Today we took an excursion to the North and West of San Antonio, into the Hill Country, a highly trendy region of Texas that is favored by the wealthy folks of San Antonio and Austin.
Leaving just before lunch, we had a planned stop at the restaurant ranked as having the best barbecue in San Antonio - Rudy's. Rudy's is actually well outside the city in Leon Springs, and claims to have "The Worst Barbecue in Texas." Needless to say, it ain't the worst! Rudy's features slow-cooked brisket, sausage, ribs, and turkey, served by the pound to go or with sides like beans and corn with plain white bread. We tried the Rudy's in Leon Springs brisket and the sausage, and it was the best we'd ever eaten.
When we arrived around noon on a sunny Saturday, pickup trucks and family vans were parked all around the place, in the parking lot and along the edges. It's a barbecue joint plus country store (selling mostly Rudy's barbecue sauce) plus, apparently, a gas station although while we were there nobody bought any gas. We joined the end of the line and while we waited we and the others were offered samples of Rudy's best-known "side", sweet creamed corn. We ate at a picnic bench in one of the outdoor dining areas, and were so happy that we treated ourselves to Blue Bell ice cream for dessert.
After lunch we headed to the Hill Country town of Boerne, county seat of Kendall County, which was full of attractive (and expensive) stores and restaurants and comfortable homes. We found the county park which had an Agricultural Museum, paid our admission, talked a while to the volunteer, and wandered around looking at the donated old farm equipment. There were plows and cream separators and egg sorters and threshers and harrows and seed drills galore, all explained by excellent signs, but we were intrigued by the casual suggestion the guide made that we might want to see what the blacksmiths were doing. Farm equipment in Boerne
Since we were the only visitors, we were expecting one of the typical reenactments where the smiths make small trinkets to be sold in the store, or explain about horseshoes. We were much surprised to discover that the two men working in the forge were bladesmiths, designers and creators of objects with blades -- daggers and swords and knives. We had read of bladesmiths, who can make knives so sharp they slice through heavy rope like butter and seldom need sharpening, but this was our first opportunity to meet them.
The art and craft of bladesmithing had almost died away by the 1970s. So many companies advertised and sold knives, swords, daggers and similar items that people simply assumued that if you wanted one you would go and buy one. These commercial knives are all produced by grinding, rather than smithing. But there are always a few curious and dedicated individuals who want to learn how to forge, say, a dagger from steel. The journeyman bladesmith we met had been dedicated to this craft for sixteen years; the second, his pupil, still an apprentice, for nine years. They showed us some objects they have made, including a dagger currently in work and a small leaf which they use for demonstrating their tools to school children. They explained the tests given only by master bladesmiths in Georgia to be certified to the journeyman or master bladesmith rank.
Part of the attraction is learning about the properties of steel. Using the heat from the forge and their knowledge of how they want to use the metal, they can bond several thin pieces of steel, heat the resulting object and draw it longer and thinner, and repeat this process several times, folding and folding until two layers become four, then eight, then more again. This is the process resulting in Damascus Steel, highly prized for its ability to bend without breaking, and its beautiful lacy pattern.
Art, skill, design, study, practice, and exacting standards are the primary ingredients in bladesmithing, which is more than a hobby to these men. We left the barn realizing that we had learned a lot in one short meeting.