In about 2000 I started researching Fred Drexler, a local blacksmith, but information on him is scarce. His location on 6th and Maple (the present/2008 First Bank building) is marked by a 1971 plaque, but I don't know why they marked his shop since it was not the first one in Brainerd, as you will see below. Well, I still don't know, but have been searching for information on Fred ever since. I found his gravesite in Evergreen Cemetery here. In 2007 I finally found a stamped Fred Drexler fishing spear, which I had been looking to find for several years. It turns out that they are quite collectible, quite rare, but do turn up from time to time. Then I found another so my hope is to display one on the site where it was made maybe a century ago, perhaps along with some sort of tribute to the art of spearing in general. This could include a sampling of decoys, spear tip protectors, ice saws and even photos of spearing in action. This sport is somewhat of a lost art, so it would be a nice prominent location to bring it to the attention of the public.
There a few other notable Brainerd spear makers, who I will list below as I find them. It turns out that one more recent named Gustis has evolved the term "Brainerd Spear". I have also heard the term "Central MN Spear". It sems that his unique handle-end hook is the identifying mark. I am unsure if Drexler's wedge/key method (pre-welding days) was of his design, or ancient, or indeed typical of this area only. As you can see, I am in dior need of knowledge on spear making in this area, but one thing is sure, that we are rigth smack dab in the heart of spearing country!
Drexler, Fred: He moved to Brainerd in 1888 from Kansas at the age of 22 for a job as blacksmith at the NP Shops. [OOTW, 1994]
-This is from an eBay ad for one of his spears, 2008: WELL, I JUST FOUND A TREASURE IN MY SPEAR COLLECTION. I LOOKED UP THIS SIGNATURE ON THE SPEAR THAT IS EASY TO DECIPHER, BUT MEANT NOTHING TO ME WHEN I FIRST BOUGHT THE SPEAR. FIRST OF ALL SIGNED SPEARS ARE VIRTUALLY UNHEARD OF AND THIS ONE I THOUGHT JUST BORE THE SIGNATURE OF A PROUD OWNER. BOY, was I wrong. Renowned spear maker Fred Drexler was originally from Ohio but moved to Kansas and then to Brainerd, Minnesota in an Ox Cart in the 1890s with his new wife. He worked in Rail Road shops and timber and then began his own Blacksmith Shop until he retired in the 1920s - 1930s. [This auction had a minimum bid of $225.]
Gustis, Louis A.: From a pictorail site on the Web:
A fine example of the famous "Brainerd Spear"
by renowned Brainerd, Minnesota blacksmith Louis Gustis (1887-1974).
Hagberg, Michael: Is a native of Sweden, born in 1851. He came to America and directly to Brainerd in 1872. The first four years he was employed at his trade, then, in 1876, opened a blacksmith shop of his own, it being the only one in the place [Brainerd]. (History of the Upper Mississippi Valley, Winchell, Neill, Williams and Bryant, Minnesota Historical Company, Minneapolis: 1881; p. 648) [Thanks to Ann M. Nelson for providing this information.]
Below is info gathered largely from spear sellers, collectors and websites on the subject. Thanks to all for letting me use this here!
-I used to bank there years ago. Should go in there and see it. I knew his blacksmith shop was somewhere on south 6th. I know quite a bit about spears and decoys. I've been collecting them for about 5 or 6 years, and have been spear fishing for about 20 years. I have a couple of collecting books that has some info on Drexler and Gustis. It's sad that a lot of this precious info has been lost over the years. I'm not sure what info you already have, but I could provide some of this info if you'd like. I've never heard of the term "oil spear". Can't imagine what that means, unless it has something to do with the heat treating and tempering process. the Gustis spears, or "Brainerd Spears" as they are usually called, can be distinguished by the U shaped rope notch on the top of the handle with a counter-sunk hole below that for attaching the rope. The tines on a Brainerd spear are also tapered, becoming thinner towards the tips. Few if any other spear makers did this. However, some people tried to copy his spears, but thankfully their skill levels paled to those of Mr. Gustis and are fairly easy to distinguish from the real deal, at least to me. He made 5,6,and 7 tine spears. My dad has a nine tine which isn't even supposed to exist. But is one of two that I know of. Let me know if you want more information, or if you have any specific questions, just ask. I'd be happy to help.
Eric (Thompson), Hibbing, MN, Dec., 2008 [Drexler-like spear ]
-The Gustis spears were made with long steel handles, not wood. The U shaped notch was a place for the knot of the rope to lay, which caused less of a splash as the spear entered the water.
The Drexler spears look nothing like a Gustis spear. Gustis spears were pretty much his own design, while a Drexler spear looks kind of like the one you purchased from me, but look very similar to many other spears, so it's hard to authenticate. –Dec. 29, 2008
-Hi Carl. I can't say if this was made by Drexler. It isn't marked, but I don't think he marked all of his spears either, so it's hard to say. Plus a lot of blacksmiths made spears like this one, which makes it hard to put a name to them. I have quite a few Gustis spears. I was considering putting one or two on ebay, but I would probably start them pretty high if I did, as they are tough to come by.
-I've got a nice Louis Gustis Spear on my wall in the basement. They are valued between $200 and $300 for starters. They have shown up a little more often than Drexler spears in the last five years, but that only means I've seen three including the one I've got.
Thanks again, If I get over to Brainerd for a decoy show this spring I'll try to give you a heads up.
Ely, Minnesota, Dec., 2008
100 years ago (1908), 11/22/2008, Brainerd Daily Dispatch:
One of the busy places in Brainerd at present is the blacksmith shop of Fred Drexler. Mr. Drexler has a force of six blacksmiths at work making oil spears.
-When did the welder come in to use in the spear making trade?
-When did the “Brainerd spear” or “Central MN spear” term come in to use?
-Did it pertain to the Drexler spear or the Gustis spear?
-Who developed the above style of spear, Fred Drexler?
-Was the key-type of tine binding used worldwide?