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Urban Blacksmith : Escondido Smithy Uses Old Skills in a Modern World

September 06, 1990|DIRK SUTRO

Step inside "Tom Bandy & Son, blacksmith, wheelwright," and you travel back in time, to 1908, when Bandy opened his Escondido shop just across Valley Parkway from where it is today.

Phil Ewing owns the place now, and his specialty is restoring turn-of-the-century carriages. Wood spokes and half-rims are stacked overhead in racks. At each end of the shop are old horse-drawn carriages waiting for some TLC.

Ewing's face resembles the face of a coal miner: weathered, streaked black with oil, grease and the coal he burns in his forge. As he talks, he repairs a rim from a 1928 Chrysler. He places it in the gas forge, flames licking the bottom of the metal frame.

Classical music from a radio orchestrates his slow, deliberate movements.

Ewing came to work at the shop on Dec. 4, 1964. He bought out the founder's son, Albert, exactly three years later. Ewing gradually switched the business from turning out racks, trailer hitches and other parts for motor home owners to carriage restoration and a variety of custom items, such as wrought-iron hinges.

These days, he has little competition.

"There's no one who knows how to do this kind of work," he says. "Everybody else is out making money."

The rim is finally red hot. Ewing lifts it out of the forge with tongs. At a heavy, circular metal table, he taps it back onto its wooden core. Sweet hickory smoke streams up.

A perfectionist, Ewing says he gets annoyed when someone walks in, sets an item on his anvil and expects immediate attention.

"I just throw it out in the street. Some of 'em leave, but most come back in and say, 'Hey, I'm sorry.' Mr. Bandy's favorite trick when anyone bugged him was to hand 'em a hot piece of iron."

With Escondido's new City Hall on one side of him and several other new buildings stretching along Valley Parkway in the other direction like some latter-day Oz, Ewing knows his days here are numbered.

"These are two pieces of property on this block that aren't in the hands of developers yet," Ewing says. "But they'll get around to gettin' 'em."

A hissing sound erupts as he drops the hot rim into a metal tub of cool water. He inspects it carefully, then puts it aside, ready for the next job.

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