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Year to begin with blast for Edgemoor man

Above, Woodrow Cooper of Edgemoor works with a cannon at his home on the York and Chester county line. He plans to fire the cannon tonight to ring in the new year. At left,

Cooper shows a hatchet he made from a railroad spike in his forge.
Above, Woodrow Cooper of Edgemoor works with a cannon at his home on the York and Chester county line. He plans to fire the cannon tonight to ring in the new year. At left, Cooper shows a hatchet he made from a railroad spike in his forge.

EDGEMOOR -- So close to the county line that his yard is in Chester County and the guy across S.C. 901 is in York County lives a man whose pastime is dying.

Woodrow Cooper, 67, in a motorized wheelchair after heart operations and a couple of strokes, is still banging hot iron made white hot in a forge, atop an anvil.

Cooper is a self-taught blacksmith.

"Learned by hanging around daddy and others, watching, paying attention," Cooper said.

He's made hatchets and cooking triangles and iron stove tongs. Swords and machetes and a cutlass fit for a pirate from an old wagon spring. A gunsmith to boot, he's made muzzle loaders and pistols. The stock for one came from a Queen Anne chair, woodworked by his own hands.

One of his ironworks sure works great on a night like tonight.

"Keeps him young, this work," said Cooper's son, Jerry, one of six grown Cooper children.

The inside of Cooper's little house -- "It used to be a church, so nobody can say I don't go to church every day," he cracked -- is better than most museums. Thousands of arrowheads in glass cases, antique weapons, statues from soapstone that he carved himself. So much great stuff.

"Forty-five years we been married, he spent about 20 of them walking around picking up anything he could find," said Mary Cooper, wife of the blacksmith.

Cooper worked for decades with Rock Hill's Parks, Recreation and Tourism Department but always has been known for his other handiwork. His health hasn't stopped him, either. His might be the only wheelchair equipped with a toolbag on the side.

Lucky for Cooper, he lives in a rural area. His yard certainly would be described as an "eyesore" by bureaucrats with too little to do and too much federal grant money to spend.

He has a mini-Stonehenge of granite with a sundial on top right there in the side yard.

"Time is 10:05 right now, the dial shows a minute after 11, but take off the hour for daylight savings and I think we got her pegged just about right," said Cooper the blacksmith on a sunny Tuesday.

Cooper's yard is not a yard at all, but more a workshop of ironworks and other collected stuff that a naysayer might call junk in varying stages of progress. Almost done, close to done, halfway done, nowhere near done, and just got started.

Carports and ports are for tools and nameless iron and metal and anything else that rolls or floats. If there's no roof, whatever it is sits right there in the yard, like an old "Carolina Beauty" brand iron stove that he's restoring to its former glory.

There is that hut with the blacksmith forge in it. And yes, oh yes, there is the cannon.

"His pride and joy," said son Jerry.

"Ninety-gauge, made the cannonballs myself," Cooper said.

Cooper bought the cannon barrel years ago, but everything else on the cannon he made himself. The foundation it sits on, the wheeled carriage to move it around.

One of the great joys of being a cannon owner, one outside cities where people hear celebrations and joy and have the immediate response to call the police, is a day like today: New Year's Eve. You get black powder and a blacksmith who knows what he's doing -- no cannonballs, though -- and what you have is no store-bought new year.

"We have been known to shoot it off on the Fourth of July and New Year's Eve," Cooper said. "Makes a little bit of noise, you might say."

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