From scrap wood to trusty steed to grandson's heart

COFFEE WITH WARREN, with Warren Harbeck
Cochrane Eagle, June 12, 2002

With Father's Day upon us, it seemed like a good time to run a poem by e-mail coffee companion John Chalmers on grandfather-grandson bonding.

John, as you may recall, spoke at the 2001 McDougall Memorial United Church annual historical service at Morley. He is the Edmonton-based editor of the book, Niddrie of the North-West: Memoirs of a Pioneer Canadian Missionary (2000), featured in this column a year ago and available locally at Westlands Bookstore.

And now to John's poem, Rocking Horse:

I HAD A PONY in my garage,
hiding among odd pieces of spruce lumber -
the head and body disguised in pieces of 2 x 10,
front legs in pieces of 2 x 6
and the rear legs hidden
in remnants of 2 x 8 boards in the wood pile.

With the help of the actual size U-Bild plan,
I began removing all the wood that didn't look like a pony.
The crosscut saw and rip saw did the rough work,
and a new blade in my jig saw made quick work of curves
as the limbs, body and head emerged from the lumber,
while a file and a sanding block further
shaped and refined the contours.
Critical holes were made with my new drill press,
precise cutting was performed by my backsaw,
and surgical precision in creating this wooden horseflesh
was completed with the fine teeth of the blade in a coping saw
retained from my youth.

From a new piece of clear pine shelving
the rockers, saddle and stirrups emerged,
accompanied by the buzz of the jig saw.
Soon the sanded spruce and pine were all defined shapes,
and as glue, dowels and screws were used
to assemble the horse.
It began then, to my surprise, to take on character, and life—
Was that a heartbeat I felt beneath my hands as I shaped the wood?

A name was obvious, Rocky, the Rocking Horse,
This would be a dark brown pony
with a white mane and tail, and a white star on its face,
and Rocky would ride on golden horseshoes.
Did I just hear a small snort from flared nostrils?

Now, with a first coat of primer
I thought I felt a flexing of muscles in legs eager to run
in a steed whose mind now raced with anticipation
as creation neared completion.
When stirrups and saddle were added, the wooden horse
whinnied with excitement as its painted brown hide was finished,
and it was nearly ready for riding.
Was that a twitch of its tail I just felt?
With eyes glued in place,
Rocky could now see a future with a small rider,
a grandson named Benjamin.

Rocky would be more daring than any horse in the Pony Express,
more courageous than any steed that led a cavalry charge,
stronger than any war horse
that ever carried a knight in armour,
more elegant than a jumper,
and faster than a thoroughbred racer.

To make a rocking horse, start with scraps of lumber
and just remove all the wood that doesn't look like a horse;
but only with little rider, a little scout, a little soldier or a little equestrian
can a rocking horse deliver the mail or dispatches,
carry a knight to a jousting tournament,
lead a parade, prance in the Mounties' musical ride,
or leap all the hedges and fences to win a steeplechase.

© John J. Chalmers

THANKS, JOHN, for sharing Rocky's story with us. I'm sure he'd have placed well at Spruce Meadows, and he certainly has given a championship performance in our hearts.

© 2002 Warren Harbeck

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