A visitor walking into Scott Beam’s shop building in Lincolnton could easily be transported back in time.
The walls are lined with old tools, most of which are covered in rust. And Beam admits that he likes it that way. Dust particles float in the light trickling through windows and gaps between the wallboards.
“I’ve been accused of being a hoarder but I prefer to be called a collector,” he said. “I like old tools and rust. Rust is my favorite color.”
The main light (and heat) in the building comes from the forge at which Beam can frequently be found. By trade, he’s a blacksmith and shoes horses, but he’s also an artist. Many of the tools he uses are older than he is. Beam prefers to work at his charcoal-fed forge, using a manually powered blower to bring the fire up to welding heat.
When he’s not shoeing horses, he works on artistic projects that transform the accumulated tools and implements into flowers, dogs or other creations.
“I’ve been doing this 30-something years and I like it because it’s something I can do with my hands,” Beam said. “I can create or reproduce. Although it was at one time a dying art, there’s been a resurgence since the early 1970s and in the last few years it’s really become popular. If I teach it to a youngster, it’s something that can be carried on so it won’t be lost.”
Last year, he was contracted by the Lincoln County Historical Association to hand forge chain to be installed on the Brevard plot in Machpelah Cemetery in Iron Station. Link by link, Beam has been painstakingly making lengths of chain that, because of his methods, looks similar to the chain that was originally made 150 years ago to surround the plot.
Much of the chain that was originally in place in the cemetery has been lost or damaged over the years. Beam had to measure between the pillars marking the plot to determine how long each length of chain would need to be. When complete, the varying lengths of chain will total approximately 160 feet.
“I can make about two-and-a-half feet in about an hour,” said Beam as he twisted a link of chain glowing red from the heat of his forge. “If I just sat down here and worked on it I could probably do it in about a week’s time, but I have a really hard time doing something over and over. When I have slack time, which is really rare, or the weather’s bad, I work on my chain.”
The process begins with 3/16-inch pieces of iron rod, bent into U-shaped lengths, which Beam welds together and finishes with a quarter twist.
“It’s a slow process but I’m not a very fast blacksmith,” Beam said with a laugh.
Some of the newly forged chain is already in place, and because the people who originally installed the chain are no longer around, Beam and Jason Harpe, the executive director of the Lincoln County Historical Association, had to do some “research and development” before installing the first lengths of Beam’s chain, Beam said.
“We didn’t know exactly how it was mounted,” he explained. “The granite posts have holes drilled in them and the best we could figure had lead holding the chain in place. Since they’re vertical, there’s no way to pour it so we took lead sheets and cut strips and pounded it in with hammers and punches. It seemed to tighten up and do really good.”
Notable people buried in the cemetery are from the Graham, Brevard, Morrison and Johnston families, with the largest family plots containing the Brevard family. The cemetery was in place before Machpelah Presbyterian Church was constructed in 1848.
Beam said hopes to have the chain completed by early summer.
“Heritage and history is pretty important to me, and knowing where we came from,” he said. “A lot of people are not too worried about how things were done, and I am.”
Some of Beam’s hand-forged creations can be seen at Just Around the Corner in Lincolnton.