With the weather leapfrogging fall's cheerful chill to winter's blustery bite, the warmest person at the Howard County Conservancy's fall festival Saturday was iron man Allen Dyer.

The light from a brilliant fire illuminated the Ellicott City blacksmith, who pumped a huge bellows that fed the dancing flames. Then he spun a thin metal bar in his hands as he heated it until it glowed red.

A rapt audience watched Dyer as he transformed the iron into a curved workshop tool, hammering, heating and hammering again until, satisfied, he dipped it into a bucket of water. A soft hissing sound signaled it was time to talk.

"Everyone thinks red-hot is the hottest there is. That's just the point where a blacksmith starts his work," he said, pointing to the cooling tool. "Red, orange, yellow, white. The melting temperature is white."

On a day where the dominant color was gray and you could see your breath, watching a man work up a sweat and make something with an anvil and hammer made adults smile and youngsters go wide-eyed at the conservancy's Mount Pleasant Farm.

"Cool," said Tyler Satterfield, 9, who wore a Smokey Bear-style ranger hat he held to his head as he inched closer to the action. "I want to do that."

Outside the blacksmith's shop, families lined up to board a flatbed trailer hitched to a tractor for a hayride. A strolling bluegrass duo kept things lively. Beekeepers displayed a honeycomb swarming with activity and hawked jars of golden sweetness.

"There are certain people we know, but there are new faces here today, and that's good," said Allison Anderson, the conservancy's development associate and green schools coordinator.

The conservancy was founded 21 years ago by residents concerned about shrinking open space and farmland. The 232-acre farm in Woodstock was donated by Ruth and Frances Brown to provide educational programs on site and at schools and civic meetings.

Four miles of gently rolling hiking trails cut through grasslands and woods. A community garden for do-it-yourself residents has a waiting list for the 63 plots.

Little by little, the conservancy is restoring buildings on the property, starting with a barn built in the 1790s. This year, with financial support from a state bond and a donation from the estate of a longtime supporter, the conservancy will begin a $250,000 renovation of the farmhouse, which started as a one-room cabin in the 1690s and was expanded in the 1800s.

"We want to use these buildings, not just have them on display," said Anderson.

Drizzle stopped and started, but the young visitors and farm animals didn't seem to notice. Ranger, the barred owl, attracted a crowd, and the goats allowed themselves to be the center of attention in return for fistfuls of hay.

Finally, when even wool hats and fleece mittens couldn't keep out the elements, families headed for their cars and the animals headed for the barn.

candy.thomson@baltsun.com

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