Morris Smith's Trip Hammer
Hammer was featured in the following article: Thompson, Glenn.
"Home-Grown Trip Hammer; For a Farmer in the 1930's, Necessity is the
Mother of Invention." Farm Collector Magazine, vol. 20, no. 9, April 2018, pp. 40-42.
To view detailed photos of the Trip Hammer, please click on TRIP HAMMER PHOTOS.
are few people more resourceful than a farmer with a
problem--especially if his farm is a long ways from town, his bank
account is a bit on the skimpy side, and the country is in the middle
of the Great Depression. This man can coax a worn-out engine back to
life, climb to the top of a windmill and persuade those old gears to
turn again, help deliver a calf that's reluctant to face the world, and
whatever else is required to sweat out a living. “You do what you have
to do to get by!”
Smith, a farmer near the small town of Maxdale in Western Bell County,
Texas, was this kind of person. In the late 1930's, he had a need for a
tool to help him sharpen plowshares (aka “sweeps”), so he turned for
help to his good friend Charlie Holt, who ran a blacksmith shop in
Killeen, Texas. The two of them put together a trip hammer using scrap
parts from the pile behind the shop.
trip hammer dates back to ancient times in China and Europe. It is a
machine sometimes found in a blacksmith shop. A heavy weight is raised
with a lever and then the mechanism is “tripped” and the weight allowed
to fall onto an anvil. This action is repeated over and over again. The
trip hammer can strike with considerably more power and precision than
a handheld hammer. After a plowshare is heated red hot in a forge to
make it malleable, it is taken to the trip hammer and a portion of the
worn edge hammered thin. When the metal cools, the plowshare is
returned to the forge and the process repeated. After the entire length
of the plowshare is hammered thin, a grinding wheel is used to even out
and sharpen the edge. The plowshare might also be reheated in the forge
and then plunged into a bucket of water or waste oil to harden the
Smith had a knack for fixing things. As is often the case, less
talented neighbors and relatives soon found out about this and turned
up on his doorstep with things that needed to be repaired.
trip hammer was made to help Morris with his work. It was run off of a
line shaft powered by an electric motor, along with a post drill and a
grinding wheel. Morris' shop was in a tin building, so the the sound of
the trip hammer resonated throughout the building, causing it to
vibrate. Eventually, Morris stopped offering blacksmith
when they became more than he could handle in addition to the other
work on his farm. At that time, the trip hammer was removed from his
shop and left under a tree to deteriorate.
Smith's son Dierre inherited his father's talents and learned from him.
When grown, Dierre accepted employment with the Texas State Highway
Department and was based at the Department's warehouse at
Fredericksburg in Gillespie County. He retrieved his dad's trip hammer
and he and Thomas Gant, a fellow Highway Department employee, replaced
parts that had been removed and restored it to working order. At that
time the trip hammer was powered with an electric motor scavenged from
a discarded gas pump. Mr. Gant used the trip hammer to sharpen blades
for the Highway Department's many mowers.
trip hammer was used until the mid 1980's, when the Department
determined it to be too dangerous and the liability too great. At that
time, it was returned to Dierre Smith. Dierre loaned the machine to the
Hill Country Antique Tractor & Engine Club and it resided on
Club's grounds until 2017, when it was given to a local
the Antique Power Buffs, and restored as an exhibit.