The Four Legged Apprentice

This article previously appeared in The M-WTCA Scribe, Vol. 3 No. 2 June 1974

The Four Legged Apprentice

Ivan Risley

In Ottawa, Kansas, Norb Beeler worked as a builder for many years until his death in the early 1940’s. He, like many of the craftsmen of his day, continued to use the earlier techniques in many of the methods incorporated in house building.

Duplicating intricate styles of molding was always a problem to the carpenter unless he used the same tools and methods that were originally employed. Even though commercial moldings were available at the time, none truly were acceptable to these men, and Mr. Beeler continued producing his own.

His shop contained a long bench against one wall and large double doors in the end. He would fasten a piece of lumber to the bench and then call upon his trusty and well-trained helper to assist him. The helper was his horse.

By placing two rows of stakes about 3 feet apart and draping ropes between them, he produced a runway for the horse to travel in. The harness incorporated a half circle type single tree carried about the same level as the bench height. A light gage chain was attached between the single tree, through the double doors, and then to the large molding plane being used. Mr. Beeler, merely by vocal command, would direct the horse to go forward, backward, fast, or slow. Those who knew Mr. Beeler and his horse agreed that they both were very skillful in their work. The Beeler home and barn still stand but unfortunately the shop has been razed.

Many methods have been used by craftsmen to assist them in propelling the large molding planes, but Mr. Beeler perhaps displayed the most original technique. Through resourcefulness like this, many of the craftsmen of early times were able to create the various things that the antique collectors now find so desirable.

(This story was related to the author by Mr. Dewar Kyle, 79, who knew Mr. Beeler personally.)