Saaheim and the surrounding fields in the deep valley of Vestfjorddalen was a farm area populated by just a few hundred people when Hydro began with the construction of the Vemork Power Plant in 1907. Just a few years later, by the summer of 1911 there were few towns on earth that could compare to this boom town – with people coming from all over Norway and beyond to seek their fortune.
Kolbjørn E. Sando was no different, but his story actually began in a valley north of Rjukan in a town named Ål in the valley of Hallingdal. It was here that young Kolbjørn grew up on a farm, the oldest of 12 children.
Being the oldest he had the right to take over the farm from his parents, but even as a boy he showed more interest in crafts and spending time in the farm’s forge than working the fields.
Kolbjørn’s father disagreed, he believed that his son’s place would be running the farm once he grew to be a man. His opinion was strong, and the father went so far as to lock the door to the forge when it was not in use. Not to be deterred in his life’s true passion, Kolbjørn managed to make himself a key – he was good at his trade even then – and snuck into the forge at night to pursue his dream of becoming a goldsmith.
Building a Life
Time went by and Kolbjørn grew to be a man, and a very large and strong man at that. When he was called into military service there were no uniforms large enough to fit him, and specially tailored ones had to be made. Later, upon returning home to the farm in Hallingdal, it seemed only a matter of time before Kolbjørn would pursue his life’s purpose. With his mother’s support and understanding, he bade farewell to the farm and established a workshop further down the valley in the town of Nesbyen.
This was in 1901, and Kolbjørn was just 27 years old. Farther to the south in what is now Rjukan, things would begin to change in the next years. Sam Eyde would gain the rights to Rjukanfossen in 1903, and with this agreement his plans to harness the massive waterfall were beginning to form.
Still, Rjukan (Saaheim until 1912) was far from Kolbjørn’s mind at the time, he was building a life in Nesbyen and establishing his goldsmith enterprise. Gullsmed Sando was established in 1901 and business was good. At times there were up to four people working busily in the shop, making silver thread-work for bunads – the Norwegian national costume – and jewellery for their customers.
He was busy with his private life as well, and it was during this period that he met and married Karoline from Sandsvær, a village now part of the Kongsberg municipality.
The decade passed, and they eventually had five children together. But times and fashions were changing as well, and it was becoming more and more difficult for Kolbjørn to sell to wholesalers in Oslo (called Kristiania at the time).
With a growing family to feed, and a burning desire to continue in the goldsmith trade, Kolbjørn heard stories of the opportunities to be found in the boom town of Rjukan. What had been a gathering of just a handful of farms just a few years before had now begun to blossom into a bustling centre of industry.
The next chapter in his life began in 1911. Kolbjørn had said goodbye to his family for the time being and set off to Rjukan with a friend to establish himself there. Kolbjørn bought a jewelry and watchmaker business and built a house, and the very next year his family joined him at the house on Storstulgate.
Life in Rjukan was busy, exciting and hard work – and nothing like anywhere else in Norway at the time as Kolbjørn and his family settled into a good life in this ever-growing bustling town.
An Untimely Death
Time passed and Kolbjørn became known as a hard-working man of Rjukan. He was so industrious that he often fell asleep in the workshop in the late evening hours until Karoline would come and wake him saying, “Now you can come home and sleep, Kolbjørn!” In addition to his goldsmith and jewellery shop, he was a watchmaker and ran a laundry firm as well as a brewery/soda factory.
He also was a member of the local school board as a proud father of one boy and four daughters. He purchased a home for his family on Villaveien, and it seemed all was well. But life can be harsh and Kolbjørn fell into poor health. Despite a major operation in 1915 when he was only 40 years old, he continued to decline and died just eight years later in 1923.
Through the Generations
Despite his early and untimely death, what Kolbjørn had created during the boom years of the early days of Rjukan continued to thrive as the shop was passed on to his son Erik, and then in 1968 to his grandson, also with the name of Kolbjørn. The establishment is now run by goldsmith Jørgen, the great-grandson of the man who came to Rjukan during the height of its boom all those years ago.
Today, Gullsmed Sando is one of the oldest establishments in Rjukan, together with Løitegaard Shoe Store, Køhn books and Stenstad. The drive and the energy of their predecessors and so many others who came to this town during the early years has been passed down through the generations, and still can be felt today here in this very special town of Rjukan.
All courtesy of Jørgen Sando
Photo 1: Kolbjørn could have taken over the family farm, but he would have a different destiny.
Photo 2: Kolbjørn and his wife Karoline, with their first child, Sidsel, while they were still living in Nesbyen.
Photo 3: A photo of the building on Storstulgate 2 which Kolbjørn built and lived during his first years in Rjukan. Probably together with Anfinnset, which you see has a furniture store in the same building.
Photo 4: This photo was taken in 1922, shortly after Kolbjørn was told that his cancer had taken a serious turn for the worse. He died the next year in 1923, aged 48 years. In this final picture, we see the parents with their children Sidsel, Erik, Gerda, and the twins Olaug and Mattel.
Photo 5: Jørgen Sando, proprietor of Gullsmed Sando on the left, with his great-grandfather Kolbjørn on the right who established the family company so many years ago.