O'Reilly, Jack

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                          Jack O’Reilly’s Rare Trade
                    Mill Employs Blacksmith But Not to Make Horseshoes
                                  By Doug Prince

Realizing that a blacksmith is a full-fledged metal worker makes it easier to understand why the Boise Cascade pulp mill has one on its staff. Jack O’Reilly of Chatham has been a blacksmith since the mill’s opening over 30 years ago – and there’s never been a horse to shoe at the site. He may be one of the few such tradesmen in Canada employed at such a mill and he appears to be the only active blacksmith in the Miramichi area who can do horse-related work. “I don’t know of any others in the area who are doing it but if there are I don’t think they’re real blacksmiths,” he said in an interview. He was quick to explain that he’s a fully-qualified Blacksmith able to do metal and horseshoe work while a tradesman who merely makes horseshoes and shoes horses is a Farrier blacksmith. Blacksmithing as a trade is something he estimates took about five years to learn as an apprentice. He does not know of any course today where the trade could be gained. At Boise, Mr. O’Reilly does such work as sharpening and tempering steel for example, Chisels and points and the prefabrication of metal. “ I’ve been at it now since I was 16,” said the 59-year old man. “I used to do blacksmith work after school and when I graduated from St. Thomas I went into blacksmithing fulltime until I went overseas with the RCAF for five years during the War.” Mr. O’Reilly took a nine-month sheet metal course and air frame mechanics course in Ontario prior to going overseas in 1940. He was posted for the war with bomber command as an air frame mechanic. Following the war, he returned to blacksmithing for two years with his father, Jack O’Reilly Sr. He then joined the E. G. M. Cape Construction Company working as a blacksmith building the Fraser Companies mill (now Boise Cascade). With the completion of the mill in 1949, he became one of its first employees – again as a blacksmith – and has remained ever since in the capacity, despite ownership changes and three name changes. His work over the years changed somewhat particularly where early chain conveyers requiring periodic repair have been largely replaced by steel conveyers. He said that any horses owned by Fraser’s were taken care of by blacksmiths off the mill site. When Mr. O’Reilly’s father died in 1972, he was left the blacksmith equipment his father has used for some 50 years. Mr. O’Reilly with an eye on a retirement hobby then built a small shop in the backyard of his Church Street home. Here, he putters around in his spare time making a few fireplace irons, a bit of wrought iron and the odd set of horseshoes. He doesn’t think much of retiring from the mill job only to merely sit down and watch television. “This is my answer to retirement,” he said of his shop. “I think you’re more contented if you have some hobby.” It was natural that Mr. O’Reilly did some reminiscing about the “old days”, recalling for instance his purchase in 1945 of an electric blower to replace the old hand bellows. “My father was so nervous at the time he wasn’t going to have anything to do with it. One night my brother and I went out to the shop and installed it,” he said. “We later returned and found our father playing with it late at night.” It’s the same blower Mr. O’Reilly uses now, having a seven-speed regulator to control air to the forge. The blower provides cold air to the hot coals to create a hot fire for the metal-forging. Besides the blower, Mr. O’Reilly works at his hobby with a simply-designed forge together with an anvil and a horseshoe bender – both about 150 years old. Even a hobby costs money as Mr. O’Reilly in particular pointed to the price increase for the small, soft blacksmith’s coal he has to use. A one-time price of $24 a ton has now gone to $325 a ton – and is difficult to get with the nearest purchase place being Bathurst. Chatham Blacksmith Fuel Shortage May Spur Return To Horses Viewing the current fuel shortage and some recent requests to him, Jack O’Reilly looks to the possible return to horses by some for work or transportation. “An awful lot of people are looking for horseshoes, especially a lot for saddle horses.” “With the fuel shortage, people may want to get into the woods with a horse and sled to get wood out. All you have to do is feed the horse with hay and oats.” He said that this increasing demand for horseshoes seems to have occurred just since last year. Mr. O’Reilly’s been a blacksmith – doing mainly metal work and some horse-related work – for over 40 years. He learned the trade from his father, the late Jack O’Reilly Sr., who operated a shop on Cunard Street for many years. Mr. O’Reilly said his father started at 15 and was at the trade for over 50 years, prior to finishing his working life as an employee at the highways department garage in Chatham. Besides the well-known job of making horseshoes, the blacksmiths used to make wagon wheel rims, boat anchors, peeves and hooks, to name but a few of the metal items fabricated. Mr. O’Reilly said that he still makes a few horseshoes, particularly for heavy draft horses and for a few saddle horses. HE also can recork horseshoes, needed perhaps after a year. “If you walked in for a set of shoes I could make them – just give me the weight,” he said. Mr. O’Reilly said he makes the draft horseshoes mainly during horse-hauling matches. While saddle horseshoes can be purchased off the shelf from a factory, this is not the case for the heavy draft class in this area. Won’t Shoe Horses He said he has not shod a horse in 18 years yet still continually turns down requests of people to do shoeing. “I won’t do them because it’s very hard work. It’s a thing you’ve got to be at all the time. You don’t know if the horse is nervous or not. “If you haven’t been around the horse for 15 years it’s the same thing as being in with a heavyweight boxer,” he said. “You’ve got to know the type of horse you’re dealing with…but I love making horseshoes. Blacksmith Like Garage Mr. O’Reilly recalled that during the 1930’s and into the 1940’s 25 to 30 horses a day would be shod at his father’s shop. “Everybody had horses in those days. There were delivery horses for Loggie’s and others – there was no trucking,” he said. “Five blacksmiths were going steady in Chatham around 1930 to 1945. It was just like a garage today. People depended on the blacksmith for everything.” He recalled the “Old farmers” who used to come to town and sit all day. I worked with my father and I got a kick out of watching the old farmers come in and talk horses and sometimes trade horses and they would buy a little hooch. “They would come out in the morning and stay all day. They would bring a load of wood, stay until noon and return for another load of wood and come back. They would be cracking jokes and by the time 5 or 6 came along they would be singing.” Mr. O’Reilly said he was never struck by a horse but his father was hit three or four times and had his arm broken twice and “he would go right back at it again.” He said he was amazed watching his father shoeing “western horses,” those which had rarely seen a man. “He’d never sling a horse. He was a very able man. The horse would have to be very bad before he’d sling a horse – rope his feet before slinging.” (Shoeing) He said that they used to work 10 or 12 hours a day especially during the icy weather when horses had to have very sharp shoes. “I remember 15 or 20 lined up. We would take the shoes off, resharpen them and put them back on for a dollar,” he said. “There used to be an old lady by the name of Pat Flynn,” he recalled. “My father got interested in boxing and when Joe Louis won the title he had a great big picture from the Toronto Star or somewhere which he put on the wall of the shop. “Pat was a big man – 230 pounds or so – and he thought that he was quite a boxer himself. Well, he’d come in here and he’d say if he were 125 years younger he could beat Louis and he’d hit the picture and knock the wall out. “I used to get a kick out of him. He just kept me busy just nailing those boards back on,” he said quite enjoying his recollections.

Source: newspaper clipping (courtesy the collection of Janice Malley) N News Apr. 02, 1980

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