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Ken’s the last smithy standing

A blacksmith for the past 51 years, Ken Griesbach, is one of the last of his kind.
A blacksmith for the past 51 years, Ken Griesbach, is one of the last of his kind.

KEN Griesbach is one of the last of his kind.

A traditional blacksmith, Ken has been plying his trade for the past 52 years, after completing his apprenticeship at the Ipswich Railway Workshop, when he was a teenager.

Today, he is one of only a handful of full-time blacksmiths still operating in Australia.

Based at Nobby, he has more work than he can handle at present, with his current project being the restoration of a 1910 Abbott buggy which belonged to the Leslie brothers, who were among the first settlers on the Darling Downs.

The Abbott buggy is one of two carriages he has been commissioned to restore for the Inglewood Historical Society, with the second being a station buggy.

HOLDING THE FORT: A blacksmith for the past 51 years, Ken Griesbach, is one of the last of his kind.
HOLDING THE FORT: A blacksmith for the past 51 years, Ken Griesbach, is one of the last of his kind.

 

"Timber and parts are a problem, as the wheels are made of American White Ash and Hickory and I've had to source them from an importer," Ken said.

"When it's finished it will have black leather upholstery, a new floor, a new canvas hood and three new wheels, as well as a paint and polish," he said.

To restore both the buggies is estimated to cost around $12,000, with the work being done with the help of a grant received by the Inglewood Historical Society.

This type of restoration work has kept Ken busy for several years, with his client base extending as far south as Melbourne and throughout most of Queensland and New South Wales.

Together with his partner, Louise Kennedy, Ken has operated the Nobby Forge and Vintage Affairs for several years, taking tourists on a walk down memory lane but their last visitors are booked in on Christmas Eve.

Ken said the rising costs of public liability forced them to make the decision to close their tourism venture.

"It is sad that people won't get to see a working blacksmith shop like this. It's a shame to have this here and not open to the public," he said.

Ken said his five-year apprenticeship as a blacksmith, took him five and a half year's to complete, as he dislocated his shoulder at Commonwealth Games trials in 1962.

"I was an amateur wrestler and just missed out on the games, due to my injury," he said.

Ken was born into the industry, as his father was a coal miner at Ipswich, which was an industrial town in that era, and his uncle was a fitter and turner on the railways.

"I sat the Railway Entrance Exam and they offered me a blacksmith apprenticeship.

"My uncle said 'they will always want blacksmiths boy'.

"That was really at the end of the steam era and I made a lot of buffers for carriages and engine and wagon components," he said.

"That fell by the wayside when fabrication came into the market however I kept up by learning welding but, as soon as my apprenticeship was finished, I was out of there."

Steam engines came to an end with the advent of the diesel engine and Ken went dozer driving at Swan Bank Power Station.

He returned to his trade soon after, working as a blacksmith at a Rocklea workshop, making slasher blades for farmers and doing spring repairs for the transport industry, as well as heavy road transport work including building trucks and making dollies - work he still does.

He has operated out of his rustic Nobby workshop for

the past six years, after doing a stint on his family's Rosewood farm, and instructing and working at Gatton Agricultural College for 10 years.

Blacksmithing is a hard trade to learn, according to Ken, but once you learn the basics, you can adapt your skills to anything.

"There aren't too many blacksmith shops working like this today," Ken said.

"I do a lot of ornamental work, as well as practical stuff, including crowbars, cattle brands, etc, plus a lot of repairs."

He recalls once having to make a set of cannon wheels and has never stopped making wheels and wagons, as well as undertaking restoration work on old carriages.

He learnt this skill of wheelwrighting and wagon building from an old bullocky, at Calvert, near Rosewood, many years ago.

Ken is so busy at present, he has work backed up, with a lot of his jobs being for collectors at the moment, as well as a job for a Second World War German cannon from original spokes, rims and other parts.

"That job is on hold until I can find a photo of the original cannon as I want to make it as authentic as possible," he said.

Ken was also involved in the construction of the bullock wagon built for the Blackbutt and District Tourism and Heritage Association earlier this year.

He was responsible for making the huge wheels for the wagon, which symbolises the history of the timber industry in the Blackbutt region.

He agrees blacksmithing is a dying craft and is concerned that when old blacksmiths go no-one is coming through to carry on the trade.

Topics:  blacksmith blacksmithing people profile


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