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
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
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 wasthe 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
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
"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.