Horseshoes Don't Bring This Blacksmith Luck

November 26, 1990|By Robert Lee | Robert Lee,Staff writer

Wearing a cowboy hat with a patch that reads, "Dead End: Story of My Life," and a priestlike black robe to protect him from the flames, Pasadena's last cowboy-blacksmith pounds out the curve on a horseshoe.

As he cranks up the billows under the coals to get the shoe red-hot again, Joe Jackson sadly laughs at his lot in life -- his "girl" left him last month, taking his prize-winning quarter horse, given as a courting gift, with her.

"I'm trying to get over it. She didn't break my heart, she broke my wallet," Jackson said, explaining that his life savings were tied up in the horse.

"She told me no one's gonna want me now. 'You don't have money.' Can you believe she said that?"

Pointing to a nearby tree where he carved his ex-girlfriend's name inside a heart, he laughs again. "I should write, 'leech,' right under where I put her name.

"I don't have good luck with nothing no more."

Jackson takes the horseshoe out of the coals with his pliers and starts beating a traction hook into the end of it. He talks about some of the other misfortunes of life. If his forge were a guitar, he'd be singing the country blues.

"I used to have a place with 6 acres over on Old Annapolis Road right where Route 100 is now. I didn't fight it; those who did got nothing for it. The county just came in and pffft! No more house. They gave me $16,000," he said, and laughed. "They didn't even use all my property for the road, and now it'd be worth $300,000 for the leftovers, easy."

Using the money from the condemnation, in 1967 Jackson bought a nice little place along Solley Road that turned out to be "a hop and a spit" away from the Solley Road hazardous waste dump that the state Department of the Environment discovered to be leaching substantial amounts of carcinogenic solvents into the ground water near his house.

"The state comes by once a month to test my well. It's OK. They say the chemicals are supposed to be moving the other way."

A welder by trade who fixes lawn mowers for a living, Jackson goes out to his backyard forge for fun, using skills and tools handed down by his grandfather and great-grandfather.

"It's better 'n going with some girls, I'll tell you. I like it 'cause you're changing stuff and making something that lasts.

"My grandpop made this chisel out of cast iron. It's never bent." He proudly holds it up and points to a bent one he bought at a store.

"You can't buy good tools anymore. Americans ain't taking pride or something. Everything falls apart."

Jackson, 43, says smithing had been his family's trade for several generations until his father took a job with the B & O railroad.

Figuring he's one of the last of a dying breed, he was willing to divulge some of the family's trade secrets.

He recalled learning how to make charcoal for the forges, as a boy, with his grandfather, great-grandfather and uncle.

"We made our own charcoal outta pinewood. We'd pile up the logs inside a thing like an Indian tepee -- maybe 10, 12 feet around. Then while it was on fire, we'd cover it all up with pine needles and packed dirt so it was like an oven inside.

"You had to poke little holes in the dirt around the pyramid so enough air got in to keep the wood inside burning, but not big enough so you got flames. After three days, it was ready and you broke the dirt down to get the charcoal inside.

"Can't do nothing like that any more without the Fire Department getting on you," Jackson lamented, speaking from experience.

He still remembers intricate details about working around a forge, banging out horseshoes "by eyeball" with no measurements, or curving the end of a flat piece of iron around in a tight circle to make a barn-door hinge from sessions with his grandfather, but he can't remember his grandfather's name.

"We just called him Grandpop Jackson. Don't remember ever hearing him called anything else," he explained.

After eyeing the horseshoe and giving it one more flat-side tap, a satisfied grin crosses his face. "I say it's perfect," he says, then tosses it down onto a hoofprint drawn on a piece of cardboard by his Kent Island customer.

Indeed, a perfect fit.

"Eyeballed it just right," he said.

Jackson plans to buy a new quarter horse at auction as soon as he pulls together some money and "train it to dance with treats and kindness," just like he trained the one his girlfriend took last month.

As for finding a new girlfriend, he's already started advertising.

The handwritten sign outside his welding and repair shop spells out exactly what he's looking for. It reads: Wanted: Good-Hearted Woman for Sweetheart for Joey.

P.S.: No Leeches

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