Blacksmith picks up pieces after fire

December 09, 2012|By RICHARD F. BELISLE |
  • Shepherdstown metal artist Dan Tokar looks over fire scene Thursday in Shepherdstown, W.Va., for materials he can reclaim for use. He intends to continue his craft.
By Kevin G. Gilbert/Staff Photographer

SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.Va. — Dan Tokar was poring through the charred ruins of what was once the forge room of Willow Forge, his blacksmith shop on South Princess Street, before it was destroyed in a fire Nov. 30.

He picked up a pack of fire starters, the kind that come in handy lighting a wood stove or fireplace.
“Look,” he said, “They’re not even burned.”

He opened a wooden box that looked like a chunk of charcoal. The regulators inside, even their soft rubber hoses, were intact.

“Odd things happen in fires,” said Tokar, momentarily focusing more on the offbeat effects of the fire that nearly destroyed his livelihood rather than the near destruction of his livelihood.

The fire’s cause is still under investigation by the state fire marshal’s office, he said.

The shop was in an old two-story wooden building behind the former Southern States farm store. The half that was destroyed housed the forge room. Inside, intense heat melted parts on a trip hammer, pipe-threading machine and hydraulic press among other heavy meal tools.

The firefighters’ quick response and skill at keeping the fire contained to the forge room prevented it from reaching the machine shop in the adjacent half of the building, Tokar said.

He’s still taking inventory of the damage, which so far comes to about $7,000 in lost equipment, raw material and finished and near-finished works, he said.

The loss is not insured. He said he rents the building.

Also lost in the flames were paper records, including pending orders, some of which were to be ready for Christmas.

“I can’t tell who ordered things so I’m hoping people will call,” he said. “I’ll still be able to finish some jewelry and hardware pieces for the holiday.”

His phone number is 304-876-2884.

Christmas is the heaviest month of the year, he said.

“Crafters and artisans will tell you that the Christmas season is worth any three other months,” he said. “January and February are the best months to be down.

“At least I’m not out on the street. After I rebuild, I’ll be able to work at a minimal level for three or four months and be back to normal in six or seven months,” he said.

He’s already had substantial help from “countless good people,” he said. “The fire (which was discovered at 6:30 p.m.) was down by 8 p.m. Friends were here helping me clean up until 1:30 a.m. Some came back again at 7 a.m.”

“Dan knows a lot of people,” said Tara Bell, a longtime friend. “He’s creative, reliable and dependable. He’s disciplined and friendly and he does wonderful work. Take a look around Shepherdstown. You can see his work all over.”

Tokar, 52, grew up in Brownsville, Pa., a rustbelt area south of Pittsburgh. Steel, coal and railroad were the industries. He started to learn from local blacksmiths, took some formal classes and later worked with a master blacksmith.

“I earned my apprentice card in 1979,” he said. “I still have it.”

Tokar came to Shepherdstown in 1985 and worked in a shop owned by Jay Hurley, owner of O’Hurley’s General Store, before moving to his own shop.

He designs, forges, pounds, twists and shapes iron, copper, pewter, gold, silver, platinum and rare tantalum into intricate jewelry, household hardware, wrought iron gates, fences and ornaments. He also restores antique metal pieces.

“Blacksmithing is centuries old,” Tokar said. “I could go back to ancient Rome and get a job.”

Help for Tokar

A benefit potluck dinner for Dan Tokar will be Sunday, Dec. 30, in the Shepherdstown Community Club, according to Lori Robertson, who with Joanie Blanton, is organizing the event.

The evening will include dinner from 5 to 8 p.m. with an accompanying musical program followed by more music until midnight.

Those attending are asked to bring a dish to share.

A minimum donation of $10 will be collected at the door, Robertson said.

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