Charles Jr. and Leon Faulk spend their days occupied with a centuries-old trade: as blacksmiths. It is what their father did before them and their grandfather before him. And, it is the tradition that Charles Jr. hopes will be carried on by his son, Christian.
A blacksmith is essentially someone who makes tools and other objects, namely horseshoes, out of metal, whereas a farrier strictly applies horseshoes. The Faulk brothers assert that they are “full-fledged blacksmiths,” not just farriers.
Blacksmithing is believed to have been established as a skill and craft in 1,500 B.C. in Syria. Blacksmiths were important during the Roman era. Later, explorers like Christopher Columbus even brought blacksmiths with them on voyages to forge necessary objects, and blacksmiths were invaluable during colonization and the Industrial Revolution. Today, blacksmiths are rare — yet their skills are still highly valued.
For the Faulk brothers, blacksmithing is their family narrative. Their grandfather, Rev. John Edward Faulk, brought the craft into their family back in the early 1900s; he learned it in Kentucky and then returned to South Carolina, his native home. He worked until he died in 1962. Already trained and ready to carry on with hammer and forge was his son, Rev. Charles Faulk Sr., who also spent his lifetime as a blacksmith. From an early age, Charles Jr. and Leon were fascinated by their father and grandfather’s occupation and admitted to sometimes lying about school being closed so that they could tag along to watch. Now, Christian, at age 18, is the tag-along. The fourth generation blacksmith family shoes horses at some of the same farms and stables originally serviced years ago by John Edward.
“Leon and I took to it like a duck to water,” says Charles Jr. “We just want to continue that tradition.”
The hard part was living up to the quality reputation of their grandfather and father. “They were really popular,” says Charles Jr. “People would tell me, ‘You hold that hammer like your grandfather.’ Or, they would tease Leon and me and say, ‘You ain’t no man. Your granddaddy was a man!’ My grandfather left big shoes for my dad to fill and for us to fill.”
Even though many of the horses are the same year after year, there are always challenges. Rain, cold, heat and wind can affect the way a horse acts, and unpredictable weather conditions can add to the strain of trimming and shoeing. Often, farms do not have barns for working under cover, and the Faulks are exposed to the elements. Yet, they no longer experience what their grandfather had to do years ago: servicing horses as they were unloaded off railroad boxcars or as they crowded in dense stockyards.
“Many wild horses were shipped in to this area and used for different reasons,” says Charles Jr., “Now they are mostly pampered pets at farms or in stables.”
They have trimmed and shoed as many as 24 horses in a single day. An average number is seven to eight. The blacksmiths have a rapport with most of the horses, yet there have been a few that they have refused to handle due to their unruliness as well as their owners’ inability or unwillingness to restrain them. “And if an owner doesn’t pay, well then that’s a reason not to go back,” says Charles Jr.
Charles Jr. remembers going along with his father to Georgia once to shoe a mean little pony that had to be sedated. His father told him that horses can sometimes react more aggressively even under sedation. “As he was telling me this, that little pony locked onto me between the shoulder blades with his teeth and wouldn’t let go.”
The most expensive horse Charles Jr. ever shoed was a Tennessee Walking horse worth $300,000. He was the first and only blacksmith to shoe the horse, and he did so until the horse died.
Sadly, being a blacksmith often involves witnessing and reporting abuse cases. The Faulks have seen horses’ feet so neglected that parts of bones were sticking through the hoof. They also witnessed the neglected state of the dozens of horses in the 2008 case involving a South Carolina agriculture official that made national news. Yet, the Faulks point out that some neglected horses’ feet can be saved with specialized therapeutic shoes and pads.
The Faulks are proud to carry on the family tradition of blacksmithing. They are intent on taking an art, a craft, a specialized skill and a way of life into future generations. “Blacksmithing is in our blood, and it has kept us close as a family,” maintains Charles Jr. The two brothers think their grandfather, and their father, would be proud.