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A VESTIGE, FAINTLY RINGING, QUIETLY FADING

It is late morning. The man out of the past is waiting.

Walk one block past HSBC Arena to the cobblestone street. Cut through a parking lot onto Illinois Street. Brick buildings two centuries old stand sentinel. With each step, the hum of passing cars fades. The swirl of office workers, of mothers pushing baby carriages, of construction workers breaking for lunch, grows fainter. Silence hangs heavy on the warm air.

The walk covers not just distance, but time. At block's end, an open doorway. Step in, and step back a century.

The man out of the past is standing on the dirt floor. He is lean and lined. Biblical white whiskers frame craggy features. He wears black suspenders, a wide-brimmed straw hat, an asbestos apron.

Ed Rudnicki, Blacksmith, reads the sign over the door. By the calendar, he is 83. By any other measure, he is as old as the forge and the anvil. A living anachronism, a flesh-and-blood piece of the past, in the age of cell phone and cyberspace.

There will always be use for honest labor. Until he closed shop six months ago, when the cancer sapped much of his fiber, he had work. Construction crews dropped off jackhammer bits for sharpening. People stopped -- they knew, he didn't know how -- for his shepherd's staffs and courting candleholders.

"The candleholders, you can adjust how long the candle burns," he says. "In the old days, if the father liked the suitor who came to see his daughter, he let it burn longer. If not, poof."

Last week, he sold his tools. Two Amish gentlemen came from the Southern Tier. They will use the sharp-edged iron on the farm.

His hearing is nearly gone, battered by the clang of metal. But the hands are steady. With a cackle, he pushes the button that brings the forging hammer to life. The frame is the axle from a Model T Ford. An ancient spoke-wheeled tire turns the belts. The banging anvil awaits a hot piece of steel. Rudnicki stops the machine. He has no more metal to feed the beast.

This is the way it was done, before molds and mass production. Rudnicki has been here 50 years. He bought the building from William Bush, who was here 50 years before him.

Around him, the world changed. Rudnicki stayed the same. The sheet metal shops on either side closed. The opening of the St. Lawrence Seaway took his ship trade, fixing anchor chains and shaping gaffing hooks. The stream of customers slowed to a trickle. Brick warehouses fell to the HSBC Arena. The old DL&W building up the block, filled with marble and granite, was bulldozed two decades ago.

"There was beautiful stuff in there, great workmanship," said Rudnicki. "Nobody seemed to care."

He cared.

"I couldn't do a job and do it sloppy," he said, "even if I lost money on it."

A visitor feels faintly awkward, to see one who missed the train of progress, whose trade died long before he will. It is almost like finding a Japanese soldier in a cave in the Philippines, years after World War II ended.

Yet the world is full of accountants and engineers and webmasters. Nameless, faceless, they ply a useful but common trade. Rudnicki stands alone.

Time passed him by. He never felt he wasn't in the right place.

"I am and was from a different era, and you can't change that," he said. "I'm not sorry. I was happy for the opportunity to be here. How many blacksmiths do you know?"

The dying trade put food on the table and four kids through college. Every day, people came through the door.

"I'm quite fortunate in so many things," he said. "All the people I met through the years, there was never one I disliked."

The man out of time does not have time. Prostate cancer slowed his steps, took the steel out of his forearms. The hospice nurse comes every day. Soon, this man of the past will be gone from the present.

His tools are with those who will use them. The building, now sold, will still stand. In the months and years to come, when you walk down this cobblestone street, listen closely.

In mind's ear, under the sign with his name, will sound the faint clang of hammer on anvil. Ringing forever, from a place beyond time.

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