Thursday, August 2, 2012

Alfred Erickson, Blacksmith and Farmer

Alfred Erickson and friend

I happened to run across a 1943 newspaper clipping at the Harbor History Museum about Alfred Erickson. The article described his skill as a blacksmith. Here was a man whose talent was larger than horseshoes and farm tools. It made me interested in learning a little bit more about him.  I hope you enjoy what I discovered.

The newspaper article explained how Alfred Erickson was watching a ship's carpenter labouriously boring a hole through a plank on the bilge of a ship under construction. As Alfred watched, he thought there must be a better way to do this particular type of boring job much faster and just as well, or better.

Alfred returned to his home up Pioneer Way where he had his blacksmith shop behind the house and experimented making a bit that turned the trick. Once he fine-tuned the drill bit it was time to market it. This specialized bit devised by a Gig Harbor blacksmith was, in 1943, used from Vancouver, British Columbia to California in construction endeavors. Especially in construction for the war effort.

The boring bit that Alfred designed consisted of the ordinary long shank drill with a wire cutter on and back from the drill point. In addition, he added a counter sinking device. He made these bits in three different sizes and to fit any special job. They were operated by any electric drill mechanism.

A Seattle contractor contacted Alfred needing a drill bit that could handle 1,200,000 holes of a certain size.  Alfred furnished the contractor with a bit that, within a given time period, did five times the work usually done by the old method.

A Tacoma ship builder asked Alfred if he could make an auger to drill a special type of hole for hatch covers. Alfred could and he did. 

These tools were all made from raw iron to the finished drill bit in Alfred's own shop. And, the tools were  labor saving devices during World War II.

As mentioned earlier, the Erickson home and blacksmith shop were located on the corner of what now is Pioneer Way and Edwards Drive and included 2.5 acres of farm land. The farmhouse was restored in 1996 by Rodrick Nilsson and served as the centerpiece for Nilsson's Chapel Hill Townhomes development.

When Nilsson discovered that it was part of the original farm of the Erickson family he decided to give the farmhouse back its original character. The house was solid with no structural defects despite being 100 years old. Nilsson found hand-made blacksmith tools, an old forge and the foundations of the smithy. Also, there were plenty of those horseshoes.

Nilsson had long conversations with Rutn Ryan, Alfred's daughter and widow of Gig Harbor's first mayor, Harold Ryan. It was her memories and their shared Swedish history that gave the house back its life.

Unfortunately the old carriage house and smithy couldn't be saved and a new garage was built in their place...but the house itself is now a 116 year old "new" house.

© 2012 Harbor History Museum. All rights reserved.

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