Lifelong blacksmith collection symbolizes strength
Elwood Bakke has never seen an anvil he hasn’t liked, or that he hasn’t thought he could put to plenty of good use.
Bakke, a resident of the Lincoln Lane assisted living center in Hendricks at age 96, has a collection of 26 anvils. He began collecting them by chance, and has kept all 26 that he obtained throughout his life.
He purchased the first of his anvils on the advice of his father, at a time when he’d begun to do much of the basic craftsmanship completed by traditional blacksmiths.
“He thought I needed an anvil, so I went and bought one,” Bakke said. “Later on, I started going to sales and bought more of them.”
At first the anvils were purchased to help in expanding his blacksmith trade, which produced added income in conjunction with his family’s farm operation in Marble Township, Lincoln County. Eventually he started to add any anvil that had some noticeable differences to the ones he already owned.
“Eventually it turned into a collection,” he said. “At first they were things I thought I’d be able to use for work. After I knew I had enough of them, I bought a few more just because I like them.”
He keeps some of the anvils in the front room of his apartment, interspersed with other objects that date back to his early life in Lincoln County and to his U.S. Army service. The rest are kept in his walk-in storage closet located down the hallway from his front door.
Bakke was born in Deuel County, South Dakota, near Astoria a short distance across the border from Hendricks. He spent some of his early years living with his family in northern Minnesota, when his father temporarily left farming during the Great Depression and worked as a Bemidji area lumberjack who cut timber for sawmills.
They returned to their home area at a time when Elwood had grown up enough to take part in any kind of physical labor needed in rural farm regions.
It included having the most important job on an early 20th century threshing crew. While still a teenager, he took responsibility for keeping a massive, powerful, and at times unpredictable threshing machine on track for entire working days.
“Neighbors knew my dad worked hard and was dependable with machinery,” Bakke said. “It got to where he was too busy to accept more work, so he began to tell them they could hire me instead.”
He remembers some skepticism at first because of his youthful appearance. His skills, combined with the mentorship his father had provided, enabled him to work in a way that left no doubt about his capabilities.
“I was lucky the first time I got a machine started,” he said. “The belt lined up perfectly on the first try. That usually doesn’t happen even for someone with a lot of experience. It convinced people that I knew what I was doing and it gave me confidence.”
His first farming experiences were followed by moving out to California to work in a World War II era defense plant. He was drafted into the Army in 1945, then served in the Philippine Islands first as a truck and later as a Counter Intelligence Corps member.
After the war he returned home, where he went back to farming at the family’s home place in Section 32 of Marble Township. The section is located near Lincoln County Road 17 directly between Hendricks and Wilno.
Elwood and his wife, Delphine, raised three daughters. One of them, Joan, now lives in St. Paul. The two others include Judy of Charleston, South Carolina, and Brenda of Seattle, Washington.
His work as a farmer continued for many years. The blacksmith work was still needed from time to time up until eight years ago, when he and Pauline moved into Lincoln Lane.
“I kept doing it as long as I was living at the farm,” he said. “I blacksmithed for almost everybody who lived nearby, whenever someone had something I could fix.”
The anvil collection offers a lasting reminder of early 20th century farm and industrial labor. It also demonstrates the wide variety of trade skills utilized by some of the most experienced professional and amateur blacksmiths.
One of the anvils that stands out most was known as a “horn anvil.” Its strong metallic base is shaped in a way that facilitates a wide range of bending and shaping processes, all of which influence how a plain piece of metal can be transformed into objects that were often useful for more than a half-century.
“I bought that one from a blacksmith who lived north of Canby,” Bakke said. “It’s the only horn anvil I’ve ever seen.”
Another anvil that captures attention is by far the largest of all 26. It has dimensions almost the size of a refrigerator door and weighs approximately 40 pounds.
Elwood continues to enjoy living at Lincoln Lane as a widower. He enjoys visits from family members, and daily interaction with neighbors and with staff members.
“I like it here,” Bakke said. “It’s a place where everyone’s friends with everybody. We all like to talk about old times.”
Gina Archuleta, a certified nursing assistant at Lincoln Lane, is one of the staff members who interacts with Bakke on a daily basis.
She and her husband, both of whom moved to Hendricks from Colorado, are employed at the city’s health care facilities.
She said Bakke tells many detailed, interesting stories about people he’s known over the years and the work-related situations associated with life in a rural township.
“It’s a pleasure to know Elwood,” Archuleta said. “He’s very active for someone who’s 96. He also really likes people and enjoys having conversations. It’s always interesting to hear him share memories.”