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Molding metal at Steam Threshers

SEVERAL DIFFERENT TYPES of blacksmithing tools sit ready to be used at the WMSTR blacksmith shop in Rollag.1 / 6
Jacob Conway, 17, of Detroit Lakes pounds out the top to a hook he was working on at Rollag last Saturday afternoon.2 / 6
CLINT ADAMS OF AMENIA, N.D., gets a piece of metal red hot before taking it to a trip hammer to pound it out. Adams was creating a pair of tongs Saturday in the WMSTR blacksmith shop.3 / 6
Dave Martens of Manitoba, Canada, (below) pours on a cup of water to help keep his fire concentrated at the WMSTR blacksmith shop Saturday afternoon.4 / 6
Spectators at the WMSTR blacksmith shop watch as Raymond Sberle of Fargo pounds out a metal loop Saturday afternoon.5 / 6
Roger Cook, a full-time blacksmith from International Falls, right, talks to Nathan Aamold, 15, about a peice of metal the teenager was working on at last weekend's Western Minnesota Steam Threshers' Reunion.6 / 6

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.

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."