History of this Rocking Horse
In July of 2016, as the first President and founder of the Mid- Island Woodworkers’ Guild (formed in February of 2016), I received a phone call from a gentleman who introduced himself as Douglas Davies, and who wanted to tell me what a great idea the Guild was. (He had seen an article in the Nanaimo Bulletin announcing the formation of MIWG.) I thanked him and suggested that he might like to join. His answer was that he was “too old”. When I told him that there was no age limit, he told me that he was “dying”.
Shocked, I kind of jokingly replied that we all had a limited time. He informed me that his time was very short but that he would like me to find someone in the Guild who could complete a woodworking project on his behalf. Upon his invitation to visit him and see the project I headed over to his home.
Douglas called out to me to enter when I knocked, and I entered into his manufactured home to find him in a comfortable chair, but in quite obvious discomfort. He could only get up with difficulty, and walk slowly with the aid of his walker.
After some introductions and discussion of backgrounds, he took me out to his garage/workshop to see the project that he had in mind – a rocking horse. (I later came to understand that the plan for this came from a UK source www.rockinghorse.co.uk.) It should be noted that I was NOT a woodworker, but that I was trying to become one. I had never had any woodworking courses, and although I had built (with assistance) my own 22’ x 24’ workshop, my reason for forming the Mid-Island Woodworkers’ Guild was to meet local people who had woodworking experience that I could gain.
Douglas asked if I would approach my membership to see if anyone in the Guild would agree to take on finishing the rocking horse so that it could be donated to the Nanaimo Hospital Foundation as a possible auction fund-raiser in memory of his beloved wife who had died a couple of years previously – Patricia Davies, and who had been given very kind care by that organization. (He estimated the possible auction value at perhaps $3000.)
He offered to pay anyone who would take on the completion of this project. (The blocks of the horse had already been cut and assembled to create the basic shape of the body, the head was already attached and partially carved, the legs were cut into the outlines of legs, and the glider support base had already been completed.)
I agreed to take it to the membership. After presenting the concept to the membership, it was clear that no one wanted to take on this project. Having very little carving background myself, other than the odd wooden whistle when I was quite young, I decided to take on the challenge myself. After all…I had decided that I wanted to learn all aspects of wood-working despite the fact that I was now 70 years young!
After visiting with a local carver, and watching some carving techniques on the internet, I decided that I did, in fact, have a touch of carving background…making small “reindeer” as Christmas offerings. The technique involved drawing the object in two profiles (from the side, and from the front) using two sides of a single block of wood, cutting one profile on the band-saw, taping the cut-off pieces back on to make the block “whole” again, then rotating the block to cut the other profile out.
Then the “square reindeer” would fall out of the block and the square edges could be rounded with a dremel-type tool and/or sandpaper to turn the figure into a very life-like, if idealized, reindeer – more alike to a reind-elk!
With the power-tool concept in mind, I began to research and acquire tools that would be appropriate for shaping a figure that stood approximately 2.5 feet high and 4 feet long. When I told Douglas that I would take on the task, he assured me that he would help out in the process. Over the next few months he donated much of his stored wood to me, as well as most of his tools including carving sets, a lathe, a drill-press, a sander and a grinder as well as aggressive carving disks for the grinder, and boxes of fasteners and small hand tools.
I declined to accept any money from him, but I did approach the Guild, and we made Douglas Davies an Honorary Member. He was able to physically attend one meeting in November where I introduced him, and showed everyone the as-yet untouched horse.
As Christmas of 2016 approached, I was able to accomplish little on the project. However, one day Douglas managed to drive over, make it down the driveway hill to my workshop, and see the layout of the shop. He brought a chair that he planned to use when he came over to coach me on the carving process. I was delighted that I would have his help as he also provided pictures of his previous rocking horses that he had created. They were beautiful! Two days before Christmas, he called me to his new home at Nanaimo Seniors’ Village, and told me that he was going into hospital for treatments. He was not positive that it would help, and he was in quite a lot of pain from the cancers that were growing in him.
The next day, I visited the Nanaimo Seniors Village to drop off a Christmas present for him, but he wasn’t in, so I left it at the desk.
Two weeks later, in January 2017, I emailed Douglas to see if he would be available for me to visit. The next day, I received a letter from his Notary Public stating that, if I hadn’t already heard, Douglas Davies had passed away on December 27, 2016 in hospital.
With a very busy schedule including Mid-Island Woodworkers’ Guild activities and about 15 weeks of travel in 2017, I was unable to do any work on the rocking horse until early November, 2017. At that point, I decided that the procrastination had gone on long enough, and it was time to tackle the formidable process which was so foreign to me.
As time on task went on, I became more comfortable with the tools and processes, and by early December, the horse, Dobby, was rapidly taking shape. (Earlier fears that too much wood being removed would result in a “rocking-squirrel” soon vanished.)
Now that the main part of the body is almost ready for finishing, it is time to seal this tale into the hollow-body of Dobby. To whomever reads this notice…I hope that you have enjoying Dobby thoroughly, and that its story has helped you to understand how much Dobby has meant to me as I came to know Douglas Davies, and through his encouragement, learned to become a “rocking-horse” maker. I will be forever grateful to him for his help, his encouragement, the carving skills that I have acquired, and the supply of tools that he provided which have helped me with all my woodworking skills.
Best wishes, and regards!
ROCK ON! Tony
3388 Tunnah Road, Nanaimo, BC V9T 2V7
You’ll notice that I have renamed the horse twice. Actually, it was renamed quite a few times. It started as “Dobby” (as in old Dobbin, or perhaps derived from “Dobson”) and then it was renamed through various phases of its creation: “Chip”, as I chiseled its features, “Dusty” as I turned to power tools to continue work on it, “Bondo” as I added a filler to the cracks, and “Paint” as I turned it into a pinto pony. It finally became “Rocky” as it became a completed project.
“Rocky” was officially finished on October 21, 2018. It was entered into a Mid-Island Woodcarvers’ show as a “Novice Carving” and won First Place in its Category! It will now be donated to the Nanaimo Hospital Foundation as a fund-raiser.
The Obituary Notice:
Davies, Douglas Idris Charles
October 18, 1932 ~ December 27, 2016
Douglas Davies passed away peacefully at the Nanaimo Regional General Hospital. He was predeceased by his wife of 59 years, Patricia Rosemary Davies (nee Churchman), in 2014 and is survived by his children, Gary, Richard and Stephanie. Doug, an upholsterer by trade, and Patricia immigrated to Canada from England in 1963. They settled in Ontario with Gary and Richard, where they had Stephanie a few short years later, and eventually retired to B.C. No service by request.
Note – Be sure to read the epilog to this story, it’s very heart warming!