Alumnus forges new challenges on History Channel reality show
Gary Bird ’91 (Marketing) can troubleshoot computer problems, fix a webinar link or install a software program.
He also can fire up the 2,000-degree forge in his Sacramento garage and create items out of steel.
His vocation: Information and technology specialist for the California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office.
His avocation: bladesmith.
Bird’s skill with tools and heat will put him in the national spotlight Aug. 12 and Aug. 19 as one of four competitors in the next installment of the popular History Channel reality show Forged in Fire. The competitors face off in what the network is calling the “Summer Forging Games” with $15,000 going to the winner of two challenges involving the making of knives.
For those who have not seen the show, bladesmiths receive no clue about their upcoming challenges from demanding and sometimes acerbic judges, led by show host Wil Willis—a Yuba City native. After some work is done at the show’s Connecticut studio, the bladesmiths head to their homes to continue their efforts and then return to the studio for final judging.
“This all came as a surprise, but it has been a great experience,” said Bird, 51. “It has given me more confidence as a bladesmith. The competition was intense.”
Bird had doubts when he received a phone call from a History Channel talent scout. The network representative said they had seen his work on Instagram (@rivercitybladeworks).
“My first thought was, yeah right, this has to be a prank from one of my Pacific fraternity brothers,” Bird said. “But it turned out to be true. They called back, set up a Skype call and I was chosen.”
There are contractual limits about how much Bird and the other contestants can reveal.
First, the smiths had to create a knife using a railroad spike and a piece of high-carbon steel. The second challenge was to make a set of Damascus Throwing Knives, an intricate challenge for making both the blade and handle. The competition is decided on overall points for the two challenges.
“We were sitting in the green room before the first competition and we had absolutely no idea what we were facing,” Bird said. “In past shows, they have had people make bows and arrows, hatchets and many other weapons. We had to be ready for anything.”
Bird said he bonded with the other competitors—men from Texas, Tennessee and another Sacramento bladesmith. “It was like golf, where you hope the other person does well because if you win, you want to beat someone who was at their best. We became close and talk or message each other just about every day.”
The foursome will join other smiths for a benefit event sponsored by Black Horse Forge, a web site run by and benefitting veterans. “We will help show veterans suffering from PTSD how to make things and all the money raised will benefit veterans,” he said.
Bird has not seen any footage and is anxious for the show to air. He knows it will change his life in some ways.
“I like to do work for people and they tend to come to you when they know you are handy. And I like making things for people,” Bird said. “This experience definitely taught me how to push my limits. I am going to be open to bigger challenges.”
“Forged in Fire” will air at 9 p.m. on Aug. 12 and Aug. 19 on the History Channel.