Claude Sherman Spalding was born January 14, 1914 in Howell, Michigan to Clarence Lincoln Spalding (1863-1941) and Phleta Velma Austin Spalding (1878-1941). He grew up on the family farm which his grandfather, Calvin Spalding (1820-1897) had homesteaded about 1840.
He married Mary Louise Aldrich on December 21, 1936 in Woodbury, Michigan. Mary Louise, commonly called Louise, was born March 6, 1916 in Vermontville, Michigan to Waldorf Aldrich (1890-1960) and Mildred Faust Aldrich (1891-1981).
Claude and Louise worked the family farm for about two years with the hopes of buying the property. When they realized that was not going to happen, Claude took a six-week long class at Michigan Agricultural College (Michigan State) to become a farrier—a person who shoes horses. Near the end of the course, Claude learned of a farrier in Almont, Fred White, who needed an assistant. Claude got the job and he and Louise moved to Almont just before 1940. They initially lived with the Whites in a house on the northeast corner of Bristol and East St. Clair Streets (now First Congregational Church parking lot).
Apparently, Mr. White was really looking for a replacement and not an assistant. Claude only worked with him for a short period of time before he was operating on his own. Mr. White had a blacksmith’s shop in town where they did much of their work. Claude however, built a trailer to hold the forge and his tools and supplies, so he went to the customers rather than them coming to him.
At the outbreak of World War II, Claude volunteered for the Navy. However, the farmers from about a hundred miles around signed a petition to keep him here to shoe their workhorses. Horse-power was still the predominant form of power on the farms through the end of World War II.
During World War II, Claude was kept very busy. On many occasions he would be gone for a week or more. He would stay at the home of the farmers for whom he was doing work.
He would buy horse shoes of many sizes and styles and then adjust them using the forge and his anvil to create a perfect or custom fit for each of the horses. He was a “hot shoer” rather than a “cold shoer.” “Cold shoeing” was done without the use of a forge. His forge used coal as its source of heat. The coal came from either Leon Bishop’s coal yard at the south end of Bristol Street and behind the elevator, the coal yard located on Scotch Settlement, or at coal yards in nearby towns.
After World War II, the power source on local farms changed quickly from the horse to the tractor. By the late 1940s, with insufficient work to support his family of three children, Claude took a job a Hurd Lock in Almont and did his farrier work nights and weekends. In the early 1950s, he went to work at National Twist Drill in Rochester and continued doing his farrier work part-time.
One of Claude’s customers was Ben Thorman. The accompanying photo shows Claude shoeing one of Ben Thorman’s horses on Ben’s farm on Hollow Corners Road. Ben with his son-in-law, William Ebeling, were farming 320 acres. They had a tractor but also still used the horses. With the rapid conversion to tractors, there was no market for the horses so they couldn’t be sold and farms couldn’t afford to keep them without getting some work from them, so while William used the tractor, Ben tended fields using the horses.
In the mid-1950s, recreational riding became much more common. The 4-H Saddle Club was formed by Gertie and Red Brooks in the spring of 1955. By 1960, Claude had all the farrier work that he could handle on a part-time basis. His six children were now helping him. Their help was particularly useful when shoeing a Shetland pony. Someone needed to hold the pony’s head so it didn’t bite Claude on the backside.
Claude retired from being a farrier in the late 1960s. He retired for two reasons. First, he had experienced over 13 broken ribs from being kicked by a horse. Secondly, National Twist Drill’s insurance carrier threatened to cancel his health insurance if he continued. Thus a nearly thirty-year career as a farrier came to an end. Claude was well known and respected for his professionalism, quality of work, and his friendly demeanor. Claude retired from National Twist Drill in the late 1970s.
Claude died on December 23, 1999 in Almont and was taken home and laid to rest in the Deerfield Center Cemetery in Deerfield Center, Livingston, Michigan. Louise lived to be 95 and passed on August 10, 2011 in Romeo. She was buried next to Claude in Deerfield.
Copies of the Almont Historical Society’s Homecoming book, “Remembrances of Almont 2020” can be pre-ordered by contacting Jim Wade at 810-796-3355 or firstname.lastname@example.org.