"Where Have All the Blacksmiths and Boilermakers Gone?" by Alpha Unit

Here is some self-evident truth: the steam engine was critical to the Industrial Revolution. So were the men called boilermakers.
Steam engines ran factory machines, trains, and ships; none of them would have run without a boiler. The men who constructed and maintained those boilers were a kind of engine themselves for commerce and manufacturing. There are still boilermakers, of course, doing essential work all over the world, although they sometimes go by other names these days.
Historically these tradesmen (they are still overwhelmingly male) were known as “boilersmiths.” Their trade is actually an extension of blacksmithing, and came about largely due to the advent of iron as a primary construction material. Boilermakers would be in the shipyards making the iron boilers for steamships, and employers found it easier and cheaper to use boilermakers to build the ships, too.
Because of their skills as general metalworkers – rolling, shearing, welding, and riveting – boilermakers built trains and metal bridges in addition to steel ships. And just about everything operated by steam was in their purview.
Boilermakers are still out there working in industrial construction, shipbuilding, railroads, and mining. When companies need metal structures like process towers and smokestacks fabricated and installed, it’s boilermakers that get it done. They also do rigging, signaling, and hoisting of materials and equipment.
Fossil and nuclear power plants are practically run by boilermakers. Boilers supply steam to drive the turbines that generate electricity in these power plants. Because these places often operate at very high steam pressure, boilermaking, welding, and tube-fitting are an ongoing project for them.
And what of blacksmithing, the mother of boilermaking?
There are still working blacksmiths doing what blacksmiths of long ago did – heating pieces of wrought iron or steel until they’re soft enough to be shaped. Back then, a blacksmith out in the country was mostly sought after for horseshoes, plowshares, and farming tools. In towns they would make such things as parts for carriage wheels and canal barges.
Once the Industrial Revolution got underway, you’d find blacksmiths making railway axles and other parts for trains. They also worked in shipbuilding and in the engineering and textile industries, building and repairing machines.
Nowadays blacksmiths sometimes work with computer programs and specialized cutters that use lasers or water jets to cut the metal they’ll be forging. But you can still find blacksmiths working in some of the same industries they have traditionally, such as the railroad industry, where they build and repair the metal components and parts on equipment.
One thing blacksmiths will sometimes tell you is that architects, in particular, keep them in business. Blacksmiths get commissioned to create gates, ornate fences and furniture, and balustrades for staircases and balconies.
Because there is so much overlap in the different metalworking trades, these workers have organized together throughout the years. The International Brotherhood of Boilermakers, Iron Ship Builders, Blacksmiths, Forgers and Helpers says that anyone who works in any of these trades may call himself or herself a Boilermaker. As to why whiskey with a beer chaser is called a boilermaker, they say, nobody knows. At least nobody they can find.

"Football vs. Rugby," by Alpha Unit

Which is tougher – American football or rugby?
Author Alistair Bland, who has been on the South Island of New Zealand, put the question to some bar patrons in a couple of towns. He began by asking people if they’d seen the Super Bowl on TV, calling it “the world’s biggest game.”

In the seaside town of Kaikoura, one bartender told me he didn’t air the game and said I probably was the only person in town looking to watch the Super Bowl. The bar manager at Strawberry Tree, a worn and salty old watering hole on Kaikoura’s main and only drag, said that American football is too slow-paced to watch on TV.

Bland then asked Stephen Horton, a rugby player on Kaikoura’s regional team, if American football players were padded, coddled softies. Were they less durable than rugby players?

“Oh, yeah!” he laughed. “Those guys wouldn’t last 80 minutes in a rugby match!”

Bland mentioned that NFL linemen who by some stroke of chance found the ball in their hands and ran it for an 80-yard touchdown could require oxygen masks to recover. This got Stephen and another Kiwi at the bar laughing, he states.
NFL players are said to be bigger, stronger, and faster than rugby players, says Bland, quoting a commenter on an online discussion who says that the average NFL player could “pick up the average Super 14 player, turn him upside down, and shake him like a piggy bank.” Stephen’s response:

“I definitely think rugby is harder,” he said, “but football looks more fun. You wear all that padding and can hit each other as hard as you want. You get hurt in rugby. I’ve had three broken collar bones and been knocked out three times.”

Bland adds:

Rugby players are trained gentlemen, too. In New Zealand, they start playing it as young as four years of age, and even in adult leagues, swearing is forbidden during practice, and “joking around,” Stephen explained, is curtailed by the coaches.

And none of those classless celebrations after scores or victories, says Bland.
Later in the week, he stopped at the Moa Brewing Company for a beer and to egg on more conversation, as he puts it. There he met Michael Miller, an American who had been living in New Zealand for eight months and who had picked up on “the subtleties of rugby that American football lacks.”

“I don’t mean to be derogatory toward anyone, but rugby is more intellectual,” he said, explaining that, since they lack protective gear, the players must combat each other with exceptional technique. He likens the sport to “guerrilla warfare,” whereas the face-off-and-charge approach of the NFL is more like “Civil War” battle style.
“Rugby can also be quite brutal,” Michael said, “but it’s also more beautiful and elegant.” He noted that rugby players must be skilled in tackling, running, and handling the ball – all aspects of the game – whereas football players are specialized to certain techniques, making them less rounded as tactical athletes.

Michael tells him that American football, much more than rugby, “has been evolved for commercialization and television.” Bland concludes:

Which explains the three-hour games, endless breaks and timeouts, and the huge advertising campaigns that climax on Super Bowl day.


Bland, Alistair. February 8, 2012. “Football or Rugby: Who’s Tougher?” The Anderson Valley Advertiser.

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