The following history was written by Phil Ewing and daughter Jennifer. Envoi by Waltteri Vakki.
Tom Bandy Blacksmith was established in 1908, on the corner of what was then Ohio (now Valley Parkway) and Kalmia Streets in the town of Escondido, CA. At that time Escondido had a population of about one thousand, and boasted five blacksmith shops. It was in an agricultural area abounding with vineyards and orchards of Sunkist oranges, lemons, and avocados.
Tom had three sons, Fraser, Tom Jr., and Albert, all of whom were very good blacksmiths. During WW-l, Tom Jr. and Fraser worked for the U.S. Army as horseshoers. When the Great Depression hit in the thirties, the shop could not support the entire Bandy family so the two older sons opened a shop in Encinitas, some fifteen miles southeast along the coast. Albert stayed with his father, and the two of them largely escaped the devastating effects of the depression by creating a great deal of ornamental ironwork for an upscale development called Rancho Santa Fe.
By the 1940's the old wooden shop building was deteriorating, not only from age, but also from the effects of a fire. In 1947 a new corrugated metal building was constructed on Kalmia St. in the backyard of the old shop. It was sixty feet square, and stood twenty feet tall at the peak of the roof with double sliding doors on three sides. The machinery was powered by a line shaft, and there were two coal forges in the building. Comfort facilities included an outhouse in the alley. The name on the new building said "Tom Bandy & Son."
Leaving the Bandys for a moment, we turn our attention to Phil Ewing, who started growing vegetables when he was in junior high school. He went to a blacksmith shop in Lakeside, CA that was operated by an old Hopi Indian by the name of Tom LaMadrid for some help in repairing his old worn-out equipment. There Phil was told he needed to learn to fix his own equipment, and in so doing, he soon realized that he enjoyed working on the old agricultural machines even more than he liked using them! He spent a lot of time in Tom LaMadrid`s blacksmith shop, learning wheel repair (for the Southwest Indian nations) and at the same time, immersing himself in the skills of horsemanship. In 1962, Phil was drafted into the Army and sent to Germany. There, he spent a great deal of his off-duty time in the blacksmith shops. Among them he found a man who made wheels for wheelbarrows and small pull wagons.
When he was discharged in 1964, Phil returned to California and went to work for Albert Bandy. While the shop's primary focus at that time was on agricultural machinery, it had begun to install trailer hitches on RVs. In 1968 Mr. Bandy retired, selling the business to Phil and leasing him the building on Kalmia Street. Albert then returned to work for Phil on a part-time basis until his death in 1974.
The Bicentennial in 1976 revived people's interest in the past, and horse-drawn vehicles were pulled out of storage. Knott's Berry Farm (an Orange County amusement park) commissioned the shop to build new wheels for five stage coaches. Since then, ornamental iron work, as well as carriage and wheel work has been the mainstay of the shop. At one time there were as many as five employees. In later years Phil had only his son helping him.
As the new owner, Phil did not change the name of the blacksmith shop, although he did add the word "wheelwright" to it, converting a third of the building to woodworking for carriages and wheels. One of the coal forges was converted to gas, and he built a loft on one side to provide an area to store and dry the carriage wood stock brought in from suppliers in the east.
Over the years the shop has shod horses, built and repaired agricultural equipment, including packing machinery for the local fruit packing houses, worked on RVs (trailer hitches and motorcycle racks), produced both interior and exterior ornamental and architectural ironwork for contractors (including spiral staircases, driveway and garden gates, arches, wall sconces, and chandeliers.) It has built or repaired every type of wagon or carriage, including cannon wheels and the 8' rear wheels on a Borax wagon. Like Albert before him, Phil has adapted the production of the shop to the times. By 1991,Tom Bandy & Son was the last general blacksmith shop still operating in Southern California.
As noted above, in the early 1990s, downtown Escondido, CA, experienced a season of redevelopment. Tom Bandy & Son, Blacksmith and Wheelwright, established 1908, near the corner of Valley Parkway and Kalmia Streets, was now just half a block away from, and in view of the newly-built City Hall. Realizing that the blacksmith shop was in the path of redevelopment destruction, several local businessmen approached its owner, Phil Ewing. If he was willing to teach blacksmithing, they would put up the money to build a blacksmith shop in the nearby historical Grape Day Park. Arie De Jong, whose family owned a local dairy, was the principle contributor to the new shop. From 1990 to the opening in April 1993, tools were accumulated and money raised for the new building. Most of the donations came from former customers of the shop.
Grape Day Park was originally the school yard for Lime Street School. In 1906 Escondido Creek flooded and undermined the school which had to be torn down. The townspeople made the space into a park. Around that time, the city of Escondido celebrated the final payment of the bonds that had been sold to raise money to build the Lake Wolford Dam, bringing in vital water for agriculture, by burning the bonds on Grand Avenue. Desiring to establish an annual celebration, the mayor happened to see an article about Muscat grapes having the greatest sugar content in California, and he decided to adopt grapes as the symbol. The first "Grape Day" was celebrated in 1908 with a parade. It continued until 1947. By that time the major agricultural product had changed to citrus. Nearly forty years later, the Grape Day Festival and Parade was revived in 1996. At one time the Grape Day Parade attendance rivaled that of the Rose Parade in Pasadena.
The area of the park encompasses the Escondido City Hall, the California Center for the Arts, and the Escondido History Center, including the city's first library (which houses the center's offices, exhibits), a Victorian country home (1890), a barn (1890), Santa Fe Depot (1888) with a Pullman Railroad car, and the Bandy Blacksmith Shop (reproduction of the original 1908 building).
Ironically, one of the reasons the blacksmith shop was targeted for demolition was because of the new Arts Center being built on the far side of the City Hall. Its supporters did not want a blacksmith shop in their vicinity. (When the trip hammer was used, you could hear it for blocks.) Today, because of its location among the historical buildings, the shop is now one of the closest buildings to the Center. When there are art shows or exhibitions at the Center, the decorative and functional ironwork entries generally take the prizes.
Creating Community (Jennifer's Viewpoint)
I grew up in the shop. During vacations, I would join my father (Phil) in the shop to clean up a year's accumulation of sawdust and scrap iron, or sort spokes in the mezzanine. He taught me how to rebuild carriage wheels. Navigating the shop was always hazardous, as you would wind around stationary equipment, wood and metal stock, projects awaiting repair, projects waiting to be picked up (some of those had set there for years). In the midst of all this were some battered old metal stools which would attract the older men of Escondido- those who had a mechanical bent; those who liked to talk about the past. When the shop moved up to the ranch in 1991, the older men had moved on too. On a cool Saturday morning this spring, I followed my father to the blacksmith shop in Grape Day Park. John Kowaleski had gotten there first and had flung open the doors. He had missed the last Guild meeting and my father was quick to inform him that he had been elected president. As I settled in with my laptop and continued to ask my father questions about the school, more men gradually arrived. Soon the main brick forge had been lit (the instructor's forge, which can be worked from two sides), and students walked through the entrance pulling wheeled buckets that held their blacksmithing tools. Students were also working in the wheelwright shop, wheels half constructed. "This second wheel is much better than the first," one student commented. Then a beautiful, red 1950s Studebaker truck drove up the path and stopped before the shop, a large milling machine on the back. It was soon surrounded, as the men discussed what was needed to unload and move the heavy piece of equipment. All the while, my father is moving from one student to another, pulling out a reference book from the office to examine a drawing of a piece of equipment, or answering a question. I realized that what had been lost in 1991 was far less than what I was seeing that morning. These weren't a collection of old men who gathered to comment about the action, this was a community of men who shared a love of blacksmithing and equipment and things mechanical, and they did things. This was more than just the school; these were the guild members who have breathed life into the reconstructed blacksmith shop and into the park. My father is not the center of the shop; he is one of the satellites. He doesn't teach blacksmithing now that the wheelwright annex is open, but he is there every Saturday morning to talk to students, consult about problems, and pull out a reference book.
What the future holds (Waltteri's Commentary)
The passage by Phil Ewing above was written back in the early 90’s with the founding of the shop as we know it today; I write this as of 2022, nearly thirty years later.
I started blacksmithing in my teenage years at the Bandy Blacksmith Guild, under then instructor, John Kowaleski. I have found the art and skillset since then to be enrapturing enough that I have dedicated an aspect of my life to it. Blacksmithing as well as the Bandy Blacksmith Shop both are an integral part of my life, and inform greatly the direction of it. It is as much the sense of fraternity of belonging to a group of individuals as talented as those who frequent the guild as well as the monumental stature and legacy of those who have come before me, that may explain my attachment to the shop. I find that Guild’s position in my life is an obligation which I have inadvertently accepted, which compels and requires me to act as a steward for the shop and its continued service to the art of blacksmithing. There is no greater a privilege than the further cultivation of and passing forward of the knowledge we have received and gained through our lives.
On the note of blacksmithing outside of the shop, and what does it mean to me; how do I view and describe it to someone who has not had any experience with the subject. Blacksmithing is really a mental pursuit rather than a physical one; it involves a great deal of philosophical and spiritual thought. Likewise there is an esoteric and masonic nature that one becomes aware of once they take up the practice. With such characteristics, I like to see blacksmithing as akin to magic or alchemy. It is a testament to man's ability to give creation to, and make manifest his soul, in a way which seeks to outlive the individual. I suppose such a motif is universal to the practices of artists.
I have been engaged with the art of blacksmithing for ten years, during which time I have garnered a wealth of knowledge about its various facets, of which sword making has become my specialization. Swords are expressive and their creation a religious process; each sword possesses in it a sense of vitality, and a soul. Swords only form a facet of my broader pursuits in blacksmithing, which could be boiled down to the creation of historical pieces and to the pursuits of a generalist. In the process of acquiring the skills required to make swords, I have picked up most all the general aspects of blacksmithing, and find myself comfortable in performing all manner of work. That is not to say, that there is not always more to learn.
As the guild moves onto the next generation of artisans and professionals who will maintain and continue to support the institution and classes, the question is raised of the direction of the organization. It would be naive to not recognize that the nature of blacksmithing in its place and perception in society has been irrevocably changed. In the last ten years it has changed, and even more so since the founding of the Bandy Blacksmith Guild as we know it today, thirty some odd years ago. The shop Tom Bandy opened may have long since stopped bearing resemblance to what the shop is today. The constant throughout all this change though are the group of people, who continue to work and practice in the walls of the shop. Though we may have moved away from the days of blacksmithing as a profession, the determination, the inquisitiveness and the broad understanding of the skill that allowed those professionals to make a living has not been lost. It matters not what specifically a blacksmith makes, as each individual is as unique as their creations, but instead that they understand and recognize the totality of the practice. The people today upkeep and cultivate the esoteric knowledge base and spirit of what it is to be a blacksmith; one who works black iron in the fires of creation.
We cannot say with certainty where the shop future may lie, but for any of us to be specialists, we must also be generalists.