- Associated Press - Monday, May 30, 2016

ALBANY, Minn. (AP) - A group of volunteers is working to bring a building to life in Albany that would fit in nicely in a different era.

Thousands attend Albany Pioneer Days every September, and one of the popular attractions is the blacksmith shop. But blacksmithing is undergoing a bit of a revival, and many members of Central Minnesota Blacksmiths want to do projects or help out at Pioneer Days.

The problem is, the current blacksmith shop on the fairgrounds is in good condition but is a little too small, the St. Cloud Times (https://on.sctimes.com/22nxGX9 ) reported.

So the group members are building a timber frame blacksmith shop. They’ve cut down about 250 trees near Santiago, and have spent the past weeks sawing the logs. The wood needs to dry, so building the structure will have to wait until next spring.

The volunteers are even going to make nails for the building the old-fashioned way, before machines, pounding them out one at a time. The blacksmithing work can wait until the winter, and there will be a lot of it to do besides nails, including latches and brackets.

Ken Zitur, of Ken’s Custom Iron in Avon, runs the blacksmith shop at Pioneer Days with his wife, MaryLou. He’s been blacksmithing for 40 years, and he said the craft is finding new fans every day. A group he’s in, Central Minnesota Blacksmiths, has 55 members and keeps busy with winter classes and other work.

“Everybody is very hands on,” MaryLou Zitur said of the club. “Everyone wants to get involved and be a part of it and everything.”

Ken Zitur said there are probably more people interested in blacksmithing now than there ever was.

“We need to get the young people working with their hands,” he said. “The more young people we can get off the video games and getting dirty, the better.”

Ken Zitur pitched the idea of a new blacksmith shop to his club and the Stearns County Pioneer Club (he’s a member of that one, too). He had been concerned about the size of the current blacksmith shop.

“It was fine when they started, but now we’ve got one or two guys that help in the blacksmith shop, and when you’ve only got one anvil and one forge, you get three or four people standing there, you really don’t have much room,” he said.

Besides not much room for the workers or for people watching demonstrations, the current building poses other concerns.

“For me, it’s always been a safety issue when you’ve got little kids coming through there and they’re standing way too close to the anvil,” Ken Zitur said. “We’ve got wire that keeps them back, but sparks fly a long ways.”

The new building will be 40 by 48 feet, and it will have to be in a new location because it’s too big for its current spot.

The Pioneer Club paid a Cambridge resident who crates timber frame buildings to do blueprints and a small scale model of the new building. The volunteers have a list of all the parts they’ll need to eventually assemble it. They’re hopeful it will be ready in time for next year’s Pioneer Days.

It’s been a learning experience for everyone. A lot of the materials used have been borrowed or donated. A friend of one volunteer let the group have the trees; he had planted them when he was 12, so he needed to thin out his lot.

“When we were sawing logs, we had about 30 guys out in the woods,” Ken Zitur said. “It looked like a small logging operation.”

The new shop should be a great addition to the fairgrounds, said Brennan Shay, president of Stearns County Pioneer Club.

“They’re making a nice effort to put up a great building there,” he said. “I wish there were more a lot more volunteers like them.”

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Information from: St. Cloud Times, https://www.sctimes.com


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