by Thom Van Vleck
A little over a decade ago I wrote a story about my Grandpa Jackson’s Anvil and it appeared in Milo, the Strength Journal. I had wrote the article about how 4 generations in my family had lifted this anvil and how it was kind of a “rite of passage” into manhood. I recall almost not sending it in to the publisher of Milo, Randy Strossen, as I thought it was pretty corny and who would care outside my family. Well, Randy not only published it, but it started a relationship that has allowed me to publish about 25 more articles and allowed me to have a bit of a writing career. It wasn’t until recently that I wrote an article on Al Feuerbach (shot putter) that Randy told me I had finally topped that first story. I owe that anvil a lot and not just for my writing career!!!!
Grandpa Jackson was actually my great-grandfather, Arthur Jackson. He was an “old school” farmer that ran about 500 head of cattle and lived from 1880 to 1957. He had this Anvil, an English “Peter Wright” anvil made at the legendary “Mouse Hole” forge where anvils were made from around 1200 A.D. to 1969. It reportedly belonged to my Great-Great Grandfather, and who know, maybe further back as I have since dated it to being made between 1830 and 1865. He used to lift this anvil to impress his kids. It is not huge, but it is around 150lbs. He so impressed my grandfather that he would tell this story to his kids later about how he thought if he could lift that anvil, he’d be a “real man”. So, his desire to lift that anvil started his weight lifting career, which let to my Uncle’s lifting, and on to me, and now my kids…who I hope will be the fifth generation to lift that anvil! We have all lifted that Anvil and each has their own story which was detailed in that original Milo article.
That anvil inspired the formation of the Jackson Weightlifting Club and out of that Club came guys like Wayne Smith, Wayne Gardner, Phil Jackson, Wayne Jackson, Gene Thudium, and others that formed the foundation of the modern day USAWA as well as current or recent USAWA members and record holders like John O’Brien, Thom, Tedd, Morgan & Dalton Van Vleck (and soon, Ethan), Josh Hettinger, and others.
I have also had the privilege of having a bit of a strongman evangelism career, as inspired by Paul Anderson and his work. Both my Uncle’s saw Paul years ago (at different times) and this in turn inspired me. The Anvil has been a central part of our show. I not only lift it, but I lay on a bed of nails and have the guys pound it with sledge hammers (yes, that hurts). We estimate we have done 250 shows and been seen by over 25,000 people to date and almost all of them have heard the story of the Anvil.
Recently, we had our Highlander contest (combines strongman and Highland Games events) and we lifted the Anvil for reps as an event. Again, I told the story and shared a little bit of my family with everyone.
When the anvil is not in use, it rests in a place of honor in my gym, resting on top of a section of a huge I-Beam I “rescued” from a legendary bridge that used to cross the Chariton River near where I grew up. They were tearing the old Archangel Bridge down and replacing it with a boring reinforced concrete bridge and I spied this I-beam, with old style rivets and all, and thought it would be the perfect stand for my Anvil. It weighed around 400lbs and I had to haul it out of a ditch…..that was a workout by itself!
The anvil itself is just a chunk of steel, but it symbolized a lot for me and my family. A love of strength in all it’s forms, a passion for hard work, and a desire to seek out the challenges that life has to offer. If you ever come to the JWC Training Hall (AKA “Modern Day Torture Chamber), stop by and check it out…..and join the club of those that have lifted the “American Manhood Stone”.