By the time of World War One, the people of this country were fast-changing over from the horse and buggy to the automobile. This change affected lots of businesses, such as those that manufactured buggies, harnesses, and whips. In addition, every community had a small and often ramshackle building where the village smithy was located. Although the local blacksmith was relied upon to repair wagons, buggies, and tools of all kinds, a huge part of his business was shoeing horses, and the decline in the use of driving horses, as well as draft horses as they were slowly being replaced by tractors, began to hurt business for these blacksmiths.
In the August, 1918 issue of Auto and Tractor Shop magazine, an article took notice of how some blacksmiths coped with the situation.
About Horseshoes and Luck
William Paul Langreich
Back in my younger days, before dad sanctioned long pants, my somewhat older friend Spike enlightened me as to horseshoes and the luck attached to them. One day Spike caught a frog and showed it to me. “Ain’t you scared of gettin’ warts?” I asked. “Nah,” replied Spike, “I can handle frogs an’ toads all I want and never catch a wart ’cause I’ve got a lucky horeseshoe at home that I handle just afore goin’ to bed ev’ry night.”
So the very next day I bought a horseshoe from Danny Smith, the blacksmith’s son, for three cents. That three cents meant three whole days of doing without my favorite candy — lemon balls, but it was worth it. I sneaked that chunk of iron home and it worked like a charm. Even when dad found it he didn’t scold me. Instead he suggested nailing it over the door.
But if that one shoe meant so much to me, thought I, how about the blacksmith himself with all those shoes around his shop? I asked Spike and he replied scornfully, “Don’t you know nuthin’? That’s why he never slams his finger with a hammer, or gets burnt by the red hot iron bars he’s always handlin’ Why they mean just loads of good luck to him!”
I spent many hours hanging around the blacksmith shop, leaning against the old tree in front (an oak, not a chestnut) and sucking on lemon balls until it was time to go home and bring in wood for dinner or supper. At that time my main ambition in life was to become the driver of the undertaker’s hearse, dressed in a top hat and a long black coat and handling the reins of the four glossy black horses so gracefully, but I made up my mind that if I failed to attain that lofty goal I’d shoe horses instead.
That was long ago and things have changed. Instead of driving a hearse I’m pushing a pen for a man who hands me a little envelope at one o’clock every Saturday. The farm I grew up on has changed too. A tractor pulls a gang plow over the fields and later in the season it pulls cultivators and then harvesting machines. Cars and trucks whiz by on every road.
But one thing remains — the blacksmith shop. It must be all those horseshoes for he still has a pile of rusty ones in one corner, but seldom uses one as he hasn’t shod a horse in weeks. The sign out front that we used to pelt with snowballs has been re-lettered. Instead of “Horseshoeing,” it now reads, “Auto and Tractor Repairs.”
Out in front of the shop, where the oak tree used to stand, is a bright red gasoline pump. The shop is now painted and the front windows are washed so that you can see right through them and gaze upon a pyramid of new tires. In fact I’d say Smith is a changed man, except for one thing. When the census comes around, Smitty gives his name and in the “occupation” space he still puts down “Blacksmith.”
He explains, “No new fangled titles for me. I used to fix up horses and now I do the same to the iron horses. When old Dink Martin’s tractor breaks down, I just throw my welding outfit in my flivver and go fix it. Nope, I’m not a garage owner nor a mechanic, I’m just a plain old blacksmith who has to keep up with the times.”
So here is my old smithy — still a blacksmith. He still commands my respect and his shop still attracts me. He is but one transformed smithy — one of the thousands who are “just plain blacksmiths who have to keep up with the times.”
When I was a kid during the 1940s, we had such a man in our neighborhood. He welded new points on plow shares for Dad, repaired our cars, trucks and tractors, as well as those of the neighborhood. He once built a wagon for Dad from an old IHC truck chassis, modified a two-row horse-drawn cornplanter to be used on our new three-point hitch Ford-Ferguson tractor, and built a two-wheeled trailer from scratch that we used a lot. I don’t know how he described himself, but when anyone mentioned “Al McDonald,” we all knew they meant the fix-it man.