I've spent these last few decades here in these hills practicing my craft, making and selling copper ware and iron ware. I'm George the smith--at least that's what I'm known as hereabouts.
I was born a far bit north of here, near a huge lake. The massive ruins of a city lay to it southern tip, called Chi-Go to the locals. The old broken-up roads must have been marvellous in their day but they're nothing but dangerous stretches of broken rubble now.
I was born the fifth of seven children to Anne and Mark Simmons of Grayslake. I was taught at an early age to write my name, then read and write a bit. I took to numbers better than most others in our village. The family farm raised oxen, goats, chickens and pigs. We had three milk cows. We ate well enough and had enough to trade for what we needed come market days. I took to the smithy early as a way of getting free from the drudgery of field work. I apprenticed to Gerald when I was but eight. He was a good master and only beat me when I proved to be lazy or an ass. I admit that I was a stubborn little shit. I spent three years on the bellows before I was allowed to pick up a hammer and tongs. Looking back I gather that it was a good thing as it build my shoulders and arms into monstrous things compared to the other boys. I appreciated the fact that I always had a warm place to sleep come the cold months.
Our forge was near an ancient rail-road yard. There was tons upon tons of coal in the great rolling cars. Without those we could not have survived. I found how to twist the rims off of the vehicles that littered the land so that we had good steel to work in our forges. After that discovery we grew until we had six smiths under one roof. Master Gerald approved of my ingenuity and personally tutored me. He taught me everything he knew. As I grew older I was given more responsibilities. Four of us took a cart out during the summer and a horse-drawn sledge during the winter to look for working stock. We carried cutlasses and bows to drive off the highwaymen and the reavers. Some men always tried to steal from others rather than succeed by the sweat of their own brows. I wielded a great two-handed hooked sword called a Falx that I carried sheathed across my back. It was made to cut tree limbs for firewood and clear brush. It did a fine job severing arms and legs.
My master-work was a long saber done in folded steel. I had learned how to flux and weld a blade that I folded over ten times. When I quenched it the damned thing drew back into an arc. I spent two months sharpening it and polishing the fuller. When hung by a string and tapped, it rang like a bell.
Once I had my master's papers I spent several of my carefully hoarded silvers on a long four-wheeled cart and two oxen. It carried my anvil, tools and stock, not to mention my bedding and larder. I carried woodworking tools and field tools such as shovels, hoes and scythes that came from my hand. I spent much of my free time for a month working on a four foot long saw in a wooden frame. I also carried along my most prized posession--a set of encyclopedia carefully packed away in a waxed wooden chest. Once the spring weather became gentle enough I left. I spent many months drifting south and west, looking for a place to call home. The density and risks of the ancient cities and towns forced me far to the west into a broad farming belt before I continued in a more southerly direction. I followed the streams and rivers as that was where people had settled. I traded my skills for food. (Silver quarters and dimes were the coins of the land. A silver dime was two day's wages for an unskilled man.) One travelled on the verges of the old roads where the gravel lay. Use of any of the old bridges meant taking ones life into one's own hands.
More than once I was braced by highwaymen. I used my sword to great effect on many. Some fell to my hammer. I suffered more than one wound that left jagged scars. Thankfully no wounds damaged my ability to swing my hammer or grip my pinciers. Always I was concious of my limited stock of coal for my forge so I learned to use hardwood charcoal for my forge's fuel for all but welding. I earned many silver dimes in this fashion. Wherever I went I kept out an eye for valuable goods to take from the ruins. It made for a precarious load. I used a seemingly indestructable woven plastic tarp over the whole thing to keep the contents stable and protected.
North of an old city just west of the great river I found a great cache of coal in railroad cars near what appeared to be an old power plant. I scouted the nearby hills in search of a place to build my forge. I found many fields under care and many farms, some operated by single families and some by clans. I saw corn fields, wheat fields, gardens and small herds of cattle. It seemed to be a prosperous area.
I found a cave--no, a cavern, many paces deep as well as wide with a small stream flowing out of it. It was about fifteen miles from the coal cars. I could not believe my luck that none had claimed it. I knew that I would be staying there. I paced out my quarter square mile that each man may freely take and drove in markers. The land I claimed was part grassy bottom land, part woods and was slightly sloped except for the few acres that held the cavern. A short ways away from the cavern I dug a deep pit, floored it over and built a south-facing privy. I faced over the opening to the cavern with wood logs tied together in a stout wall three timbers thick. Then I built a strong cottage with the cavern wall forming the cottage's back wall. It was built using post and beam. I had learned how to do mortice and tenon joinery during my travels. The joints were pegged together with wedges. I left the beams round where I could to save labor. Sheets of stone as large as I could move made up the floor and roofed over the little stream. I inset car windshields up high into the walls to provide light. I was never much of a mason. My poor excuse for a fireplace smoked and backed up incessantly.
Next came my smithy. I built that damned thing out of thick squared-off slabs of dry-laid limestone taken from old buildings in the city. I had to use a block and tackle to move the slabs with wood rollers beneath. The forge building was very deep with copious room for supplies of both metal and coal. I made the floor out of sand, clay and lime. When wetted and pounded to mix and flatten it dried solid as stone. Once I had my hearth built and bellows operating I forged my first locally made project--hinges and latches for my home's door and shutters. I then cut a door through the back wall of the cottage into the cavern. I forged cunning hinges that would allow the door to swing into the cavern yet appear as but a part of the cabin's wall. a blade thrust into a small slot served to lift the metal cross-bar from its receiver, thus unlocking the hidden door.
When I explored the cave I found a sand beach leading to a large underground lake or river--I could never figure out which. Since nobody local had hit on the idea of salvaging vehicle wheels for stock I was set for a good while--perhaps as long as I lived. The vehicle carcasses also furnished me with a ready supply of sheet metal, copper wire, glass windows, screws, nuts and bolts much finer that anyone could produce. I built several racks of shelves within the cavern where I kept my dry food and salvaged treasures.
I spent several months traveling back and forth to the train yard with my cart, securing many tons of coal and as much working metal stock as I could easily store. Any time I came across others I told them that I was a smith, where I'd set up my shop and the fact that I'd trade work for food.
I was constantly on the look-out for a thing I'd seen in my books. I was looking for a cast iron stove--a pot-belly stove or a Franklin fireplace.
In my gleaning through the wreckage of old houses I came upon many things, some of which I could not comprehend their uses. However I always packed out simple, useful things such as plates, bowls, cups, tableware, cookware, pots and pans. Some things fell apart at a touch yet others were durable enough to use.
Nobody knew when the great die-off occured or even if it was one big event or many small ones. All we knew was that no living man or woman could remember it. Nobody alive could remember knowing folk that lived through it. That made it at least seven or eight generations in the past. Very little cloth remained whole. Books and magazines were generally illegible unless they had been kept somehow sealed away in a favorable environment.
Foraging for old things was a dangerous business. Nobody went into the old cities when the wind blew because that was when parts of the old towers fell from on high to smash a man's brains out without warning. I'd heard tales of entire parties not returning. They were found later crushed under a load of stone--the entire facing of a building had let go all at once. The streets could also open up beneath a person's feet and hurtle a body deep within tunnels and pits beneath the surface, where you'd lay helpless, broken and dying, food for the rats.
Sometimes groups of families would get together and move into an old town if it wasn't too large, the structures were in good shape and it was close to clean flowing water.
I did my salvaging in old villages and farms. Barns and machine sheds sometimes had tools that I could use. I found my anvil and vise that way. I found many kerosene lanterns but frustratingly we could not use them. We had no fine fuel for the damned things. Our light came from grease lamps and candles. I took the wicks from all the kerosene lanterns that I came across to use as wicks for my grease lamps.
.... There is more of this story ...