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Monday, May 23, 2011

An Unusually Silent Anvil: Ron Dyer ("The Horseshoer")

 I learned tonight, completely by accident while researching something on the web, that Ron Dyer the Horseshoer (as he called himself) died on April 23, just shy of his 84th birthday. I don't have much information, perhaps other people have already announced his passing, but I had no idea.

When I knocked on the door of the farrier profession, I immediately noticed that people tended to cluster around certain individuals. Were they hoping to pick up some sage advice? Not really, they were more likely souvenir story collectors. These people stood close enough to listen, memorize and then go home and re-tell the best stories, again and again, until the stories became legends. And the people who originated those stories along with them

Ron Dyer The Horseshoer 1927-2011
Ron Dyer, a.k.a. Ron Dyer The Horseshoer was one of those people whose stories were and still are re-told.  Here was someone who'd been there, done that and definitely had an opinion about it that he didn't mind sharing. People were a little timid around him; some might use the word "gruff" to describe him, but I also saw him be generous and kind and help people.

Ron was a horseshoer, all right. According to his obituary, he worked for the Budweiser Clydesdales, he worked on the midwestern harness racetracks of the Grand Circuit, he traveled with the circus, he was part of The Great Milwaukee Circus Parade...he did it all.

To hear him talk, he might have been around to shoe Dan Patch or Man 'o War. He pulled history out of the past and made it sound like he'd been there. I never could tell if he was giving me a history lesson or telling me about something he'd seen with his own eyes.

Case in point: The Galesburg, Illinois horse sale barns were one of the biggest horse yards in America in the early 20th century. It was right there in Ron Dyer's hometown that the French military, and then the British, came to buy artillery horses and mules for the First World War. Thousands of them. Reading the history of the sale barn tonight in Ron's honor, I realized it closed seven years before Ron was born. But he told stories about it as if he'd be there.
"By 1910, (the Galesburg Horse Sale) was receiving 25 carloads of horses a week and the same number of 25 cars would be shipped out—making a total carload business for the two railroads of 50 cars per week.  The sale employed 25 regular men. and always had 40 to 50 extra men for Friday and Saturday. Five hundred horses per week consumed about all the hay and straw raised in the adjacent counties. Five hundred horses per week  had to have 500 new halters. Each horse had to have two shoes on his front feet, which made a total of 1,000 horse shoes per week. From 7 to 10 blacksmiths were busy the week around making the shoes." (From Galesburg's Mighty Horse Market by Cornelia Thompson and Fred Dunbar)

I found a story about Ron Dyer in the archives of the Chicago Tribune. It included this gem: Once--possibly many more times than just  this once--Ron Dyer was judging a horseshoeing competition. The anxious competitors awaited their precise instructions of what the esteemed judge would be looking for in their work. Ron told them simply, "I want to see a commercial job; something you can charge for." End of subject. 

Farrier Henry Heymering, the visionary founder of the American Farriers Journal and my colleague in our early years of publishing that magazine, offered a few memories of Ron, who was also an author of articles in that magazine in its early days. Thanks, Henry:
  • Ron left quite an impression on me. Florida formed a farrier's association and started a certification test before the AFA. When Ron took the Florida test he made four shoes and shod the horse with them in about 40 minutes, and did a damn nice job!
  • Ron said the Illinois association was started after a shoer had a heart attack. Two farriers worked in the same barn, but they (as was the custom then) worked at opposite ends of the barn and wouldn't talk to each other. One day one of the farriers collapsed under a horse. The other farrier went up to the owner to tell him there was a problem.
  • When Florida started having contests, Ron was so good he won most everything. Other farriers before signing up would ask if Ron was going to be there and if he was, they would't compete. Ron got wind of this and stopped competing. He would only judge and/or demonstrate, and help the others improve.
  • Ron was too young for the French remounts, but I bet his father and grandfather worked on them. I believe Ron was a 4th generation farrier.
Probably Ron Dyer never wrote down any of his stories, and probably no one ever tape-recorded them for him, either. Like so much of the history of the horseshoeing profession, it's just going away with him. Horseshoers wear their stories well. Maybe if he'd written his life down, no one would have believed it anyway.

Except those of us who knew Ron Dyer The Horseshoer.

and

If you have a favorite memory of Ron Dyer, click the comments button below and share it with the rest of us or email it to blog@hoofcare.com and I will post it for you.

 © Fran Jurga and Hoofcare Publishing; Fran Jurga's Hoof Blog is a between-issues news service for subscribers to Hoofcare and Lameness Journal. Please, no use without permission. You only need to ask. This blog may be read online at the blog page, checked via RSS feed, or received via a digest-type email (requires signup in box at top right of blog page). To subscribe to Hoofcare and Lameness (the journal), please visit the main site, www.hoofcare.com, where many educational products and media related to equine lameness and hoof science can be found. Questions or problems with this blog? Send email to blog@hoofcare.com.  
 
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2 comments:

Henry Heymering said...

Ron left quite an impression on me. Florida formed a farrier's association and started a certification test before the AFA. When Ron took the Florida test he made four shoes and shod the horse with them in about 40 minutes, and did a damn nice job!

Ron said the Illinois association was started after a shoer had a heart attack. Two farriers worked in the same barn, but they (as was the custom then) worked at opposite ends of the barn and wouldn't talk to each other. One day one of the farriers collapsed under a horse. The other farrier went up to the owner to tell him there was a problem.

When Florida started having contests, Ron was so good he won most everything. Other farriers before signing up would ask if Ron was going to be there and if he was they would't compete. Ron got wind of this and stopped competing. He would only judge and/or demonstrate, and help the others improve.

Ron was too young for the French remounts, but I bet his father and grandfather worked on them. I believe Ron was a 4th generation farrier.

Bryan Quinsey said...

Hi Fran - I too am saddened to learn of the passing of Ron Dyer. When I trained carriage horses for Weaver Enterprises in Peoria, Illinois, I had the pleasure of hiring Ron as our farrier. He was a grand gentleman.