Nearly 100 years ago, Auburn, Maine, laid claim to having the world’s champion blacksmith. That man was Steven Lovejoy, who was also noted for his skill at shoeing fine race horses with the best hardware to be found.
In August 1920, a Lewiston Evening Journal reporter interviewed Lovejoy, then in his mid-60s and still at the top of his game. He described a man whose muscles were as hard as the iron and steel he hammers.
“Come into the oddest hole you ever saw or ever will see,” Lovejoy said as he invited the reporter to peruse his extensive collection of horse racing photos and news clippings in his weather-beaten stable. They were pasted all over the walls of his “den,” a small room with a couch, a desk, a table and a chair. The writer called it “a shrine where horsemen go to worship at the shrine of equine greatness.”
Lovejoy’s blacksmithing specialty was “speed stock,” and he also had privately owned and driven quite a few of these harness racing horses. He had an encyclopedic knowledge of early racing records, with pictures on his walls recalling some classic events.
One photo showed a horse named Wilbur Lou on a day in 1910 when, wearing shoes specially forged by Lovejoy, the champion harness race horse set a 2:10 and a quarter record for a mile-race at Stockton, Calif.
Patterns for those shoes provided by the horse’s owner were hung on the stable walls, and Lovejoy told how he had come to make those celebrated horseshoes.
Racing shoes were much thinner and lighter than the more familiar horseshoe shape and weight. The front shoes were round-toed and weighed 6 ounces each. The hind pair were square-toed and just 3 ounces each, or a total of 18 ounces for the set, the reporter wrote.
Word spread, and “blacksmiths from all over the two cities called at Steve’s shop to inspect the shoes. They were pronounced the finest specimens of the blacksmith craft ever produced in Auburn and Lewiston.”
When they arrived in California by mail from Maine, the owner and Bud Doble, a famed driver who would be in the sulky seat behind Wilbur Lou, were astonished at the quality. The shipping box was opened, and Doble exclaimed, “They made that in Maine? I’d never have believed there was a man there could have done it; they’re the finest set of shoes I ever saw made for a race horse.”
Wilbur Lou wore the shoes and won the race, which is called a track classic.
Lovejoy’s skilled work was widely recognized, but it was his speed at shoeing a horse that earned him “world champion” status, according to “The Booster,” a blacksmithing publication in Erie, Pa. The record was set in Auburn on March 24, 1916.
He shod three horses in 37 minutes, but he wasn’t aware he was being timed as he worked on an animal owned by Burleigh grocery on Hampshire Street, Auburn. He really got down to business on the next horse from Valvoline Oil Co. in Lewiston, Maine, as he chopped 9 minutes off the first time, and he bettered that by a minute on the next horse owned by Dr. Donnell of Lewiston.