As Lars Magnus’s 15th birthday approached in the spring of 1861, there was a knock at the door of his home at Nordtomta. The visitor was Larsson, overseer at the mine and a good friend of Lars Magnus’s late father. Larsson had been given the task of taking some experienced miners to Norway to investigate an ore find that had been claimed near Egersund. Although Lars Magnus was officially not yet old enough, he begged to be allowed to go with them.
Lars Magnus began by carrying drill bits and helping the smith. After six months, however, the smith had such a longing for city life that he was away from work too often. By this time Lars Magnus had demonstrated his skills, in areas such as keeping the drill bits sharp, so he was entrusted with the smith’s work. This led to a considerable rise in pay and he could now send substantial remittances home to his mother.
The miners spent more than a year extracting ore in Norway until the overseer announced that it was no longer profitable to continue. Shortly afterwards Lars Magnus was offered the task of leading another expedition to prospect for ore in the Jösse district of western Värmland, near the Norwegian border. When the find turned out to be worthless and his work came to an end, he applied for a job as a laborer on the railway line being built at the border.
But now, at 17, Lars Magnus had realized what he wanted to do: he wanted to learn a trade, preferably in mechanical engineering. He had heard reports of which were the most skilled metalworkers in Värmland, looked them up and went to work for them. The first was Johannes Hult, whose smithy was 10 kilometers north of Arvika. Hult, who has been described as Sweden’s most talented gunsmith, had won awards in Paris and numbered the Swedish kings Oscar I and Karl XV among his clients. Hult was also an accomplished engraver and obviously passed many of his skills on to his apprentice Lars Magnus.
Hult then arranged for Lars Magnus to move on to Nils Andersson’s smithy in Helgeboda. Andersson was said to have had the finest machines of his day and undertook assignments for the mill at Helgebodafors and its dynamic owner, Mauritz von Krusenstjerna. Here, for the first time, Lars Magnus got to use a lathe, for which his innate talent soon became obvious. Financial problems forced Nils Andersson to close his smithy and seek a new livelihood, as manager of the nail factory at the Charlottenburg mill. Lars Magnus went with him and was able to learn yet another trade. It was here he got his first opportunity to read books and periodicals about mechanics and physics.
By his 18th birthday, in the spring of 1864, Lars Magnus had already got to work in a variety of jobs for seven different employers. His next step was to apply for a job at a mechanical workshop in Kristiania, as Oslo was then called. It is likely that Lars Magnus had learnt about the workshop during a visit to the city. Kristiania was a popular destination for the people of Värmland, who traveled there by horse and sledge to buy and sell goods; on the way home, many smuggled tobacco, which was often concealed in waterproof containers in the barrels of pickled herring they usually took home with them.
Lars Magnus did not get the job in Kristiania. So, after thanking Nils Andersson for his apprenticeship, he set off south instead, first to Arvika, where again he spent some time working in a smithy and engraving brass seals in the evenings. Then he moved on again, this time to Karlstad, a sizeable community of more than 5,000 people. Here he sought work at the well-reputed workshop of Knut Bergman, an ironware manufacturer who had a dozen or so apprentices and journeymen, one of whom was Carl Johan Wennberg.
Lars Magnus worked at Bergman’s workshop for two years, from the age of 19 to 21. During this time Karlstad was devastated by fire, with the workshop one of the few buildings that could be saved. Epidemics of dysentery, smallpox and cholera followed in the wake of the fire, and Lars Magnus and Carl Johan endured long and arduous working days. In his spare time, Lars Magnus engraved seals, for which he said there was “rewarding demand”. He saved every penny he could for his great objective: the trip to Stockholm.
Author: Svenolof Karlsson & Anders Lugn