The Rise of New America: Life in Rural Tennessee

The Rise of New America profile of Charles Fuller and his life in rural Tennessee.

| March/April 1988

  • 110-073-01
    The lust for independent work finally brought this artist to the mountains. Working iron in his shop, The Broken Advil, Fuller for a time commuted between centuries, figuratively speaking.

  • 110-073-01

Land economist Jack Lessinger predicts that the dominant lifestyle and economy of the 21st Century will spring from certain rural counties. This Rise of New America profile follows Charles Fuller and his life in rural Tennessee. 

The New America: Life in Rural Tennessee

"Despite what you might have heard, I was never a nuclear physicist before becoming a blacksmith," Charles Fuller admitted as he leaned against a 50-pound trip hammer in his shop in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. "But people keep choosing to paint me that way, I suppose for dramatic effect." On close inspection, it was also abundantly clear he was neither Santa Claus, despite a blizzard of a beard and a roseate nose, nor Popeye, despite his bulging forearms.

"The truth is," he continued, "I was a mechanic—formally, a mechanical maintenance supervisor—at a nuclear power plant in Florida. A cut above a nuclear janitor, for sure, but by no means a physicist."

An allied truth is that the life change of 45-year-old Charles Fuller from urban to rural and high-tech to low is as dramatic as if he had indeed walked from a career in nuclear physics.

"First of all, my wife, Patti, and I got to driving up to rural Tennessee with our two daughters whenever we had the chance, just for the mountains and woodlands. Second, we found that these chances were fewer and fewer. Your life isn't your own when you work at a nuclear plant. Something always goes wrong—pump seals rupture or steam valves fail—meaning I had to fix it to keep the operation from shutting down. I often needed to live at the plant for weeks on end. The money was terrific, but so was the pressure."

Then, in 1974, Fuller read an ad in MOTHER EARTH NEWS describing a basic blacksmithing school in Lebanon, New Hampshire. Could this be the way out? He enrolled, emerging four weeks later armed with the rudiments of a new skill, albeit a somewhat anachronistic one. Amazingly, before another month passed he chanced on a want ad in a Tennessee newspaper: Silver Dollar City, a theme park in Pigeon Forge, required a blacksmith.

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