It’s common knowledge that the arrival of the horseless carriage sounded the death knell to horse-drawn modes of transportation.
Indeed, the handwriting was on the wall in 1905 in Reading, Pa., when Charles Duryea was producing cars.
It was pretty much over for horses when, in 1908, Henry Ford’s mass-produced Model T launched an era when most American families could afford a car.
The advent of the automobile brought with it good-paying manufacturing jobs and opportunities for mechanics and auto dealers, but it was bad news for blacksmiths and others who shod horses for a living.
By the early 1930s, according to the Reading Times, only seven blacksmiths were listed in the Reading city directory.
Of that, only three were still shoeing horses.
“Old Dobbin, almost extinct in Berks,” the Times headlined on July 28, 1934.
“Horses, horses, horses, but there aren’t enough of them in Reading to keep one blacksmith busy,” according to the Times. “Their ranks having diminished at the rate of 100 or more a year for more than a decade, there are today but approximately 150 representatives of yesterday’s ‘four-footed aristocracy’ in the city.”
The village blacksmith of 1934, it was clear, had to learn new skills to survive.
“The influence of the automobile has driven the horse from the city’s streets,” according to the article. “The blacksmith now earns his livelihood by straightening automobile axles, repairing broken springs and welding frames.”
In what some would say is an American trait, ingenuity prevailed.
Blacksmith Daniel R. Bucher began making horseshoes out of recycled rubber tires in his shop between Washington and Walnut streets in Reading.
Perceptive as it was, it proved a double-edged sword.
Rubber horseshoes made work for blacksmiths, but they lasted three times as long as iron shoes.
Bucher’s comments to a Times reporter took on a reflective tone, looking back at the heyday of horseshoeing.
“Years ago, they used to ship wild horses to the East,” he recalled. “Well, sir, that was fun.”
The horses were just about halter broken, and to shoe them was difficult and dangerous.
Bucher recounted one day when it took him and a helper 12 hours to shoe one horse.
“Professional wrestling is child’s play compared to shoeing a half-wild horse,” he said. “Both of us got kicked so often we got used to it.”