William O'Flaherty remembers North Shore smithy Jimmy Woodfine

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Twelve-year-olds can sometimes have their heads in the clouds

“Jimmie!” he shouted in through of the door of the forge. “Jimmie!

Dr. William O'Flaherty

“Dat young fella don’t know how to tackle the horse. A damn lotta good he is,” stated a man from down the shore.

I had taken the horse to the forge that morning to be shod; it was a full year since the horseshoes had been put on the hooves and they were pretty well worn down to paper-thin.

In the wilds of the world, horses don’t need them, living as they do on grassland most of the time, but for a working horse on the North Shore, travelling over gravel roads, rocky terrain and ice covered paths in the winter, good horseshoes were an absolute necessity.

Performing that necessary yearly chore — taking the animal to the blacksmith for horse-shoeing — was not unusual to expect of a 12-year-old out of school for the summer.

My father was busy with the fishing, and so, that Saturday morning, I was directed to tackle the horse and boxcart and go to the Long Beach blacksmith to get new shoes put on.

The “forge,’’ as it was called, was situated a short ways up the highway west of the church, and was owned and operated by the family of Elias Woodfine. It had been there for years, serving the needs of a thriving, well-populated fishing community. 

Elias was now elderly and had given over the running of the forge to his son James (“Jimmie”), a mild-mannered, gentle man who tolerated the repeated curiosity of the children of the area, allowing us to visit and watch the “smitty” in action.

Too, there was a small “shop” (grocery) — managed by the elderly matriarch — attached to the residence where we bought soft drinks and chocolate bars to eat as we watched the goings-on in the forge.

There was no problem encountered when I tackled the horse that morning. Bucephalus — the horse’s name, known only to me — was quite co-operative when I placed the bit in his mouth, the collar and hames in place and the shafts of the box-cart up onto the back pad with the traces all secured in place.

We travelled a mile up the gravel road, past the church and into the yard next door to the blacksmith premises where the horse was untackled from the box-cart and brought into the forge.

Jimmie had the coal fire going on full when I arrived and allowed me to help out by pushing up and down on the shaft that worked the bellows as he removed the worn out horseshoes, measured for the new ones, and, using a rough file, shaved off irregular parts of the horse’s hooves.

Amazing to me was the ability that he had to persuade and control the animal, standing on three legs, lifting the fourth while he worked on that hoof.

All the while he was doing that the metal for the new hooves was glowing red hot in the coal fire with me manning the bellows, the shiny, smooth shaft in my hand a long testament to the calloused hands of the Elias Woodfine family.

In very short order, with the precision of a practiced surgeon, the flaming hot metal was shaped on the anvil, plunged into the water to sizzle and cool and, one after the other, on went the new horseshoes.

Happy horse, happy 12-year-old, until a problem developed with the tackling, out there in the yard, as above noted.

Whatever it was — who knows, 12-year-olds, sometimes, have their heads in the clouds, and need rescuing from things such as the berating I received from that man from down the shore.

Jimmie came out of the forge, saw the problem, corrected it in an instant, and said, seeing my embarrassment: “Don’t worry about that fella, b’y. He came here to go to the shop. Got nothing in HIS barn except two goats.”

Thank you, Jimmie, my friend of long ago.

— William O'Flaherty worked a 40-year career as a country doctor in Newfoundland and New Brunswick. He was the country doctor in Western Bay, on the north shore of Conception Bay, from 1967 to 1989, and was born in the tiny fishing village of Long Beach, at the lower end Northern Bay. He writes from Moncton, NB.

Geographic location: North Shore

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  • Russ Sullivan
    June 29, 2014 - 09:59

    Wonderful story - he was my Uncle Jim; he died a few years back. My mom, his sister died a couple years back at the age of 97. They were a hardy family.

  • ~Alicia "Celeste"
    June 24, 2014 - 10:23

    One of your best for sure Dr. O'Flaherty-loved this story the most so far :)