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Oklahoma native has added to his horseshoe creations

Joe Smith used horseshoes to build a half-size replica of a Stearman PT-17 Kaydet biplane at his home in Leedey, Oklahoma.
by Bryan Painter Published: February 11, 2013

Joe Smith is a man with a most common name and a most unusual form of art.

Smith, who ran a bulldozer for a half-century, doesn't work in oils or clay, but rather horseshoes.

And now, the dreams of the 86-year-old western Oklahoma native have taken off.

On a work table in Smith's shop is a blue and yellow model of a Stearman PT-17 Kaydet biplane sprinkled with dust shavings.

It was from this that Smith took the dimensions for his half-size replica biplane constructed from horseshoes.

The result of those six months of work is just a ways up the gravel drive at his home south of Leedey. While Smith doesn't have an exact count on the number of horseshoes used, he can provide an example of how many horseshoes went into a portion of it.

“I built the bottom wing first, it had seven horseshoes across and is 26 horseshoes long, and that's one wing and then there's the other top wing,” he said of the half-size biplane replica he finished weeks ago. “We ordered that Stearman model to get ratio and proportion. It's not all guesswork; none of it is guesswork.

“It's pretty big. It probably weighs close to a ton.”

In case you doubt whether this weighty-winged work will fly; it will. Well, sort of, thanks to the massive pipe it's mounted on. And because of the rear axle out of a tractor-trailer, good bearings and a tug on one of the horseshoes from Smith's right hand, it spins.

Why does Joe use horseshoes?

“They're pretty forgiving. They'll just about fit any way that you want them to fit,” he explained.

But, there is more to the plane than the horseshoes.

There's the wood propeller and the baling wire used for the hair of the pilot and passenger.

“Someone saw that the hair of the girl in the back seat and that of the pilot were down,” said Leah Smith, Joe's wife of 60 years. “So they straightened that baling wire so it looks like the wind is blowing their hair.”

While his horseshoe art can be found in other cities in Oklahoma, it's the road leading up to the Smiths' house that leaves visitors scratching, tilting and just shaking their heads at how this man can take objects intended for other purposes and transform them into whatever he sets his mind to.

Besides horseshoes, Joe Smith has used wheelbarrows, wrenches, steam engines and a lot of other metals to build decorated fences, weather vanes, kachina dolls and an eagle perched on the edge of a nest. His personal favorite is the donkey he created, which stands only a few feet from a 27-foot-tall spinning sphere made of horseshoes.

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by Bryan Painter
Assistant Local Editor
Bryan Painter, assistant local editor, has 31 years’ experience in journalism, including 22 years with the state's largest newspaper, The Oklahoman. In that time he has covered such events as the April 19, 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah...
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