Stoking the Fire

Today, Sid and I are on the hunt for an unusual piece in his collection. As we sift through antiques after antiques, we come across a bellows.

A bellows pumps air, and they are commonly known to be hand-held devices used to stoke small fires. However the bellows Sid possess is approximately a metre in length. We found it hanging on a wall in Sid’s museum beside a torn and somewhat rotten horse saddle.

“I got this in Silver City,” Sid informs me about the saddle. “Not sure if it was used by the army or outfitters,” he jokes, as the saddle is too worn out to tell.

The wooden bellows was once painted red. Over the years of living outside, the rain had left it water-damaged and the sun washed out its red hue.

“The bellows was made in the late 1890s, turn of the century – around gold rush times. It was used on a riverboat to pump air into the boiler.”

Sid can’t quite remember where he discovered this piece, but it has been part of his collection ever since, on display for the public.

I ask Sid to tell me what all of the parts on it are and what they were used for.

“The leather you see here,” Sid says holding a piece of black cow hide at the bottom half of the bellows. “It used to be all around holding the two pieces of wood together. That’s what made it flexible to collect air.”

The leather and wood pieces would create a kind of sack to hold the air in while it is being pumped. Although most of the leather is gone, the original iron nails are intact.

“This is where the air would come in,” Sid points towards the large round hole in the bellows. The air would be sucked through the hole into the chamber as the bellows is lifted and then released at the bottom half as the bellows is squeezed together again. Sid then points to a rusted metal piece at the head of the bellows, “There’s a hook on it, so a lever would have been connected. You push the lever to pump the air.”

I ask Sid who would’ve normally been in charge of using the bellows on the riverboats. “The fire-man would be in charge of pumping the air to stoke the fire. The hotter the fire the faster the boat would go.”

You’ll find this bellows (and the saddle) and many other treasures at Sid’s Bordertown Garage and Museum. Come have a visit this summer!

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