The president of the United Auto Workers got himself on the radio recently by demanding that the President require the Japanese automakers to build factories in the United States. Kendall Tweedy heard that and turned to the boys with, "My gorries, but ain't they got themselves caught up in a sling, eh?" An explanation of this imagery may edify some and bring memories of a lost youth to others. What Kendall meant is that by imprudent conduct, the United States auto industry has brought upon itself a certain just retribution, with the overtone that it has nobody to blame but itself. Kendall was drawing his metaphor from the days when farm oxen were shod by a farrier.
The horse is better coordinated than a steer, and can walk into a smithy and lift one foot at a time while the iron shoes are attached. A horse can stand on three legs. But the lowly kine is unable to do that, and if a blacksmith tries to lift one hoof to give it attention, the foolish thing falls down. I suppose it would be possible to shoe an ox in the recumbent posture, but that was never the answer. The ox-sling was a kind of gantry, and a belly-band operated by a small winch picked the ox right off the floor and held him aloft for the fitting.
Understand that because of the cloven hoof, there was twice the work to shoeing the ox, for each foot needed two metal peices shaped properly. So it took about twice the time, and there hung the ox, placid and helpless, while the smith did his job. There isn't anything more helpless than an ox in a sling, and little that looks so stupid and comical. It is, to follow Kendall's analogy , his own simple fault, because this indignity would never come upon him if he had been smart enough to stand and be shod.
Only one thing over looked more stupid than an ox slung up, and that was a horse in the same fix. Once in a great while the farrier would come upon a horse that refused to be persuaded. Farriers had numerous ways to persuade, some of which nicer sensitivities deplored, but in an extremity the excessively fractious beast would be slung. This was no credit to the horse, and since he could stand if he wanted to, like any sensible steed, his predicament was all the more ridiculous. A horse, thus slung, had a tendency to kick and squeal more than an ox, and farriers who had already had quite enough of the ding-ding would let him kick and squeal until he cooled off. In a quiet bucolic neighborhood otherwise serene, anybody within two miles would know when the village blacksmith was slinging a horse. In the lumber camps, after oxen had passed entirely from that scene, the ox-sling was kept handy because of the annual influx of "green" horses from the West.
Nobody that I know of has ever established the reason that all the horse dealers were mad at the state of Maine. For a hundred years, no Western horse ever arrived here that was kind and decent. In the fall, when it was time to make the lumber camp ready for the winter's cutting, the horse "hovel" would be made tidy, hay and feed stored, and the horses would be brought in from the "farm," where they had passed the summer in relative indolence. In this meaning , a farm was a timberland depot mostly for summering horses and cutting hay. Usually the number of horses needed for sledding the logs had to be made up by the acquisition of some new ones -- which came from the plains in a "green" condition. This meant that the only training they had was to be rounded up and driven into a boxcar. Upon arriving at the lumber camp, these green horses had to be shod, and the blacksmith didn't bother to do any persuading. He just rolled out the ox-sling and wound 'em off the ground.
One of my earliest brushes with the equine kind was with a green horse. Grandfather needed a new horse for haying, and took on a green mare because she was cheap. Gramp put a blanket on the roader, thus making a saddle horse, and I rode the roader to town with the green mare on behind, on a rope.Jim Craig, the blacksmith, decided that rather than have his smithy kicked apart, he would sling her. He slung her, and after she subsided Jim deftly attached her footgear. Then, when he let her down and her feet felt funny to her, she kicked the smithy apart.