Friday, September 03, 2010

Silent Anvil: Joe Kriz Sr. Epitomized the 20th Century American Horseshoer

 Joe Kriz may have the most famous smile in American horseshoeing. He was the star of Capewell nail ads and the grin showed up everywhere. So did Joe. The media loved him. Even beyond the Kriz family's association with the Budweiser Clydesdales and other big name shoeing accounts, Joe was paydirt for the media. Cameras loved him.

He was America's horseshoer. 

Joe Kriz Sr. of Bethany, Connecticut died in his sleep yesterday morning. I just got back to town and found out and the news hasn't really sunk in yet.

There are two things I know, though:

1. I went looking for these photos of Joe in my files and I believe I have more photos of Joe Kriz Sr. than of any other single person. And in every single photo, he's smiling. Grinning. Ear to ear. And he has a cowboy hat on, too.

2. When I started on this crazy idea of specializing in writing about hoofcare,  I knew I had to do one thing: make a pilgrimage. I knew exactly where to go. I drove to Bethany, Connecticut and spent a Sunday with Joe Kriz and his brother, Johnny, in their forge with my tape recorder going. If I was starting tomorrow and knew what I know now, I would do the exact same thing all over again. It was an auspicious beginning. 

Services for Joe, known as "UJ" to many, include calling hours Friday night (a little hurricane would never slow down Joe Kriz) from 4:00 to 8:00 PM at the Ralph E. Hull  Funeral Home in Seymour, Connecticut (north of New Haven). A funeral will be held on Saturday, September 4,  at 10 a.m. at Christ Episcopal Church, 526 Amity Road, Bethany, Connecticut.

You can see an amazing collection of photos from Joe's equally amazing life here

If anyone is keeping score, I believe Joe was 93 years old, or thereabouts. He was born in 1917 to a long line of Czech farriers going back eight or more generations.

If you have no idea who Joe Kriz is or why this grinning face would belong to the man whom many consider the most famous horseshoer in the 20th century in the United States, you could read this fantastic article about him that was in the Draft Horse Journal last year. Even if you do know who Joe is, you'll enjoy reading it. This is by far the best article I have ever read about him. When you read it, you will see that Joe Kriz pretty much had the 20th century of horseshoeing and horses, for that matter, in the USA covered. He had the horse world on a string, and he worked it. 

Joe shod horses well into his mid-80s, when his health forced him to stop. He kept shoeing not because he had to, but because that is what he did in life, and what he wanted to do.

In other words, Joe Kriz had a lot to grin about.  Sad as I am, I can't help but grin through my tears just thinking of him.

Joe Kriz Jr and Joe Kriz Sr.: two generations of American horseshoers from a family dynasty stretching back to Europe.