Bruce Daniels died today, just before noon, the American Farrier's Association tell us. The icon of American horseshoeing of the late 20th century had suffered several aortic aneurysms and what his son Tad called "multiple strokes". He still made it to his daughter Cary's house in Florida for Christmas, though.
Just try and stop him.
The farrier world will be a little less colorful now. His stories will be retold forevermore but who's left who remembers the world he lived in, back before the American Farrier's Association civilized horseshoers, as he used to say?
Bruce lived for many years in Mullica Hill, New Jersey. One hundred acres of his property has been made into a conservation preserve by the township. It is now know as "Daniels Woods" or the "Daniels Preserve".
It might be a good place to go for a walk sometime.
I knew for the past week or so this might happen, and didn't know then any more than I know now what should be written about Bruce. I tend to think this is a moment like that great song, "Bye, Bye Miss American Pie". I never really understood it, except that it was written about moments like when Buddy Holly was killed in a plane crash, and similar unforgettably tragic days when American innocence and "the music" died.
Was today the day that good old-fashioned American horseshoeing died, once and for all?
In an interview in 1995, Bruce told a reporter, "Determination, strength with gentleness, artistic talent and tolerance for discomfort, even some pain, are the qualities of a successful horseshoer."
Bruce Daniels was one of the first farriers I met when I took on the job of editing the fledgling American Farriers Journal when it was bought by a Massachusetts publisher. It was in the airport in Albuquerque, New Mexico. We had all arrived to attend the American Farrier's Association Convention; I knew Bruce was the vice-president of the AFA, and that he planned to win the competition. I had just edited one of his articles for the Journal and been advised by founder Henry Heymering, "Just don't edit him." That sort of thing sticks in your mind.
And there he was. I timidly introduced myself to him, amidst a crowd of horseshoers who were all trying to shake his hand or slap him on the back or tell him a joke, all at once.
He was chewing tobacco. The baggage carousel revolved behind him. He squinted down at me and muttered, "Oh, yeah, the new girl." He gathered up his luggage. "Where's my tool box?" he growled. Something that looked vaguely like a munitions vault lay on the floor near my feet.
"Hey, Fran, grab that tool box and come along," he directed. "We've got a cab."
I leaned down and grabbed the handle on the top of the box. I almost fell down trying to lift it. It was like a 100-pound dead weight. Bruce (and all the farriers and, it seemed, everyone in the airport) roared with laughter as I attempted to half-carry, half-drag it behind him.
"Welcome to the horseshoeing world, babe," he chuckled as he turned and picked it up easily; I followed him meekly to the cab, wondering what I had gotten myself into.
And did he just call me "babe"?
I always used to joke that Bruce didn't teach me how to shoe horses, he taught me how to tell stories about shoeing horses. He very definitely understood the value of doing both well. Possibly no one did it better--shoe a horse or turn the shoeing of a horse into a story to share afterwards.
I took this picture of him one day in the mid to late 1980s. It's my favorite memory of him. Bruce and his friend, the late, great Bob Skradzio wanted to create a tableau vivant of Norman Rockwell's famous painting of a marathon horseshoeing competition in Vermont.
They didn't just want to pose for me to take the photos so it looked like Rockwell's scene, though. Oh no, not Bruce and Bob...they actually researched and then held the one-on-one competition, making the exact shoes described in Edward W. O'Brien's short story, "Blacksmith's Boy Heel and Toe" that accompanied the illustration in the Saturday Evening Post, way back on November 2, 1940.
It really was a contest. Both of them wanted to win. No one could believe they'd gone to so much trouble, and made it so realistic.
But then nothing less would do. It never would, for Bruce Daniels. And if he taught us anything, it wasn't horseshoes or anvils or even storytelling. It was that he showed us the mindset of total focus, of doing something right, if you're going to do it at all.
Click here to read a good article written in 1995 about Bruce from a Philadelphia newspaper.
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