Thursday, February 14, 2008

Bill Pumphrey: Blacksmith & Jack of all Trades

Working with Dad

Young Tom stood on a wooden box methodically turning the blower crank which sent air through the coal into the metal pan atop the fire box. The coals blazed red hot, and shimmers of heat could be seen rising off the coals toward the ceiling of the low roofed building. It was hot work, especially since it was a summer day with temperatures already close to 90 Fahrenheit outside. Tom was stripped to the waist, begging for a cool breeze which didn’t come often. A large barrel of water in the middle of the floor used for cooling hot steel provided some relief when a breeze wafted through the double doors of the shop and crossed over the barrel of water. Being but seven years of age, Tom enjoyed working with his father, Bill Pumphrey who was also stripped to the waist in the heat of the blacksmith shop at the western foot of Ryan’s Hill at the Fealy place. As he turned the blower crank, Tom thought that turning the crank was somewhat like turning the crank of a cream separator. Boys’ minds tended to wander as they did mindless tasks. Young Tom kept his eye on the large work horse which crowded the blacksmith shop as it awaited a new shoe. Horses that worked the timber trails around Tulley Ridge had to be kept well shod with welded toe irons to grip the steep slopes. Leach and Wallace Lumber and Tie Company out of Weston was cutting timber on the old Ryan place at the head of Three Lick and on the Fealy place. The summer drought and the crusty hard ground was taking a toll on the hooves of the work horses as they strained skidding the logs to the landing at the bottom of the hill next to the saw mill. These were good days for a blacksmith who could make seventy five cents per hoof for new shoes and twenty cents each for re-setting old shoes. For Bill Pumphrey, blacksmith and jack of all trades, this was shoes for the kids, or money for taxes.
To the left is Tom Pumphrey in the 1980s, more than 50 years after those days of helping dad at the forge.
To the right is a generic photo of a forge.

by David Parmer

Bill the Blacksmith
Bill Pumphrey’s blacksmith shop sat at the intersection of the road coming off the head of Three Lick and Goosepen Road. The simple windowless building, about twenty by thirty, was made of heavy sawn lumber. A large double door was the entrance into the shop which had thick two inch flooring, designed to hold the weight of large horses and the heavy blacksmith workshop. The fire box, built by Bill out of field stone and clay, was located in a corner of the building, and extended through the floor of the shop to the ground about three feet below the floor of the building. The firebox was about twelve feet wide at waist high and tapered down through the floor in a conical shape. The chimney, also constructed of field stone and clay, extended through the roof to the outside. The clay mortar of the forge would often burn out and Bill needed to make constant repairs. Nature provided nearly all the building materials for the shop and repairs, with stone and clay being plentiful in the area. Nature even provided the fuel for the forge. An outcropping of coal on the Fealy place, on the first flat of the hill, was easily accessible and was the best fuel for the blacksmith’s forge. Of course, Bill had to buy the steel and nails for his work, which was either purchased at Charlie Knight’s Store in Orlando or Danser’s Hardware in Weston.
Above left is Bill Pumphrey at age 27.
The sketch of smithing equipment to the right is a generic illustration from the internet.

The Fealy farm blacksmith shop was the third location of Bill’s forge, each of which was located at a previous place of residence. His first shop was located on Crooked Fork, near Loveberry. His second location was on the Kelly place, owned by the Dolan family, off Goosepen Run, and the final location of Pumphrey’s blacksmith shop was at the Fealy place which was rented from the Fealy family by Bill Pumphrey.
Bill Pumphrey
Born in 1889 to James W. and Nancy Louisa (Riffle) Pumphrey, Bill grew up on Three Lick on a farm next to the farm of Dan Murphy. Like many of his gneration, Bill Pumphrey never went to school, and never learned to read or write. All of his education was what he learned by doing with his hands. He was however good at devising solutions and figuring out the practical way to do things.
The Sept '07 entry Dan Murphy: Life of an Orlando Irishman and a Red Hot Republican has more on Bill Pumphrey's neighbor and banjo teacher.

Bill's Other Trades
In Bill’s time most everybody was a farmer, with a few other scattered occupations. Bill took a liking to blacksmithing at an early age. Of course, blacksmithing was at most a part-time occupation so Bill also carried on the customary farming activities of most of his neighbors, as well as other income producing activities. For example, Bob Pumphrey recalls that his dad built farm sleds for farmers in the neighborhood, fixed wagon wheels, made harrows, and caned seats for chairs. Bill also operated the boiler for the Leach and Wallace saw mill which operated on the Fealy place during the late 1930s and into the early 1940s. Bill was also noted as an expert in the neutering of animals and his services were widely called upon. Bob also recalls that his dad told him that when the sixteen inch gas pipeline was constructed from the Burnsville gas compressing station through Goosepen to the compressing station on Crooked Fork around 1929 or 1930, his dad was kept busy replacing the mattock, axe and shovel handles which were broken by the hundreds of workers engaged in the construction. When the workers were in the Goosepen area, they would drop off the broken tools at Bill’s shop in the evening after work and pick them up as they went to work in the morning. Bill cut hickory trees on the farm for the replacement handles. Son Tom Pumphrey recalls that his dad, along with many other Goosepen area men, worked for Byrne Dolan of Orlando who was a WPA supervisor in Lewis County. Bill would get one or two days of work a week for the WPA on road upkeep in the southern Lewis County area. During World War II, Bill worked for a while at the glass plants in Weston.

Bill, the Musician
At an early age, Bill Pumphrey learned to play the banjo. Bill’s son, Bob, believes that Dan Murphy, who lived on the neighboring farm, taught his dad how to play. During the 1940s when the Pumphreys again lived on the adjoining farm to Dan Murphy, Dan would often ask his dad to play a piece on the banjo and always thoroughly enjoyed Bill’s performance. Bill was somewhat an oddity as a banjo player because he played left handed. Bob also recalls that his dad told him that when he was a youth he would play at dances which were held in Orlando on Friday and Saturday nights in the dance hall on the third floor of the Mike Moran Wholesale Building.

Left is Bill with his banjo.

Bill Married Nora
In 1919, at the age of 30, Bill and third cousin Nora Riffle went to Maryland and married. The only time Bill and Nora ever left Wet Virginia was their trip to Oakland, Maryland to marry. Bill and Nora were the parents of six children, namely, James, Thomas, Bridget, George, Katherine, and Robert. Along with most members of their generation Bill and Nora’s children moved away from the area. James, who had a military career in the United States Air Force, died in 2001 in Shepherd, Texas. Thomas is retired and lives in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. Bridget worked for AT&T for 43 years. She died in 2002. George died in 2002. Katherine (Pumphrey) Smith died in 2003. The youngest son, Robert, retired from the United States Marine Corps and now lives in Magnolia, Texas. Bill and Nora lived their entire lives in the Three Lick-Goosepen area. Bill died in 1961 and Nora died in 1973. They both are buried in the Orlando Cemetery.

Above left is Nora three years before she married Bill.
To the right above is Nora (Riffle) Pumphrey.
Three of Bill and Nora's boys are below that: lt to rt: Bob, George and Tom.

This Riffle/Pumphrey family photo was taken in 1917 across from Oak Grove School, Goosepen. This was three years before Bill and Nora wed. Note that Bill, age 27, is in the back row, the tall fellow 4th from the left and Nora, age 14, is seated, also 4th from the left. Bill's mom (and Nora's 3rd cousin, once remoed), Nancy L. (Riffle) Pumphrey, is seated, second from the left.

Back Row: Mary Elizabeth Pumphrey, Ira Curtis, Lloyd Curtis, William J. Pumphrey, Howard M. Riffle, Lona Blake

Front Row: Ralph J. Riffle, Nancy Louise Pumphrey, Edith E. Riffle, Nora E. Riffle, Alan W. Pumphrey, Thomas O. Pumphrey

Bill's & Nora's Oil Creek Roots
Bill’s mother, Nancy Louisa Riffle, was a daughter of Jacob Isaac and Francena (Blake) Riffle, and was part of the extensive Riffle clan of Clover Fork.

Bill’s dad was James W Pumphrey. The Pumphrey family were early settlers in Braxton County. His dad's mother was Mary Elizabeth (Posey) Pumphrey, grandaughter of the Oil Creek pioneer Catherine (Scott) Skinner-Posey, through Thomas Posey.

Nora, the daughter of George Washington and Hattie (Skinner) Riffle, also belonged to the large, extended Riffle family through her father. George was the son of John A. and Lucinda (Harris) Riffle.

Nora's mom Hattie was the daughter of Confederate Veteran Draper John and Mary (Heater) Skinner. Draper John was the son of pioneer children Alexander and Phebe (Conrad) Skinner and Mary was the daughter of pioneers William L. and Mary (Coger) Heater.

Bill Pumphrey's paternal grandparents James and Mary Elizabeth (Posey) Pumphrey are pictured to the right.


  1. Really enjoyed the article on my grandfather, I am Bob's Oldest son.

  2. I did enjoy reading this. I am Alan, the oldest son of James Pumphrey. These were things I never knew about my Grandparents. Now that I am older, it was my privilege to read about my grandparents,whom I have truly admired and loved.

  3. Found this for 1st time today. Thank you! Bill Pumphrey was my Grandpa. I am Debbie (Pumphrey) Kelley and I am the oldest of George (and Evelyn Wine) Pumphrey. Dad (George aka Dink) died Aug. 22, 2001 (not 2002). Enjoyed this very much and learned a lot,too.

  4. Great article and very informative. Learned things and saw photos I'd never seen or heard. Bill Pumphrey was my Grandpa.Though I barely knew Grandpa ( I was born in 1955), Grandma (Nora) and I were very close until her death in 1973. I am Debbie, the oldest daughter of George and his wife,Evelyn. Dad(George) died in Aug. 2001 tho and not 2002