Saturday, October 3, 2015

The Great Clydesdales Caper

Sometimes you're just in the right place at the right time to do someone an enormous favour.   Everything lines up, and amazing coincidences occur, and you feel like you're in a movie even while it's happening!  These are sentences I used at the time:  "sudden request from a friend of a friend; hobby oldtimers in trouble; trophy order gone wrong, rescue needed!  Ten tons of champions headed for an international border!  Poorly communicating customer, incredible sculptures at risk, daring dash by third-form heroine!"   This last bit is a steal from a teen pony book, Tall and Proud, but it says it all.

The Caper began with an email, which I didn't get until 11:30 on Sunday when I finally turned on the computer.  We had been taking it easy that weekend.  A longtime hobby acquaintance was passing on a message, bewailing she hadn't time herself:
" -- Are you anywhere near the Grange Park Horse facility in Center Hall Pa.?  I have some resins that need to be picked up there ASAP.  We did 10 ... Clydesdales for a woman and sent them there for her at the show and now she has decided she doesn't want them! I need to get them picked up and into a safe place .... She is apparently leaving ... at noon, ... to Canada.  If you are not close, do you know anyone who is? -- "

Accompanying the email were 2 photos that nailed me to my seat.  One of them was this:
My first thought was I didn't recognize the mold.  The second:  What beauties.  A rescue mission?!?  The Grange Fair was a bit less than half an hour away.  The nearest gate to the complex was right across from my eye doctor.   A fever began to come over me, a wild anticipation, --  excitement, the kind that makes you daringly wacko!! -- and the first sign of it was that I referred to this doctor as my dentist.  The Caper was just getting started.
     But if she was leaving at noon, there was no time for logistics.  My husband and I read the message with unease, and regretfully passed it up.  The Grange Fair was a large place, and I hadn't been there in years.  I emailed the caster and gave her my phone number.   I'd be home all that day, ostensibly making tack.  Too bad, too bad...

The next thing that happened was my phone ringing.  After that, developments flew thick and fast.  Emails, calls.  The woman wasn't leaving at noon, but at 2.  I would turn on my cell phone.  I could get there in 20 minutes.  Deb would have her call me.  I suggested a meeting place, the horse show arena -- the only real landmark I knew.  I decided to take the truck.  My husband offered his help, but I wanted to go it alone.  My cell phone rang.  It was the woman, who had originally ordered these horses as trophies for a Clydesdale show.  She told me how to find her at the grounds:  "We have just about the only motor home there.  A big grey motor home..."  I said I'd be there in 20 minutes, threw a lunch into the truck and took off.
My haste was such that I didn't get her cell phone number... and my skill was such that I did not know how to extract the last-number-called from my phone.  The odds were against me.  A complete stranger showing up and making off with hundreds of dollars worth of trophies?!  The fairgrounds were enormous...  They had built several barns and a second arena since I'd been there, dabbling in driving classes.  In a bid to be recognizable (as well as supplying moral support) I'd grabbed 2 models.  One was Bonne Chance/Bon Fete, still wearing her Donna Allen saddle.  The other was a Stone Trotter, my bay Travis.  I got there in 15 minutes flat.

I reflected on being an ambassador as I drove.  You have to be nice to people, tell them good things, try to find common ground.  All I had to do was collect two boxes.  I tried not to panic at the possibility of error or loss.  I wore my rawhide-braided cowboy hat and strolled in as though I belonged.  At the bottom of the parking lot full of horse trailers (apparently there was a show going on, though not of drafters) I spotted a huge grey motor home.  A man left it, wearing a jacket sporting a Canadian flag.  Ahah!  I said to myself, and approached him.
And he was friendly, and knew what I was after.

The woman turned out to be small, dressed in red, with short hair and snapping dark eyes.  Her daughter was showing Gymkhana.  She said, "I feel so bad about this!"  We determined she was after another material for the trophies, one she'd ordered elsewhere but which was discontinued: a porcelain-like substance, with a glossy finish.  Her job was owning and operating a ribbon and trophy company!  at which I hastily observed, "That must be fun!"  She smiled.  "It is."  I showed her my tacked-up model, eliciting a bit of interest ("A whole different kind of trophy!") and the Stone model, which resulted in a conversation about collecting, pricing, discontinued pieces and insider knowledge.  When we parted she'd told me her company had taken ribbon orders for model horse shows, and she'd given me business cards made of ribbon.  I tried to give her my card, but had none to hand, alas.

The Clydes made it safely home, back into the hands of the hobby.
Named "Aggie,"  they were sculpted by a new artist, Carissa Kirksey, in Ohio.
So seriously was my responsibility impressed upon me that I took pictures of the unwrapping:
The horse was incredible.  I stood her up with the Trad I was currently working with.
I had 2 photographic difficulties with her.  One was she always appeared bigger than the plastics.
Finally I took a birds eye, which shows size pretty well.
Part of this first shooting difficulty was the base... and the little felt feet on the base!  Still, I prefer a base over pegs, and it gave her a very solid feel.
The rest of the evening was spent on an embarrassingly long session of harness- and cart-cleaning, with some harness updating thrown in.
This is a very long post, but everybody wants dessert now!! I don't want to break it up, so on we go.

The next day I set up my indoor arena.  Wargaming (which uses the muffin tin) was fortunately taking a break, so the big table was free.
Initially I used a florescent light on one side and a small incandescent on the other, which resulted in a dark head to a right-facing horse, plus an unusual two-color arena surface, not to mention a contrasting red bay to a plain brown -- on the same model!
I have two Draft carts.  The red one was created and bought in 1983; it was made by Mel Reigsecker.   Unfortunately the base on the Aggie made her much too tall for it.  I rolled up the pillowcase she'd come in and stuffed it under my arena sheet.
 I loved the pose.  It reminded me of the old Hartland Budweiser Clyde.
Such character.  I was sorry for the bad whip, but was amazed that the rest of the harness fit as well as it did.  This harness originally dated to 1990 but had been redecorated and rebuilt over the years.
 Of course the collar was too big!  Possessors of the Guide out there, trim the bottoms of the collar patterns for this horse...
My second draft cart was built by none other than Dave Blenkey of Nordwain, in England.  Another case of being in the right place at the right time, I had snagged it at BreyerFest the moment he unpacked it.
 That was in 1998.  The doll was made by Kim and Lenore Jacobs of PA, with customization by me (the braided hatband, for instance).
Now the second photography problem began to manifest itself.  Aggie always seemed to be travelling downhill.  
I started tilting the camera.
It was dawning on me why Draft photographs often showed the beasts headed uphill!
I also tried unusual angles.
 More fun on a rainy morning I can hardly imagine.
This one remains my favorite shot.
The rest of the story can be told simply.  The next day I shipped all 10 to the sculpting artist, Carissa Kirksey, who will be handling sales.  They arrived safely.  Here is a link:

I had been exceedingly lucky to be in the right place at the right time.  More: somehow both sides had trusted me.  It had taken many friends to put me there:  the first correspondent (thank you Kim!), doing business once with Deb, and knowing draft breeders (Central PA is famous for its Percherons and Shires).  The whole adventure had been an astonishing coincidence: we are usually out canoeing on weekends, and what if I hadn't turned on my computer? 
Location, contact, availability, interest:  they had all worked together, down to the empty table.
One last bit of trivia for those who collect coincidences:
The day of the Great Clydesdales Caper was my sister's birthday.


  1. Hello! I am terribly behind on my blog reading. I've been meaning to read this one ever since you first mentioned it, but somehow it didn't happen until just now. This was a wonderful post and what a story! Thank you for sharing it and for the beautiful pictures. I can't imagine any more fun on a rainy day either. :) I'm so glad that everything worked out!

  2. Hello, I am looking at purchasing one or two of these models for a 8 horse hitch I am putting together. How is she in comparison to the PS trotting draft (if she wasn't on a base)?

  3. Dear Unknown (Ellen?), How are you going to get her to stand up without a base? It's a fine base. As a judge I try not to discriminate against them.
    As my 9th picture shows, the base makes up roughly an inch of height. Body-wise she is about the same size as the Stone Trotter. Any decent harness should be adjustable enough to fit both.

  4. That harness with the Nordwain cart, just wow.