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A Lincoln Family Pageant-- Rail Splitter

William Herndon Abraham Lincoln Mary Todd Lincoln Tad Lincoln Eddie Lincoln Willy Lincoln Fido & Bob Elizabeth  Edwards
Robert Lincoln Harriet Hanks Ann Marie Todd Frances Edwards Language of the Fan Demo Lincoln_Log_Cabin Demo Rail Fence Building Demo Gettysburg Address Recite

Abraham Lincoln, "The Rail Splitter"

 by Howard Taylor, 2002

     Cowden and Herrick Elementary Schools (Central Illinois) were hosts to the Lincolns (presenters Dorothy & B.F. McClerren, a.k.a. Abraham and Mary Todd Lincoln) and upon their encore visit, we had a double joy . . . beautiful Spring-like weather in January and an Abraham Lincoln, which could split rails for us.
     One of the children at the school had written the President asking him if he really was a "Rail Splitter"?  The President decided to take a side-trip to answer this question to the little one directly.  He wrote back to the school and asked that a log be provided and that we all pray that maybe the weather would be fit.  Well, both were accomplished.
     Abraham and Mary were traveling during the year of 1865, as the 16th President was on his way to visit with old law partner Billy Herndon of Springfield.  It just happened that our communities of Cowden and Herrick were on the way and was included within the agenda of the President and Mrs. Lincoln.  It was very rare that the President and Mrs. Lincoln would be able to break from the hectic world of Washington and its Civil War trappings.





Left- Mr. Howard Taylor, greeter of the President, shakes hand with him and asks him to go ahead with the demonstration of skill and strength.  The President demonstrated he had not lost his touch.  The log would be converted into 7 rails.  Right-- The future of the rails will be a triple section of actual Lincoln Split Rail Fence placed upon our Herrick School grounds . . . a fitting reminder of when the President visited our school.

Our principal Superintendent also took the tools and helped to split a rail.  They will help to lead the splitting of many more rails for our commemorative fence, later in spring, when warm weather visits us again.  At right the storyteller Lincoln introduces the tools of rail splitting.  The wooden object in his hand is a GLUT, which helps to separate the rails after splitting.





. . . the Process Began Quickly
    Abraham arrived at the old Cowden and Herrick Schools with great fanfare.  This would be the Lincoln's second visit, and the children almost felt they were friends.  Proof of the "Rail Splitter" nickname would be provided soon.
    Abraham gathered with the children outside on their playground.  Much excitement brewed and wonderment, as to how a man all dressed up with top hat and long coat could every do such a job as splitting rails from the very heavy 10-foot long, 8 inch diameter red oak log.  It was a straight log, but had a secret inside.
    The steel wedge was driven in at the end of the log (note the buried wedge at the very end) to begin the split.  Actually this piece of the log was the result of being split previously at the other school.  Hopes were, that as the other wedges were driven in, the rail would split off in a nice straight section.  Actually, Abraham noticed that there were knots and internal crookedness, in the beautiful red oak log that would cause the rails to be narrower in one end.  This did not hurt the quality of the end rail.  The rails would still work.

    The glut would be used to get the rail to finally split from the main log.  Abraham, in his youth would win all rail-splitting contests he would enter.  The 6 foot 4 inch youth was very strong.
    The Presidential Abraham is very strong as well, as (B.F. McClerren, a.k.a. Abe) demonstrates
with a show of one of his final split rails. An inside visit and talk followed up the demonstration by both the Lincolns. That is a whole separate story.


Superintendent Len Defend take lessons from the President  on the art of rail-splitting.


    Mary Todd enthralled the Herrick students with her interpretation of "Mother," as Abraham called her.  She told of the ominous dream that her husband had of someone dying in the White House, her childhood in Kentucky, and of course her "Mr. Lincoln."   Abraham  told us of Abraham's childhood, gave a part of the "House Divided Speech," the Gettysburg Address," and the story of growing up in Kentucky, Indiana and why he was nicknamed, "Honest Abe."  A first grader later commented that he liked the Honest Abe story the best.

. . . Facts About Abraham Lincoln "the Rail-Splitter"

. . . The (Lincoln) family settled on the Sangamon River, some ten miles southwest of Decatur, Illinois. Once more Abe helped to clear a farm. With a cousin, John Hanks, he then split 3,000 rails to fence some neighbors' land. He was truly "right handy with an ax." His feats with an ax on the Illinois prairie led his political supporters to call him, later in life, the "rail- Splitter." Even in his last years, as president, he could hold an ax straight out at arm's length—something very few young men could do.

. . . According to recollections of old law partner Billy Herndon,

    "Mr. George Close, the partner of Lincoln in the rail-splitting business, says that Lincoln was, at this time, a farm laborer, working from day to day, for different people, chopping wood, mauling rails, or doing whatever was to be done. The country was poor, and hard work was the common lot; the heaviest share falling to the young unmarried men, with whom it was a continual struggle to earn a livelihood. Lincoln and Mr. Close made about one thousand rails together, for James Hawks and William Miller, receiving their pay in homespun clothing. Lincoln's bargain with Miller's wife, was, that he should have one yard of brown jeans, (richly dyed with walnut bark) for every four hundred rails made, until he should have enough for a pair of trousers. As Lincoln was already of great altitude, the number of rails that went to the acquirement of his pantaloons was necessarily immense."

Left-- Lincoln-Hamlin Campaign medalet for Republican presidential candidate Abraham Lincoln, 1860. HON. ABRAHAM LINCOLN surrounding bust of Lincoln, below, 1860. Rev. Above, THE RAIL SPLITTER OF THE WEST surrounding a rural scene depicting Lincoln and helper splitting rails (helper is Stephen Douglas). The classic 'Rail Spitter' campaign medal of 1860. Always in demand and becoming scarce. Made of brass. 



Rail Splitting Demonstration to Use With the Family Pageant

1. You have to find a bunch of real straight hardwood trees like oak. Cut them down


2. Chop off all the branches, so there is just a smooth log left. It has to be about 10 feet long, and 8 to-10 inches diameter.


3. You then take a iron wedge and drive it into the end of the log with a glut, and cause a split.


4. You drive it down deep. Then you take another wedge, and drive it down farther down the log. The first wedges get loose. Pull them out.


5. Then when the log splits apart, you will have two halves.


6. Split each half in half. Now you have 4 quarters.


7. You can usually get 4 to 5 rails out of one nice
straight log.


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