t much things that’s ever happened in this
country back in my day that I ain’t done a little of.”