He was able then with his own hands to fashion a bolt, a nail, or horseshoe, unsurpassed in the county. He was handy in shaping and tempering tools of every kind. When he ate his cold dinner, reheating his coffee over the forge coals, he often thought of the dormant fires within him, and he wondered if they would ever be fanned to a white heat. For years he had toiled hard to pay the rent of his forge and home and his monthly bills. His wife was saving and helpful in a thousand ways, but life was a hard struggle from sun to sun.
One summer’s day when work was slack, there came to his shop a tall Englishman to get a small job done. So well was the work performed by Harris that the Englishman, whose name was James Ingram, said to Harris, “I believe you are the mechanic I have long been looking for. In early life I was apprenticed in England to a famous iron-master, and when the Bessemer patents for converting iron into steel were issued, it was my good fortune to be a foreman where the first experiments were made by Henry Bessemer himself, and so I came to have a practical knowledge of Bessemer’s valuable invention; but my health failed, and for six months I have been in your country in search of it, and now being well again, I plan to start if possible a Bessemer steel plant in America. Can you help me?”
Reuben Harris was quick to see that great profits might be realized from Bessemer’s patents and Ingram’s ideas, and promptly said, “Yes, but I must first know more about these patents and their workings.” Before a week had passed, he had learned much from Ingram concerning the practical working of the Bessemer process of converting iron into steel. Bessemer claimed that his steel rails would last much longer than the common iron rail then in use.
Reuben Harris easily comprehended that the profits would be large. It was verbally agreed between Harris and Ingram that they would share equally any and all profits realized. Ingram had contributed reliable knowledge, Harris was to enlist capital, and both were to make use of all their talents, for they were both skilled mechanics.
It was not an easy matter for Harris to secure capital, for capital is often lynx-eyed, and usually it is very conservative. It was especially cautious of investment in Harris’s schemes, as the practical workings of the Bessemer process were not yet fully understood in America.
The profits promised by both Harris and Ingram to capitalists were great, and this possibly made capital suspicious. Finally enough ready money was obtained to make a successful experiment, which so convinced a few rich men that more money was immediately advanced, and the steel plant was soon furnishing most satisfactory steel rails at greatly reduced cost for both the manufacturer and consumer.
Harris’s ability to manage kept pace with the rapid growth of the new enterprise, while Ingram’s knowledge and inventive talents proved that as superintendent of the steel plant he was the right man in the right place.