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SEVERAL DIFFERENT TYPES of blacksmithing tools sit ready to be used at the WMSTR blacksmith shop in Rollag.

Molding metal at Steam Threshers

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On a beautiful, bright, sunny day at the Western Minnesota Steam Threshers' Reunion (WMSTR), men gather in a dark, hot, smoky place to learn a long lost trade, to make something with their own hands or just to fiddle around with metal.

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The blacksmith shop at the Rollag reunion is always a bustling place with spectators watching people of every ability work metal into useful or decorative items.

Roger Cook has been a full-time blacksmith for 16 years. He has a shop near International Falls, where he specializes in making knives and spears. This year was his second at the WMSTR.

"I wish I had heard about this years ago," he said as he took a break from teaching a young iron-worker.

Cook sees Rollag not as a working weekend, but rather as an opportunity to teach the younger generation about the lost art of blacksmithing.

"I would much rather see a young person come in here and give him the opportunity to try this and maybe by chance he'll carry it on," he said. "If we don't let these young people come in here and share our knowledge, we're going to lose what we have."

Cook has a lot to give back to blacksmithing. The art, he said, saved his life and livelihood.

Following major back surgery, Cook said the doctors told him he was done working for the rest of his life.

"I was a construction worker all my life. And you have to figure out what you're going to do. That's a real shock," he said.

A friend convinced Cook to attend a blacksmith guild meeting. After that, he started working iron into custom knives and spears and taking life one step at a time in his new-found trade.

"I don't work anymore, I just putz," he said. "If I break a sweat, I stop and figure out what I did so I don't do it again."

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