In 1920, the horse and mule population in the United States peaked at about 25 million animals, but fell rapidly after that. Also in 1920 there were more than 9 million motor vehicles, up from just 8,000 20 years earlier. At the same time more and more folks were retiring their buggies and horses in favor of a motor car, resulting in the number of these mechanical wonders more than doubling in the next five years.
At the time of World War I there were an unknown number of blacksmiths in the country – every country hamlet had at least one – and these worthies realized a big chunk of their business from shoeing horses and repairing wagons and buggies. A large number of blacksmiths were content to continue the way they always had, but some far-seeing smiths realized that “times, they were ‘a changin’.” The American Blacksmith magazine ran the following poem in the August 1918 issue to try to point out to the old-time smiths that there was money to be made from the “horseless carriages” then seen more and more on the roads.
The Opportunity Grabber
Old Timon T. Tinker, a blacksmith I neighbored, for thirty-eight years at the anvil had labored.
He knew all the ins and the outs of the trade and a comfortable living and money had made.
He knew all the wagons and horses around and could tell who was coming up the road by the sound.
His wagons and carts were built of best stock; they stood up to wear like an ocean swept rock.
He knew all there was to know of his craft, from the fittings, to Dobbin, or repairs for a shaft.
But Timon T. Tinker was set in his ways and figgered old methods would do in these days.
When asked if he’d fix up a spark plug or tire, he’d rip, roar and snort and rise up in his ire,
to condemn the guy proper with nerve so colossal as to ask him to touch a mere auto – the fossil!
He damned all the motor pulled wagons on earth, and at autos and tractors he poked fun and mirth –
said gasoline buggies and tractors and such “are traps of the devil and ain’t worth very much.
There ain’t no machine in heaven or hell that’ll take up the place that the horse fills so well!”
So Timon T. Tinker kept pounding out junk, and his business went down till his credit was punk.
His former contentment skipped out of the coop, his knees got all shaky and shoulders to stoop.
His once fat wallet is thin as a slat and folks seldom come now with work or to chat.
Folks don’t want to trade with a back numbered skate, but seek out the chaps who are right up to date.
Now young Cyrus Getdough, a motor-bike had – twas not very good nor yet very bad.
He tinkered and tampered from morning to night, a tryin’ to get that old bike to run right.
Then one day while tinkering, a thought hit Cy’s thinker—twas surely ambitious for just a mere tinker.
He said as he turned up a nut on a spoke – “As a clever mechanic I may be a joke,
but brains are the thing if you put them to use. In fact it’s a shame to let good brains run loose.
I’m wiser than most of the chaps in this town; I’ll open a shop and pull some kale down.”
And so our hero, young Cy, took out a lease on Gordon’s old livery down the road just a piece.
He cleaned up the place with whitewash and paint and made that old barn look like what it ain’t.
The signs big and yellow he put on the place were glaringly lettered and spoke face to face.
And all who saw them could read at a glance that Cy was an expert on motoring plants.
That motors and autos and tractors and such were to most folks a mystery, but to Cy not so much.
The equipment Cy had you could count on your thumb, and what there was of it was all rather bum.
His mechanical knowledge you know was so lean that oiling a bicycle would trouble his bean.
But bluffing was just where young Cy was t’home, and believe me he bluffed from his toes to his dome.
His auto repair shop – the first one in town – just prospered and prospered and grew in renown,
‘til sections and acres were added and built, for work just crowded his shop to the hilt.
Today Cy is rich as Croesus B.C., a sterling example of a successful O.G. (Opportunity Grabber).
– Sam Moore
Cartoon from the August 1916 issue of American Blacksmith magazine.