VALLEJO -- As he has nearly every day for most of his 78 years, Carl Uebner still comes to work in the blacksmith shop his stepfather founded on Broadway Street (then 205 Napa Road) in 1915, though he says he'll soon retire.
Meanwhile, time marches by the shop that time itself has nearly forgotten.
Gazing through Uebner & Byerrum's large front door overlooking what had been transcontinental U.S. Highway 40, one once saw framed a view of Austin Creek and little else, Uebner said. He and his stepfather, Gus Uebner, watched the city grow up around them through that open portal, at first at a slower, horse-and-buggy pace and now at the much faster, multiple-horsepower speed of today's horseless carriages.
The creek is no longer visible from the shop.
While some of the tools, methods and assignment types have changed in the blacksmithing industry over the years, much has also stayed the same, Uebner said. It's still a hands-on job.
Same old, and changes
"When my father first started here, cars were in their infancy, and most of the work was horseshoes and wagon wheels," said Uebner, a Napa resident who's been married 50 years and has three grown children. "We still do some of that, but now it's mostly metal work of different types."
Several years after founding the blacksmith shop, Gus Uebner took on a partner, Charles Byerrum, who retired in the late 1960s, leaving the operation to Carl Uebner, he said.
Gus Uebner died in 1964, at age 74, but by 1940, Uebner & Byerrum was the last blacksmith shop in Vallejo.
A December 1947 Times-Herald feature on the elder Uebner and his shop noted that his once considerable competition fell away after various factors made the neighborhood smithy nearly obsolete. The elder Uebner was 57 at the time, only slightly older than his grandson, Mark Uebner, now 51, a Sacramento-area resident who learned the trade at his father's knee.
The story noted that among Gus Uebner's regular clients in the early days was Dr. Platon Vallejo, the son of city founder Gen. Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo.
"He sure liked horses," Gus Uebner reminisced in the story. "He used to sit here while I was shoeing his horse or fixing his cart and never quit talking. He'd tell about California history 100 years back and how he'd come down from Sonoma and see coyotes and other wild animals in the high grass along the way."
And while much has changed around the smithy shop, little inside has. In fact, the forge upon which Mark Uebner's grandfather is shown working in that article is still functioning in the same spot, he said.
The 66-year-old article mentions how heavy machinery had already replaced the horse in the modern blacksmith shop, and that Uebner's was already "the only veteran smithy left in business here."
Back then, horses and the equipment associated with them, were the smithy's bread and butter, Carl Uebner said.
"I remember Byerrum's son had this tall ladder in the corner of the door, because that's where they used to bring in the horses and, in case one of them got too wild, you'd have to run up the ladder to get out of the way," Uebner said.
The son of a German shoemaker, Gus Uebner immigrated to the United States in 1908, at age 18, having already apprenticed to a blacksmith there, Carl Uebner said. He worked on California's early 1920s Feather River dam project, shoeing horses, and then made his way to Vallejo, to work for Coronando's Three-Mile-House at the convergence of what is now Lewis Brown Road, Broadway Street and Highway 37.
At first, most of the work, besides making and applying horseshoes, involved constructing iron tires and tools like plowshares.
Carl Uebner said he and his widowed mother moved to Vallejo in the 1940s from San Francisco, where she met and married Gus Uebner. Carl Uebner took to blacksmithing from the start, and learned the craft from the man he considers his father, and several others, he said.
"One time, a guy who was from Kansas came by looking for a job, and my dad said there wasn't one," Uebner said. "Then, (Gus Uebner) went to lunch, and when he got back, the guy had taken a pair of tongs, heated them and hammered them into the anvil. I guess he wanted to show him what he could do."
Vallejo native Lew Cook, 74, who said he caught the blacksmithing bug in a Vallejo High School welding class, has worked with Uebner off and on for more than 25 years. Like Uebner, he said he mostly enjoys creating things.
One of the shop's most recent projects was the functional art bike racks recently installed in front of Gracie's barbecue on Sonoma Boulevard and the Victory Stores on Virginia Street in downtown Vallejo.
Mark Uebner said he has a sort of reverence for the old place.
"My dad started bringing me down there to work on Saturdays when I was 12 or 13," the Vallejo native said. "So many people have come through there over the years. The forge and all the tools are still right where they've always been. Back in the day, guys came from all over, from Napa, Fairfield, Benicia, to the shop to get wagon wheels and farm implements fixed."
The 1947 story notes that while all the city's other blacksmith shops fell by the wayside over the years, Uebner's survived by adapting to the changing realities, adopting new techniques and finding new ways to apply the art.
Though no longer as common an occupation as it once was, the art form is not quite dead, Uebner said. Besides the occasional still-functioning shop like his, there are associations that keep the trade alive.
The California Blacksmith Association, for instance, was formed in 1977 by a group of 17 and has grown to more than 650 blacksmiths and enthusiasts, according to its website.
"People still need things fixed and fabricated," Uebner said. "There are a lot of interesting jobs."
Contact staff writer Rachel Raskin-Zrihen at 707-553-6824 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at Rachelvth.