Tuesday, 26 August 2014

All Hail the Iron Horse!

 In the summer, St. Thomas, ON hosts a festival in celebration of the railroad heritage of the city - the Iron Horse Festival. This has been done in various place in the past - at Pinafore Park, on Talbot Street (the main street/downtown business district), etc. It was not held last year because... well, it doesn't matter why. For our purposes, it is sufficient to say it wasn't held. This summer, the festival returned and was held on the grounds around the CASO Station and the Elgin Railway Museum. These are both historic buildings in the centre of St. Thomas.
Why the Iron Horse? St. Thomas used to be the hub of the Canadian Southern railway, the New York Central, and one of the Michigan railroads. Much of the east-west traffic between New York City and Chicago passed through St. Thomas. This area is quite flat with some rolling hills, but had the railroad not gone through this area, it would have had to navigate the mountains of Pennsylvania, which would mean ridge after ridge requiring tunnelling and weaving through passes. (I've heard that there isn't one mile of completely straight road in Pennsylvania! I'm from the Commonwealth and I believe it!) The trains would cross the border at Detroit/Windsor and Buffalo/Fort Erie. The mid-point between those two border crossings is St. Thomas.

It's an old map but you can see my point.
In any event, my two reenacting groups were asked to put on demonstrations at this year's Iron Horse Festival, and we were glad to do it. On Thursday evening, August 21, my family's Society for Creative Anachronism shire, Trinovantia Nova, put on a demonstration of crafts, arts and sciences, dance, fencing, and heavy fighting. (All photos are courtesy of my wife, Beth, John Stephens and his family, Andy and Barb Hohn, and the St. Thomas Times-Journal.)

Lord Thord holds the heavy fighting list from all comers. Heavy armour and rattan swords make for a loud noise and a hot situation... especially considering the weather.

Tomiko (my daughter, Katie's SCA persona) and Eva demonstrate fencing with rapiers. Yes, Katie has a curved sword, thanks to our good friend, Raiffe.

Raith (Ken) and Tadc (Tyler), two of our best fencers, using rapier and dagger.
Cadence and AJ play period music on the recorder and spin wool into yarn with a drop spindle.

Baron Toymaker showing his wares to the admiring public.

Lady Louisa calls attention to the list while your humble blogger in late Roman gear (as Brennus) demonstrates something or other.

Dance included many of the spectators... who were now no longer spectators!

Spinning and weaving.
On Saturday, we were at the festival once again, but this time as the 17th US Infantry, although Long Shadow and Yellow Jacket of the Lenni-Lenape showed up as well. (My children in their First Nations kit.) We fired a volley about every two hours (The city police requested that we keep it to that), trained the kids in a mini-militia, talked, demonstrated, and discussed the displays.

Long Shadow sets up his blanket display of warrior's weapons, while John of the Royal Scots Lights, Captain Roy of the BID, and Kevin of the 17th offer suggestions.

Tina sets up her table of period toys and writing slates.

Long Shadow, Cap'n Roy, and I discuss some trivia while Yellow Jacket holds Olivia, our company's youngest reenactor - four months and already in perfect garb! She was often the centre of attention.

Our combined reenactors' group prepares to volley. Roy is the captain of the British Indian Department and he came out to support us in this festival. His uniform got him a discounted beer at the beer garden.
The Reenactors march to their firing position. The Lenape just sort of sauntered.

We presented arms to the train. It was the Iron Horse Festival after all! The Festival offered short free train rides on the hour.

Firing one. Long Shadow used our Brown Bess while Yellow Jacket fired our trade rifle.
More firing from a different perspective.

A posed publicity photo of the firing line in "skirmish order", that is in groups of two, standing and kneeling for independent fire.

The Mini-militia... where young spectators become "soldiers." Here Andy and I as well as our "veteran" Connor drill some of the locals.
Make ready! Aim! Fire! Yell "BANG" as loud as you can! They always like this manoeuvre the best! Although "Charge your bayonets!" is a close second.
Again from a different perspective.

From the left - Long Shadow (Rob), Yellow Jacket (Katie), John in the Royal Scots fatigue dress, Kevin as a 'gentleman volunteer', Nick as a Kentucky militiaman, Andy in the 17th white frock, Jared in full coatee as our corporal, and your humble blogger in the US Army's summer roundabout. Beth, Brandi, and Tina were in camp although Beth and Tina did fire the last volley of the day! Brandi was taking care of Olivia and trying to keep her from being carried off by... just about everybody.

Here we are with Marg, one of the Festival organisers. She owns the local wine-making shop and we're good customers! Just a note: all the troops are at "Shoulder arms" except for me. (The warriors don't count for this. They run their own show) I'm at "Advance arms" which is the proper position for sergeants in the field.

Preparing to go to our volley station.

One thing we love to do is go up into the midway and accost the festival goers. We try to "recruit" or "arrest" or just kid with the people in attendance. It lets them know we are there and involves them a little bit. Nick had copies of President Monroe's Proclamation made up to hand out.
More folks get tagged by the reenactors
We got involved in this Festival to support the local area and it's activities. We also use our presence to educate and involve the public. A number of us have been invited into local schools to present on the life and times of our various periods. We're often involved in Education days at nearby parks or "heritage villages" where students are bussed in for the day to hear our presentations and get involved in activities that demonstrate something of the period. (At our last World War I Education Day, I was in charge of "de-lousing" all of the students, which I did with an empty garden sprayer, work frock, and Adrian helmet.) Some of us do "ghost walks" where we take on a persona of a local or even national historic person and present to an assembled group as if we were that person. It helps make history "come alive" for those present. It may not be exciting reenacting like Fort Erie or Fort Meigs, but it is important and it is one of the missions of the reenacting groups I'm involved in.


  1. Looks like a great day and instructive for passers by on man levels. My ACW group did similar drills with the kids, giving them wooden muskets. Most parents got the idea, though one or two would be indignant about teaching their children to use guns. At least we weren't giving loaded Uzis to 9 year olds like some people.
    There was a beer garden? Why didn't I know about this?

    1. Personally, I think that interaction with the public is worthwhile, both from a historical education standpoint and from a "See, we're not all that weird" standpoint.
      As for the mini-militia, no one - besides a few shy kids - has objected to it so far. I'm sure that will happen.
      Yes, Padre, there was a beer garden... right in front of the main stage. $5 entrance fee and $5 a draught. A bit steep in my estimation. Roy blustered his way past the entrance fee and considering what a glass of beer costs in a tavern or restaurant, $5 is about average.
      I'll be more careful to keep you in the loop next time!