ambience: fire making flint stick
It’s like stepping back in time over 200 years; there are people dressed in colonial garb, campfires, old fashioned tents, soldiers cleaning their muskets. We’re at a recreation of a Revolutionary War encampment — part of the many historical celebrations which take place throughout the country over the summer. I’m Jim Metzner, and this is the Pulse of the Planet. You can learn something walking through an encampment, like how our 18th century forebearers made a fire.
ambience: sounds of flint being struck, crowd noise, music, drum, fife
“But, how they used to start fires, they would make this — see how this gets black? Once it’s black like that it’s a ‘strike a light’. And what a ‘strike a light’ is, is this tool here. It’s just a hardened piece of metal– and there’s a piece of flint. ‘See the sparks?’ That’s how you start your fire.”
Now, I’d heard about getting a spark from striking a piece of flint with steel, but how do you turn that spark into a fire? Well, the secret is a charred cloth, which holds the spark and transfers it to a tuft of fibrous material, like flax or tow.
“This is called tow. Tow is a byproduct of making linen fabric. It happens to be very flammable. You then blow on it. As you blow on it – ‘see the smoke coming out of that? See it, see it go? They didn’t have matches back then, so that’s how you start fires.”
“It’s amazing that this technology was used from lower paleolithic period stone age guys doing this all the way up to just 150 years ago ’til the match was invented. It’s amazing — the effort it took just to get a fire going.”
Our thanks to Ken Edholm and all of the colonial re-enactors at the Wethersfield Festival, held every June in Wethersfield, Connecticut.
Pulse of the Planet is presented with support provided by the National Endowment for the Humanities. I’m Jim Metzner.