Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Sharp shoes

Remember studded snow tires? Chains? In the era of all-wheel drive and efficient highway maintenance, both of these once common winter transportation aids have all but disappeared.

Back before the automobile, however, winter travel needed its own version of studs or chains. At this time of year, the shoes of horses had to be kept very sharp so that hooves could bite into the ice. A horse with dull shoes could slip and injure a leg.

Later, horseshoes were equipped with devices called calkins or calks. A calk was a tapered wedge or cone-shaped piece of iron or steel projecting downward on the shoe of the horse to prevent slipping.

According to one old source, it was a Ridgefield, Conn., man who invented calks. He sought the aid of an attorney to get a patent. However, the attorney stole the idea from the poor inventor and took out the patent in his own name.

The Ridgefield man was so upset, the story goes, that he went out of his mind and wandered aimlessly around the village the rest of his days.

Maybe the man should have left well enough alone. For him, good advice might have been, “If the shoe slips, bear it.”