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Alpheus “Alf” Rudd, 10th-generation master blacksmith, on times gone by, the value of old-world skills and self-sufficiency, and ‘Forged in Fire’

(Publication Date: 11.28.23)

In this episode of the We Are Chaffee: Looking Upstream podcast, Adam Williams talks with Alpheus “Alf” Rudd, a master blacksmith with a family lineage in the trade, dating back to at least the 1600s.

 

Adam and Alf take a ride through history and stories of a time gone by, personal, family and otherwise. Alf was abandoned by his father from the get-go, and his stepfather was lost at sea in the Pacific during World War II when Alf was only a baby. He has stunningly vivid memories of being run over by a car driven by his grandfather when he was six years old. His mom was a Rosy the Riveter type, a welder who died when Alf was 10. 

 

And there’s more. But Alf focuses on the grandparents who raised him, teaching him all the life skills that an old-world agrarian family and community in the Deep South had to teach at the time. 

SHOW NOTES, LINKS, CREDITS & TRANSCRIPT

The We Are Chaffee: Looking Upstream podcast is a collaboration with the Chaffee County Departments of Public Health and Housing, and is supported by the Colorado Public Health & Environment: Office of Health Disparities.

 

Along with being distributed on popular podcast listening platforms (e.g. Spotify, Apple), Looking Upstream is broadcast weekly at 1 p.m. on Tuesdays, on KHEN 106.9 community radio in Salida, Colo., and can be listened to on-demand via khen.org

 

Alpheus “Alf” Rudd

Website: alfsblacksmith.com 

Facebook: facebook.com/AlfsBlacksmithing 

 

We Are Chaffee

Website: wearechaffee.org

Facebook: facebook.com/WeAreChaffee

Instagram: instagram.com/wearechaffee

 

CREDITS

Looking Upstream Host, Producer & Photographer: Adam Williams

Looking Upstream Engineer & Producer: Jon Pray

We Are Chaffee Community Advocacy Coordinator: Lisa Martin

We Are Chaffee Graphic and Web Design: Heather Gorby

Director of Chaffee County Public Health and Environment: Andrea Carlstrom

TRANSCRIPT

Note: Transcripts are produced using a transcription service.

Although it is largely accurate, minor errors inevitably exist.

 

[Intro music, guitar instrumental]

 

Adam Williams (00:00:14): Welcome to We Are Chaffee: Looking Upstream, a conversational podcast of humanness, community, and well-being rooted in Chaffee County, Colorado. I'm Adam Williams. 

 

Today, I'm talking with Alpheus “Alf” Rudd, a master blacksmith with a family lineage in the trade dating back to at least the 1600s. Alf figures that's 10 generations more or less, so think about how far back that goes. It's a time period that covers the Revolutionary War in the 1700s, of which Alf had ancestors who fought and were blacksmiths for the Continental Army. 

 

It covers the Civil War era in the 1800s, and World War II in the 1900s. We touch on the Vietnam War era too, because that's when Alf enlisted in the US Navy with his eighth grade education and became a ship fitter and a diver. We take a ride through history and stories of a time gone by, personal, family and otherwise.

 

(01:07): Now I think the tragedies in particular that Alf experienced from his very beginning are remarkable, though Alf seems to kind of shrug them off as nothing extraordinary. He was abandoned by his father from the get-go, and his stepfather was lost at sea in the Pacific during World War II when Alf was only a baby, months old. He has stunningly vivid memories of being run over by a car, driven by his grandfather, when he was six years old. His mom was a Rosie the Riveter type. She was a welder, and she died when Alf was 10. 

 

And there's more, but Alf focuses on the grandparents who raised him, teaching him all the life skills that an Old World agrarian family and community in the Deep South had to teach at that time. As I said, we cover a lot of history in this conversation, personal and otherwise, and we have a surprising collection of historical touch points that I don't think I've ever experienced like this before.

 

(02:02): We touch on Benedict Arnold and John F. Kennedy, Herman Melville and Moby Dick, Julius, Caesar and Aristotle, the Civil War photographer, Matthew Brady, and the Russian jeweler, Carl Fabergé. Alf even takes a moment to reflect on Adolf Hitler and George Armstrong Custer as babies. Now, it's in shining a light on some of the essential life philosophies that he learned from his grandparents, but nonetheless, they added to a fun and unexpected list of who's who that I didn't see coming when I sat down for this conversation. 

 

Alf also recounts some of his experience on the History Channel's TV show, Forged in Fire, and he tosses in his two cents on what's gone wrong with the movie theater experience since the old days of his youth, among other things. Here we go with Alf Rudd.

 

[Transition music, guitar instrumental]

 

(03:03): Welcome to Looking Upstream, Alf. I'm really grateful that you are making the time to come talk with me.

 

Alf Rudd (03:07): Yeah, well, I'm glad to be here.

 

Adam Williams (03:10): You are a 10th generation master blacksmith. 10 generations.

 

Alf Rudd (03:16): Yeah, and when I say 10th generation, it means 10th generation in our family, probably something like that. We go back to the 1600s. We were blacksmiths, and blacksmithing goes before that. From what I've learned in my family on my mother's side of the family, we go back a long, long ways to Scotland.

 

Adam Williams (03:40): Okay. There is, I know a lot of story, a lot of history to this, and you have shared some of it on your website, which is what I first encountered of your story.

 

Alf Rudd (03:51): Yeah.

 

Adam Williams (03:52): I wonder why you shared what you did, and we're going to get into that because I think there's so much there that's interesting, but what is it that's important to you about sharing it?

 

Alf Rudd (04:02): Well, I don't know about the importance of it. The reason I shared is because I've grown up with it. People have asked me questions about this when I was growing up. When it came to blacksmithing, I always thought at first that people were not fools, but with all due respect, is why don't they just fix these things themselves? I was brought it up in an agrarian family, like so many other people, where it was taught all these life skills [inaudible 00:04:35] happened to have shooting and fur hunting, and those kinds, how to not just chop firewood, but how to sharpen an ax. 

 

All of this goes on, and how to sew a button on, and how to cook for a large group of people, and all those life skills, everything you could think of that was part of chores. Before you ate breakfast, everybody had their own chores to do, even on a weekend. Even on a weekend, you were given assignments. Each person had their own little job. We shared shining the shoes for church on Sunday. Saturday night, the job was to shine 20 pairs of shoes.

 

Adam Williams (05:22): Oh, wow. So you would shine for the whole family then?

 

Alf Rudd (05:24): Yeah, but it would be more than one of us. It's all these life skills. Not only did I shine shoes, I learned how to shine shoes, how to rig a horse and buggy, how to rig a wagon and those kinds of things.

 

Adam Williams: Was that your transportation as a child?

 

Alf Rudd (05:38): I didn't drive. Yeah, we used a lot of that until I was probably 15 years old.

 

Adam Williams: Where was this?

 

Alf Rudd: In Louisiana and Colorado.

 

Adam Williams: In Louisiana, it must've been a really rural area.

 

Alf Rudd (05:55): Yeah, it was, but we still had all the same things that everybody else had. We just had a drive-in movie, and we used the wagons to go to the drive-in too, but we weren't alone. Everybody went to church and used the wagons. We had a car, we had a pickup truck, a 1938 Plymouth pickup, but we used it when... You got see three Tarzan movies for a $1.00 if you had a whole carload of people. If you had a wagon, you could probably get 10 people on that thing.

 

Adam Williams: Because pay for the load, not per person.

 

Alf Rudd (06:30): Per load, yeah.

 

Adam Williams: I actually grew up with a drive-in outside of my town. I grew up in rural Midwest and we had one, and so we would do the same thing where you'd load into the pickup truck, try to get as many people as you could get in.

 

Alf Rudd (06:41): Oh, yeah. You'd see three Tarzan movies and cartoons. What a shame. We don't... Here it is 2023, what happened to our cartoons with the movie? We don't get a chance to have fun just before we see the main feature anymore as though there's something wrong with it.

 

Adam Williams (07:04): So you grew up in Louisiana and you've shared some of this history, like I said, on your website, and I want to go back to the very beginning of this here because you've had a lot of ups and downs and amazing, significant, I should say, experiences in your life.

 

Alf Rudd (07:19): Yeah. My grandparents raised me. My mom died when I was 10.

 

Adam Williams (07:19): That's a big one.

 

Alf Rudd (07:25): She had a peritonitis infection and it just made her very ill. She died from probably sepsis, I suppose. In today's world that we call it blood poisoning. But she had that infection in a bowel that I remember, so she died when I was 10 and my grandparents raised me. What happened is I learned from them. It was like living with Aristotle and some of the other great philosophers because they always seemed to have these sayings all the time. 

 

Some were funny and some were not. Like my grandfather always said that we talked about him living in the country when he was a child because things had changed since I grew up, and he said when he was a child, everything was country. So he had a way of answering that question in a way that seemed to make a whole lot of sense.

 

(08:32): They raised me, and I had a great deal of interest in what he did, him being a blacksmith. He says, "Well, we're going to show you how to be a blacksmith and we're going to show you the master trade," is what it's called. Master trade means from the 10th century, which is a coincidence to say, go back 10 generations. So I'm kind of mixing the two together by saying 10 generations. 

 

It's probably at least that, maybe more, but 10th century means from the time the 10th century all the way through the 19th century, blacksmithing was pretty much the same thing. The techniques were pretty much the same type of thing, and how to move the metal, the metal itself too. But how they got the metal was a little different in the 10th century than it was in the 19th century.

 

Adam Williams (09:24): I want to highlight something you have shared before about blacksmiths in your family. Going back, you're saying it is back to the 1600s and-

 

Alf Rudd (09:34): Yeah, at least 1690s that I know, when they started coming to America.

 

Adam Williams (09:39): The Revolutionary War is something that especially I think is really fascinating.

 

Alf Rudd (09:44): It is.

 

Adam Williams (09:45): Because that seems like it was so long ago. We're a young nation compared to where your family came from. Well, in mine too. But you had family members, ancestors who were blacksmiths during the Revolutionary War.

 

Alf Rudd (09:59): That's right.

 

Adam Williams (10:00): And I had to reread to catch this, some of them fought in that war as well, and they served under multiple people, but Benedict Arnold was one of them.

 

Alf Rudd (10:11): He probably was involved in some of that, but it was a different... He had started with an S. I still remember the name of the General at... I can't remember exactly the name, but it was something like that because they were in Saratoga and places like that, whatever general it was up at the time.

 

Adam Williams (10:36): What I'm wondering-

 

Alf Rudd (10:37): Benedict Arnold was involved in that stuff somewhere along the line because it was all in that same area between Lower New York and Upper New York State and Vermont, which was probably part of New York at the time. Bennington, Vermont was actually Bennington, New York at the time.

 

Adam Williams (10:59): What I'm curious about with all of this is how you know this history or what records or letters or things you might have?

 

Alf Rudd (11:06): Believe it or not, sitting on laps. They're telling me these stories and some of it, other parts of it were very interesting, the way they explained it to me. I had one grandmother, I didn't get a chance to know her, who lived to be 107 years old. That's amazing. From, get this, 1798 to 1905.

 

Adam Williams (11:31): Wow.

 

Alf Rudd (11:32): Do the math on that. I mean, she'd talk about changes in her [inaudible 00:11:38].

 

Adam Williams (11:37): She lived in three centuries.

 

Alf Rudd (11:39): Three centuries, yeah. You might have two plus, but three centuries. 1798 is almost 1800, but still.

 

Adam Williams (11:49): She touched them and went through a whole century in between, and that's rare.

 

Alf Rudd (11:53): Yeah, and two others. Yeah.

 

Adam Williams (11:55): That's amazing.

 

Alf Rudd (11:55): She was in her 60s when the Civil War breaks out.

 

Adam Williams (12:00): You had a grandfather who was born in the late 1800s, and I thought this was a fascinating story too, because he must've only been around seven or so. It was around 1900 when he went with an uncle onto a whaling boat.

 

Alf Rudd (12:14): He was a cabin boy on a whaler turpon at New Bedford Connecticut. He was a cabin boy, and he said they had went out to sea for two years. Now, keep in mind, they weren't on the ocean for two years. The voyage was two years, and one of the trips they had taken, one of the voyages that had taken, and they didn't kill the whales for the blubber, for the lull like they used to. They would just take the head, whatever was in the head, the oil that was in the head.

 

Adam Williams (12:47): Wow. And just leave? Dispose?

 

Alf Rudd (12:52): I don't know. It is my understanding. I wasn't well-informed as to why they did that, but I've done some homework on my own since then. It seems to me like they were interested in the oil in the head of the whale because they were making cosmetics and lubricants and things like that, and that all that's in the head of the whale isn't oil at all. It's a type of lubricant that works so well that you could lubricate a clock and it would run for 400 years before we'd need many more lubrication. That's how well it... It's just interesting, whale oil. I know a little about it. I've got some of it too. I still have some in my shop.

 

Adam Williams (13:40): It's interesting, these stories, because they sound like they're from such another time, in another world.

 

Alf Rudd (13:46): They were, but keep in mind now, I said that some of my own homework on that. What he told me was, "Oh, make sure you read the book Moby Dick." Of course, I've read it twice. If you've read Moby Dick, it's like reading the Bible. I mean, it's not the Bible itself, but it's a big thick book and it must have what, it must have 100 chapters in it. Some of the chapters are only two pages long.

 

Adam Williams (14:12): I read it as a senior in high school, and I don't recall, but I remember the schoolwork I had to do on it being difficult.

 

Alf Rudd (14:20): Melville, by the way, he was a whaler himself. That's why. He knew about the Essex. Essex was a real whaler ship that collided with a whale, I guess. He put that whole thing together. It's interesting how he explained the stuff about just the head of the whale. It's all they were after. And they were always after the sperm whale or the wright whale, I believe he called it. That I remember was something like that. I think we thought he said, wright whale.

 

Adam Williams (14:59): Let's go back to your childhood and with your mother. Your dad wasn't there.

 

Alf Rudd (15:05): No, no. I didn't have much of a... I was born illegitimate. That's all in there.

 

Adam Williams (15:10): Yeah, yeah, yeah. You've shared this story, and it's an interesting thing that your mom goes to a dance, she meets this soldier who was at Fort Polk. I happened to have been there when I was in the Army as well, so I can picture this sort of environment. As you've described it, before they danced until the night ended, and then you were born nine months later.

 

Alf Rudd (15:31): They danced too close is what I called it.

 

Adam Williams (15:34): And he already was married and he already had a family.

 

Alf Rudd (15:37): Oh, yeah. Which by the way, I didn't know how much I mentioned it in my history, but my stepmother was some piece of work.

 

Adam Williams (15:48): She wasn't happy about it.

 

Alf Rudd (15:49): I had to sleep with one eye open when I lived with my father.

 

Adam Williams (15:53): You ended up going to live with him eventually, but this was after another significant experience when you were young. You got hit by a car.

 

Alf Rudd (16:01): Yeah, that was my grandfather. I was only six years old.

 

Adam Williams (16:06): What was your grandfather?

 

Alf Rudd (16:08): My grandfather ran me over. That's the car.

 

Adam Williams (16:12): Oh, wow. Okay.

 

Alf Rudd (16:13): Yeah. I was playing in the mud up near the house. It was a big pool of mud and it was rained a lot, and I was splashing in the mud and I didn't have a thing on. I was just in there. My grandmother and my mom had put me in the mud and let me splash around, and they were there at the time. It's funny how you can remember these things. I was only six years old and I can remember just as clear as a bell.

 

(16:39): Here he comes roaring up that road to keep from getting stuck in the mud because it was wet and juicy, as you might imagine. I just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. He ran me over and broke my left leg. I could feel the tire of the... I could actually feel this and see the light go out with the vehicle, go right over the top of me. I can actually picture that to this day with a wheel hit me in the side of the head and left a big bruise on the side of my head at the same time. Just six years old. I can remember it just as clear as it was yesterday.

 

Adam Williams (17:18): I'm a bit stunned by visualizing that with you.

 

Alf Rudd (17:22): It wasn't long after that, they got me into the house and the doctors and stuff were there, and they got me taped up and put a cast on my leg. Set the bone. Being that young, bones would be pretty short and be easy to set a bone. I ran around on a cast. I remember they had bent some pieces of steel and put it around there with the plaster in it so the steel part would stick out the bottom. 

 

When I walked, I could walk in that steel racket, that metal thing that they probably made in the blacksmith shop just by bending a piece of iron that they could fit inside of that plaster cast. I remember gimping around on that thing very clearly.

 

Adam Williams (18:07): You said you were six when this happened.

 

Alf Rudd (18:09): Six years old.

 

Adam Williams (18:10): I think I'm a little confused then on the order of things with you, because you were with your mother, she dies when you're 10.

 

Alf Rudd: 10. That was... Yeah, it was [inaudible 00:18:18].

 

Adam Williams: You lived with your grandparents.

 

Alf Rudd: Yeah, they were there too on the farm.

 

Adam Williams (18:23): You went at some point to live with your father moving from Louisiana to the state of New York.

 

Alf Rudd: Yeah, Upstate New York. That's right.

 

Adam Williams: How old were you when you went to live with you father?

 

Alf Rudd (18:33): 13. 13, yeah. What was happening was it had to do with... See, my mother was a Rosie the Riveter, right? Isn't that in that-

 

Adam Williams (18:40): It is. She was a Rosie the Riveter type welder.

 

Alf Rudd (18:44): She was a welder and they called them Wendy the Welder. I don't know what the hell they called her. I have no idea what they would've called her, but she's just part of this whole scheme of things. I don't think they called each other Rosie the Riveter either. I think that's just a picture of what you might expect them to look like.

 

Adam Williams (19:02): I think it's representative of women who went into these roles. Your mom worked in the shipyards as a welder then during we're talking World War II era.

 

Alf Rudd (19:11): That's right. And get this, she had a pair of saddle shoes, just like you see in the Rosie the Riveter thing. She just happened to have a pair of those. I've still got one of her hammers and her cutting torch.

 

Adam Williams (19:24): Wow.

 

Alf Rudd (19:25): That she kind of left behind. It was just given to me, and I still got that laying around.

 

Adam Williams (19:31): What did she do after the war? You were born during the war years.

 

Alf Rudd (19:35): [inaudible 00:19:35] back on the farm. Well, she's in the shipyard and she's getting sick all the time and they'd say, "There must be something wrong with you," is what they're saying. Then finally they said, "We'll tell you what's wrong with you. You're pregnant, is what you are. And you can't go anywhere." Because back in those days when you're pregnant, you're not supposed to be traveling all over the place. She wanted to see them... She launched the USS Missouri. She worked on that. 

 

She was in three different places. She was in Pascagoula, Mississippi. And then she transferred to... Well, she was going to stay in Mobile, Alabama during the war, working on the ships, I guess. There was a bunch of racial problems there, having some problems that history says it had to do with paychecks between the black people and the white people in that environment.

 

(20:38): I'm not exactly sure what it was. But they were having some real racial problems there. They told her she needs to get the hell out of there. She shouldn't be a woman working in a place like this. They went and moved several of them out of that area to a dormitory in Brooklyn, New York where the Brooklyn Navy yard was. They have a dormitory for women there. They would pay her twice, which she was earning in-

 

Adam Williams (21:04): In Alabama?

 

Alf Rudd (21:05): ... in Alabama, that's right. She said she jumped at the chance to do that, and when she'd gotten there, they said it has to do with the USS Missouri, the Battleship Missouri. They wanted to get it launched, and she wanted to be there for that. When she got there, that's when they discovered she was pregnant.

 

Adam Williams (21:24): So you were born in Brooklyn?

 

Alf Rudd (21:26): Well, the infirmary, whatever that is.

 

Adam Williams (21:30): In the shipyard?

 

Alf Rudd (21:31): The shipyard, whatever. When I say shipyard, that I know of. There had to have been a hospital there. You can't get born in a shipyard. Whatever hospital was there at the time. I was born there, and I've been harassed by my family for years over that. I harassed myself too, because when I think about it, I says, when I did the Forged in Fire shows in Brooklyn New York where the old warehouses are for the Brooklyn Navy yard. I say, well, I told my wife, "I'm going to have to get me some salsa and bring it back," because there used to be a TV commercial about salsa that came from New York City.

 

Adam Williams (22:14): Yeah, El Paso.

 

Alf Rudd (22:15): It was supposed to be... Yeah, it was supposed be a joke.

 

Adam Williams (22:17): So you went full circle there, where it's from you were born, and then when did you go-

 

Alf Rudd (22:23): Yeah, nobody control over where they're born.

 

Adam Williams (22:23): Sure.

 

Alf Rudd (22:26): I think it's hilarious myself. I tried to tell those guys on Forged in Fire and I said, "Well, after I was three days old, my mother was able to take me home to Louisiana." They said, "You're not from here. Just because you lived here for three days." I said, "Well, I was born here."

 

Adam Williams: Right, right. That's a far cry from the country where you had been growing up.

 

Alf Rudd: Yeah, it was a big difference.

 

Adam Williams: Than where you would grow up

 

Alf Rudd (23:00): It's laughable, is what it is.

 

Adam Williams: Your mom met a Navy sailor-

 

Alf Rudd: She did.

 

Adam Williams: ... while there too.

 

Alf Rudd: In a salsa club.

 

Adam Williams: But then he would go with the war. He was over in the Pacific and he would die in battle.

 

Alf Rudd (23:14): He did, and he was lost at sea. If you're ever interested, I have his burial flag that she got in 1950 because they had to wait X amount of time to make sure he was lost at sea before they would give her... We'll get to this business, what happened, and how I ended up at my father's house, and my mom. They had to certify him as being lost at sea, so it was 1950 when she got his burial flag, and they presented it to her. I have that in the shop. It's my understanding he was going to adopt me.

 

Adam Williams (23:52): Is that what your mother had told you?

 

Alf Rudd (23:54): Yeah, yeah. Or somebody, my grandparents or somebody. Being 10 years old, I can't remember every detail, everything that everybody's said to me.

 

Adam Williams (24:02): Sure. It is just interesting how much of the history that you have a hold of and have a sense for anyway, and however that was shared considering we're talking about a time in the 40s, when as you put it, you were illegitimate.

 

Alf Rudd (24:16): Yeah. You couldn't have that in the 40s. It was a disgrace to the whole family. And get this, the community. You had to live in a community. Having a baby out of wedlock was not a good plan. It's like another reason for her not to go to hell back to Louisiana, but stay the heck in New York. See, she could have went home to Louisiana and had a baby there, which would've been me. But that was a bad idea.

 

Adam Williams (24:42): I wouldn't have been surprised if the story you'd have been told, given the fact that we're talking about this World War II period, if to save face, somebody might've said, "Oh, your father, he was lost at battle. He's a hero," if that would've been the story they gave you. But instead, it sounds like they were honest with you about how all of this played out.

 

Alf Rudd (25:02): Yeah, and they kept it pretty quiet because again, they want to save themselves the embarrassment, I suppose. It's kind of a funny story because there's a lot of stuff that doesn't jive. Why didn't they tell me sooner? Why didn't they this? Why didn't they that? Nobody really knows what the reason is, but there seemed to be conspiracy there along the alignment that they wanted to just let it go. It just always felt that way. The other problem is my mother was the only one that had... 

 

We were in farm community now. Nobody had social security numbers because in agricultural, you didn't need it. You lived on the farm, you didn't need a social security, you didn't pay it, so you didn't need it. That's the way it was.

 

(25:52): But my mom was working for the government and she had to have a social security number. I did not. I never got one until I joined the service because it was an agrarian thing. That's the way it was back. Now, you have to have one at birth. They issue it right away. Back in those days, you didn't get a social security number if you lived on a farm. You didn't need it.

 

Adam Williams (26:15): How old were you when you went into the service then?

 

Alf Rudd (26:17): 18.

 

Adam Williams (26:18): So at 18-

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Alf Rudd (26:19): I tried to go in when I was 17. I had a little trouble getting my folks, if you will, at the time. My father and stepmother signed papers because I wasn't 18 and I didn't weigh enough because that's what stopped the whole thing. I think they would have probably signed them, but I weighed under 100 pounds when I was 17.

 

Adam Williams (26:40): Okay. That's pretty either small or thin, or something.

 

Alf Rudd (26:43): I was just a skinny kid.

 

Adam Williams (26:44): At 17.

 

Alf Rudd (26:46): They told me to get some weight on. So I got some homemade barbells that I made myself and lifted those weights and stuff, and gained... I was 106 or 110 to 16, something like that when I turned 18 because back then I guess they had weight restrictions.

 

Adam Williams (27:06): Do you have an idea of how tall you were then?

 

Alf Rudd (27:09): When I joined the service, I was five 10. I'm five nine now. I'm the same person though. I don't know. I don't know what the hell happens. I think your spine shrinks or something.

 

Adam Williams (27:19): I'd place you around the Vietnam War era age-wise. So you wanted to enlist, you didn't wait to be drafted or how did that play out?

 

Alf Rudd (27:28): The reason I enlisted is because a kid took a serious interest, if we could back up, in blacksmithing. My mother was a welder, my grandfather on both sides. Me and my grandfather on my father's side of the family, they were the ones that were in the blacksmithing business by coincidence. My mother's father was also a blacksmith master of the trade. European Guild, French. But my grandfather's side of the family, they were also blacksmiths that go back a long way. 

 

When you add these two together, I don't know how far back my grandfather and my mother's side went, but on my father's side, they go back to the 1690s in Scotland. I am about as white as you get, too. We did a DNA thing. My daughter wanted me to do it, so I did it. I ended up with a 75% Scottish and 25% French. French would've been my mother's side of the family. She was Cajun French.

 

Adam Williams (28:29): Was that something that you were trying to do in the military? I think that's where we were headed there.

 

Alf Rudd (28:34): Well, going back to the military, I'm glad you brought it up because I had forgotten already, is I want to be a blacksmith. He said, "Well, the Army don't have any blacksmiths. The Navy always had them. The Navy always had them." I said, "Well, I tried to join the service, and they said that they don't have blacksmiths anymore. They used to. I think a coal shoveler used to be actually a trade. It was actually a badge for a coal shoveler at one time in the Navy." 

 

He said, "Then that would've been the same with the blacksmith. They would've had the two crossed blacksmith hammers. But those hammers represent the ship fitter nowadays, which is the new name for the blacksmith." That's what I said, "Well, that's what I want to be. I want to be the ship fitter." I wanted to be a blacksmith. That's why I joined the Navy. And we're Mariners, our family are Mariners, for go back hundreds of years just like the blacksmiths just in the family. It's just a coincidence that both sides were into blacksmithing.

 

Adam Williams (29:36): How long were you in and did you end up having to go to war?

 

Alf Rudd (29:38): 12 years altogether.

 

Adam Williams (29:39): That's a good stretch.

 

Alf Rudd (29:40): I was a really good swimmer and I learned to swim really well. I could swim miles. I mean, I was just good at it. Somebody encouraged me to go to diving school, so that's what I did. I got into diving school and I stayed in that for a while. 

 

One thing led to another and I ended up in a place I didn't want to be, let's put it that way, because I got a chance to ship over, as they call it, and to get extra pay and all these kinds of things, and just a little bit naive about what was going on around me and got myself into a situation when I would've preferred not to.

 

Adam Williams (30:19): Are we talking about conflict militarily or otherwise?

 

Alf Rudd (30:22): Military, that's right. Military conflict. Yeah.

 

Adam Williams (30:24): Okay, so when I think of those divers, that's with the medal.

 

Alf Rudd (30:30): Yeah. Now I'm not certified in hard hat. That's a different kind of... Diving, and then there's that.

 

Adam Williams: Okay.

 

Alf Rudd (30:38): They'll allow you to train in it and to certify in it's a different thing because it's incredibly dangerous soup to be in. Incredibly dangerous. You get in so much trouble underwater because there's no place to go and you can't make any mistakes.

 

Adam Williams (30:59): I think that would be a difficult science to learn everything behind it, to keep yourself safe and alive.

 

Alf Rudd (31:06): And others.

 

Adam Williams: Let alone deal with what you encounter actually in the field, so to speak, but it's underwater.

 

Alf Rudd: Very difficult. Very dangerous. Very difficult. If you get into any kind of warfare, it makes it worse. Except in our case, the only thing I can say is that we always had the upper end. We always made sure that we did.

 

Adam Williams: Let's go back to your going to move in with your father.

 

Alf Rudd (31:33): Okay, there now.

 

Adam Williams: You were 13.

 

Alf Rudd (31:35): When I was talking about social security numbers, my mother had one of these things, and when she died, that money from the social security would've went to me. She was already collecting... I was 10, so she had thousands of dollars in the bank from when her husband died in the war because it would've been a paycheck. She would've collected his pay.

 

Adam Williams (31:59): So she did end up marrying that Navy sailor who died in the Pacific?

 

Alf Rudd (32:02): She did marry him, yes. They did get married, but he had died, God months, just months later it seems. I don't know when she married him. I couldn't tell you.

 

Adam Williams (32:15): You must've been a baby.

 

Alf Rudd: He died in 1945 before the end of the war. It's a destroyer. It sunk.

 

Adam Williams (32:22): So you're saying that you would've collected her social security?

 

Alf Rudd: By the way, his brother died on another ship at the same time.

 

Adam Williams: There are a number of sad stories here and challenging experiences that happened when you were really young. I wonder if that had an effect on you in just knowing?

 

Alf Rudd (32:38): Well, I became a people person because of my grandparents. They were very good about that. I told you, they were living with a philosopher. Everybody, everybody is all made the same. He says, it's only one race. It's called the human race. That's how they explained it to me. We were expected to stick to our own kind like the Chinese do, like the Spanish do, like the blacks do, and like the whites do, like the Germans, like the Italians. We were expected to stick with our own kind. Jews did what they did. Catholics did what they did.

 

Adam Williams: You're talking about when you were a kid?

 

Alf Rudd: Yeah. I mean, it was just part of the world. It still is. It's what makes the world go round. Everybody tends to stick to their own kind.

 

Adam Williams: But despite that being the way we all would segregate ourselves, your grandparents taught you that we really all are the same.

 

Alf Rudd (33:32): Absolutely. She said be careful how you treat people. You never know who they're going to be someday. She says, look at the belly button. She said to me... I said something to her about this really old woman in church. I said, "Look how old that lady is". She said to me, she, "I'll tell you, she was born probably before the Civil War, and she could be 100 years old by now. She's get a belly button just like you do. One time a baby, being nursed. 

 

And because when you're born, you're completely helpless, somebody's got to be there, you're not going to survive the thing, to feed you and nurture you and do all these things that need to do to get you started so you can get up on your feet. A human baby is very helpless for a long time," he says, "And that woman you're looking at had to be like that, swaddling and those kinds of things. And look at her now, all you see is an old woman, but there was a baby there one time. Just look at-"

 

Adam Williams (34:37): And a whole life that happened all along the way.

 

Alf Rudd (34:39): Yeah, well, we were exposed. You take Adolf Hitler, for instance. Imagine Adolf Hitler taking his first steps.

 

Adam Williams (34:48): We don't think of him that way.

 

Alf Rudd (34:52): You can go back further than that. You can go back to George Armstrong Custer taking his first steps. You're talking about an infant here with the Golden Cord, that she used to call it. Once that golden cord is severed, you're part of the earth now. My grandfather was a Superman. He's the only one that doesn't have that. He says, "Because he's not human, you don't have a belly button." They were pretty good about that. Take Julius Caesar, for instance. You see all those pictures Brady took during the Civil War?

 

Adam Williams (35:30): Yep, Matthew Brady.

 

Alf Rudd (35:31): Matthew Brady. Okay, dead bodies all lined up getting ready to bury them, and every one of them somebody's child. That's what she would say, that "What you're looking at is somebody's child here." Is to say, we're all someone's baby. That's pretty amazing. We're all someone's baby, whether they wanted us or not. We're still there. If they didn't care, we wouldn't be there ourselves because it would die off. You take World War II, every time some soldier or sailor Marine, otherwise it was killed in battle, lives completely ended. No more children.

 

Adam Williams (36:14): I'm going to try one more time, Alf, to take you back to 13 when you moved in with your father.

 

Alf Rudd (36:19): All right. Now we're going back to the, again, social security and my mother's money that she had in the bank. All right.

 

Adam Williams (36:28): Okay.

 

Alf Rudd (36:29): That was mine. I would've ended up with it. My grandparents would've made sure that I did. And they did for a while. After she died, my stepmother was determined to get that money. Now things are starting to fall into place and that's why I ended up my father's house because he was my natural father. As long as I lived with my father, that gave her access to that money, to that account. We don't know. Now, I'm 10 years old at the time, we don't know what the hell happened. 

 

What they did was they sent me to my uncle's house in Virginia. I'm moving around now for a whole year to keep them from kidnapping me. That's where I was supposed to go, to my father's place. They didn't know where the hell I was because I was in Charlottesville, Virginia, which was a nice place then by the way, not nowadays. It seems like there's a lot of unrest there.

 

Adam Williams (37:38): Because they were trying to figure out what the motives were-

 

Alf Rudd: No.

 

Adam Williams: ... to go to New York?

 

Alf Rudd: My stepmother, it would've been, was determined to get that money. If I was in my father's possession, that money would've been in his possession and she would've had access to it.

 

Adam Williams: But you did end up going and living with him at some point.

 

Alf Rudd (38:02): Yeah, when I was 13.

 

Adam Williams: Yeah.

 

Alf Rudd: That was a different reason because I was supposed to... For a while when things calmed down, after I stayed with my uncle for that whole year, it was a year plus, I was able to go back to Louisiana and I got myself in a great deal of trouble and that's why I ended up with my father. That's when they seemed to have gotten their hands on this money, this account, if you will.

 

Adam Williams (38:28): Hold up a second here, Alf, because you dropped something like you got into trouble and then you're going to have to move across the country essentially from Deep South to well up North. What's this trouble?

 

Alf Rudd (38:41): Oh, I can't say. I can't say it. I can't tell you.

 

Adam Williams (38:46): They surely aren't after you still. We're talking a good what, 70-ish years ago.

 

Alf Rudd: Oh, yeah. No, it was a community thing. I had gotten in a great deal of trouble in the community and they decided it would be safer for me to live with my father.

 

Adam Williams: We're back to that community perception thing.

 

Alf Rudd: Yeah, let's just call it that. I can't discuss what happened there, but it was a violent sort of confrontation type thing that I was involved in and that it was expunged from my records. I never would've gotten into the service if I hadn't. 

 

It had to deal with the... It was a big fight. It was a big fight over communities, people in communities like the Hatfields and the McCoys type feud type thing. I was involved in something like that without being direct about it. I want to be indirect about it. I don't want to talk about that stuff. It isn't something I would put on the air.

 

Adam Williams (39:58): We're jumping around a little bit here, but I want to go back to you having mentioned Forged in Fire, which some people will recognize is the television series that's on the History Channel. That started several years ago. I think that they came to you initially around the beginning of this, but you want to be on it.

 

Alf Rudd (40:16): Before the show ever came on the air, yeah. They contacted me. There was three places. There was one in New York, there was one in LA, and one in Denver. We all got together with all three of them because they read my thing and they got real intrigued by it and they wanted to do a TV show that wrapped around that sort of thing, around blacksmithing. Not my history, but blacksmithing because they were intrigued by learning the trade and those types of things. 

 

Then I discussed these things with them, and we talked about... They seemed to have dropped it after that because they created something else from it. Then when they finally developed a show, they had gotten back to me and wanted me to be on the first seasons, and I turned it down. I said, "It doesn't sound like it's something for me," because it's competitive and I'm not the competitive type. If it's educational, I might be interested.

 

Adam Williams (41:18): I think it's tough to be competitive when what we're talking about is something creative. There's a lot of subjectivity in that as well.

 

Alf Rudd (41:24): Yeah, and some people, what they don't see in that show is they don't see the intensity of what it is that you're doing.

 

Adam Williams (41:32): I wanted to ask you how real, based on this one experience, you feel like this so-called reality TV show really was. What did you experience there where maybe it surprised you that this is the way they did it or the way that episode came out ultimately?

 

Alf Rudd (41:48): Actually, it didn't surprise me at all. What they do is they say, "You got two hours, maybe three hours to make this a knife." That was very real. I mean, they gave you three hours and that was it. I said, "Well, it's not going to be a problem. It won't be the nicest thing I've ever seen." And I could run into... Not being in my own environment, in my own shop, there's no telling what kind of trouble I was going to get into trying to make a knife with the junk they had around there. 

 

They didn't have the proper things to make a knife in that shop that they had. I don't believe the judges themselves knew. They'd make knives themselves. They'd create their own knives. They were all good at what they do, but they didn't have a shop like that.

 

Adam Williams (42:39): Well, I think part of the point of that is challenging.

 

Alf Rudd (42:42): What they provided to us was the minimal amount of everything that they wouldn't couldn't possibly use themselves.

 

Adam Williams (42:48): I think that's part of the point though, isn't it, is to see what with your skills and experience, what can you pull out of nothing that is totally not the right situation.

 

Alf Rudd (42:56): Yeah. Oh, yeah. It's all a matter of problem-solving is what it was, and I was complimented for that, by the way.

 

Adam Williams (43:04): I think it looks like a pretty hard show to do. Of course, what we're talking about here-

 

Alf Rudd (43:08): No, it was not actually. When you made a mistake, you had to... I made a big mistake when I started the thing and they says, "Well, here's what I got to do." I had my grandfather's voice with me. He was telling me how to resolve these problems because he had taught me that stuff when I was growing up learning this business, because I was very ill-equipped. I had enough rudimentary stuff to work with to make a blade, and I did exactly that. I says, "There's enough material in one of those things to make a dozen knives." 

 

All I needed was a small piece of it. Some of those other guys started over. They thought they needed enough billet to make six or seven knives when they only needed enough steel to make one. When their's did the same thing, they started over with another billet instead of just using what they already had to make a knife. That's problem solving. And that's exactly what I did.

 

Adam Williams (44:10): I wonder how it felt to be on TV. I've not been on a TV show.

 

Alf Rudd (44:13): It didn't make any difference.

 

Adam Williams (44:15): It didn't matter to you? It wasn't exciting?

 

Alf Rudd (44:16): I was too focused. Yeah.

 

Adam Williams (44:18): It was exciting and fun?

 

Alf Rudd (44:19): Oh, yeah. Yeah, it was exciting to have the pressure on because we all get it. He says, "You're changing a flat or something in the middle of the night in the rain. You run to pressure, you see", and it was the same kind of thing. You're going to do it all right. There isn't any way out of this. You're going to do it until you get it done. They said, "If you going to sit there and say, what am I going to do? What am I going to do? And stare at the flat tire, you can imagine how long you might be sitting there."

 

Adam Williams (44:50): These are things like I teach my sons that, what are you going to do when you don't feel like just say, finishing this hike, something simple like that. It's like there's a level of grit and you have no choice but to keep going.

 

Alf Rudd (45:01): Oh, yeah.

 

Adam Williams (45:02): I want to go back to the philosophical sayings, the life lessons I guess that your grandparents would teach you, because there's one in particular that I think is kind of amusing. Blacksmithing is 50% physical and 50% mental, and the remaining 50% is also physical.

 

Alf Rudd (45:18): That's right.

 

Adam Williams (45:21): With that in mind, there are a lot of experiences that you have that we have not even touched on, but I think we've gotten some little pieces here and there enough to show that you are a man who has lived a lot. I'm always curious, what is it that people have learned from their experiences?

 

Alf Rudd (45:43): Nothing special. So what have you learned from your experience?

 

Adam Williams (45:45): Yeah, I'm curious.

 

Alf Rudd (45:46): Well, how the hell it is that you can fall and get up and brush yourself off and get back to work. You're the only person there is. There might be somebody that could help you up, but they're going to let you go as soon as you're standing again. So it's one of them kind of things that if you... 

 

These are people that put their arm around you and cry with you, and at some point you both have to stop doing that and get back to work because thinking after a while they're going to say, "Jesus Christ, they just started out a pretty good relationship with this guy. But every time I talk to him, he starts crying again."

 

Adam Williams (46:26):

You said nothing special about your experiences. To me, there is a lot of extraordinariness in it, but I suppose on one hand too, there are a lot of people who have also endured tragedies. They've done different things that might be similar in some vein, but I do think that one person having so many experiences, and again, I'm going to encourage people to go to your website and to read the history because there's a lot there that we didn't get into.

 

Alf Rudd (46:52): When you learn it, you learn it well. That's how I close that thing.

 

Adam Williams (46:55): Okay.

 

Alf Rudd (46:56): Learn it and learn it well because the danger... I don't don't know if President Kennedy said it or not, thought he did, that the greatest threat to education is the myth. So it may not be in there, but it is. If somebody is carpentry, goldsmithing, silversmithing, blacksmithing, they teach you how to do something and then the next generation, like a cobbler, you know how to sew a boot together and make sure it stays together. Some people, your reputation means so much that a person... Say they only had that shoe one day and my foot went right through the front. That's somebody who didn't know what the hell they were doing, especially when they taught you how to make a shoe.

 

(47:45): What I'm saying is when somebody teaches you something and if it doesn't come from the right source, if they're self-taught themselves and they teach you what they know, what happens, the actual piece of that trade that isn't learned properly goes away. Fabergé may have been the last artist that made one of those Fabergé eggs because of that. He never taught anybody how to do that. And they're on their own now to learn how to reproduce something similar to that.

 

Adam Williams: Are you teaching people or have you taught people?

 

Alf Rudd (48:26): I have, but it was very disappointing because what people... Nowadays, what I'm seeing is unfortunate. Perhaps I'm wrong, but what I'm seeing over time is the instant gratification, the lack of it. They see this knife on TV for instance, that's for instance, and then they contact you and they want to know if you can make something like this. It's not a simple thing. 

 

You just can't make anything like this overnight. It takes time to get it. In some cases, it takes jewelers to make some of them knives, to get the knife from the blacksmith, the jeweler will, and then put all the beautiful gold and everything, the handle of ivory and everything. The blacksmith wouldn't do that.

 

Adam Williams: How many years experience do you have as a blacksmith?

 

Alf Rudd (49:15): Mine, with the on and off, and I've done a lot of other things, but I've always backed up to it. When I worked for the state, it was always blacksmithing. I had an anvil and coal fire around me. I was even in the tree business for a short while, but I still had a shop where I did the same stuff. So I would say my whole life on and off. Those on and offs, meaning it is a lull and I didn't have a shop to work in, in between shops and stuff like that. But you have to have facilities. You have to have tools. Some of those tools I got are well over 100, some 200 years old.

 

Adam Williams: I think it sounds like a reasonable answer to say your whole life, especially when we're talking about-

 

Alf Rudd (49:53): Yeah, I think it is.

 

Adam Williams: ... that being in your blood, the way that we've talked about it.

 

Alf Rudd (50:00): Right. And it is in my blood because the iron is in my blood. I might work a computer. I'm the only one that can't seem to work a computer without the thing going haywire. I think there's too much iron in my blood. My wife will show me something on her phone and she'll hand me the phone and it'll go blank. She says to me, "What did you do?" I said, "I didn't do anything. I just looked at the picture you showed me on the phone." She says, "Well, it's gone. It's went away."

 

Adam Williams: Do you ever see yourself retiring?

 

Alf Rudd (50:31): No. What am I supposed to do? I've seen the results of it. I've seen somebody I knew that was in law enforcement for 30 years and when he retired, the next thing he was mixing paint at the Walmart. Then after that he had gotten some... How many woodworkers do we have? Retired people? They retired and they buy a bunch of woodworking equipment and they're making step stools and letters for your house door and stuff like this. He sawing them out in a... 

 

What the hell's going on? Why don't they just stay in law enforcement? He said, "Well, you can't. You can't be 78 years old, 79, 80 years old and be a law enforcement officer." So often, they'll become a guard at a bank or something like that. If they won't exaggerate, you can see it in the movies with some guy, horribly decrepit, and he's sitting in a chair sleeping in the bank.

 

Adam Williams (51:35): So there's nothing you could envision yourself doing, even if it's just to spend your days fishing?

 

Alf Rudd: No.

 

Adam Williams: Being a blacksmith-

 

Alf Rudd: Yes, I can.

 

Adam Williams: ... is the thing?

 

Alf Rudd (51:42): I could go fishing, yes. First of all, fish hate me. I found that out a long time ago. They hate me. 

 

It's very rewarding to have somebody bring something to me they can't do themselves, and there's a lot of reward in seeing something work again. I used to think, why the hell did, I guess my grandfathers, why are they bringing all this junk here? It wasn't until I was in my 20s I figured it out, but I should have asked him more. Why are they bringing all this stuff to us to fix? Why the hell didn't they just fix it themselves?

 

I was led to believe that everybody learned life skills. When something broke, a saw, you can't cut with it and it won't sharpen, what's the matter with it? It won't cut wood anymore. It's why the hell did they bring in here? It's goddamn stupid saw when they could just sharpen it themselves. It turns out that they didn't know how. They weren't taught that. They wanted us to do this stuff, because they were too lazy to do it themselves. Well, they were taking advantage of us. I was in my 20s before I figured it out. I had a skill that they needed and I could actually make money from that.

 

Adam Williams (52:51): The skill that you have, the many skills that you have, a lot of them are from an older time and the world has changed in a lot of ways to where I can't do many of the things that you do, for instance.

 

Alf Rudd (53:04): It's so necessary though.

 

Adam Williams: So I wonder how you feel being... I think you just illustrated, you are somebody who has and offers this value in the world when it's such a rare set of skills to have.

 

Alf Rudd: Yeah, and I hadn't realized that until I was maybe 25 years old.

 

Adam Williams (53:23): I would guess it's only become increasingly so. Right?

 

Alf Rudd: Yeah. When I was in the service... Now, keep in mind after the eighth grade, you didn't go to school anymore. You graduated everything, and you didn't have to go to high school. You'd work on farm. When I joined the service, it says "Oh, we can't send you to school because you're not a high school graduate, but we can send you to onboard a ship and you get on-the-job training from these people around you." 

 

Well, I already knew all this stuff because they hadn't realized that I was learning at home on the farm. By the time I was in two years, I was actually doing classes myself on showing people how to do things.

 

Adam Williams (54:06): Alf, it's been interesting talking to you. It's been quite a ride through a number of stories here. I feel like you're a man who's just sitting on a treasure trove of stories. Thank you for sharing your stories, Alf.

 

Alf Rudd (54:17): Yeah, sure, sure.

 

[Transition music, guitar instrumental]

 

Adam Williams (54:28): Thanks for listening to the We are Chaffee Looking Upstream podcast. If our conversation here today sparks curiosity for you, you can learn more in this episode's show notes at WeAreChaffee.org. If you have comments or know someone in Chaffee County, Colorado who I should consider talking with on the podcast, you can email us at Info@WeAreChaffee.org

 

We invite you to rate and review the We Are Chaffee Looking Upstream podcast on Apple Podcast, Spotify, or whatever platform you use with that functionality. We also invite you to tell others about the Looking Upstream podcast. Help us to keep growing community and connection through conversation. 

 

Once again, I'm Adam Williams, host, producer, and photographer. John Pray is engineer and producer. Thank you to KHEN 106.9 FM, our community radio partner in Salida, Colorado, to Heather Gorby for graphic and web design, to Andrea Carlstrom, Director of Chaffee County Public Health and Environment, and to Lisa Martin, Community Advocacy Coordinator for the We Are Chaffee Storytelling Initiative.

 

(55:26): The We Are Chaffee Looking Upstream podcast is a collaboration with the Chaffee County Department of Public Health and the Chaffee Housing Authority, and is supported by the Colorado Public Health and Environment Office of Health Disparities. 

 

You can learn more about the Looking Upstream podcast and related storytelling initiatives at WeAreChaffee.org and on Instagram and Facebook at @WeAreChaffee. 

Lastly, until the next episode, as we say here at We Are Chaffee, share stories, make change.

 

[Outro music, horns and guitar instrumental]

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