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Metal-bashing at the TTC

They shoe horses, don’t they?

Well, they used to, even at the TTC, where Pat Maietta and Claudio Ciarallo still proudly call themselves blacksmiths.

“Sometimes, because these days not everybody understands, I use `ironworker,’” says Ciarallo, the coal fire behind him glowing like a dragon’s gold. “But we’re blacksmiths. We use a forge and anvil and we’re entitled to the name. And the history. Think back. Streetcars used to be horse-drawn.”

And now?

You’ve seen those metal rods, sort of like a crowbar, flat at one end and curved into a handle at the other, that streetcar drivers sometimes use to manually change the track switches at intersections? Each and every one made by Maietta or Ciarallo at the TTC’s Hillcrest depot on Bathurst St.

Ciarallo shows how it’s done, starting with a steel rod, heating and hammering, heating and hammering, working with speed and precision.

He’s 41 and has been doing this job for 12 years, “which means I’m about halfway to being a good blacksmith,” he jokes. “They say it takes 25 years to learn. Steel is a living thing. You’ve got to know how to treat it.”

Maietta, 53, is a 22-year veteran of the trade. “I came a helper. It gets passed down. You don’t get this stuff from books.

“The great thing is, though, if you make a mistake, you heat it again, you change it. It’s not like wood, where if you cut it too short you throw it away.

“We just redid this forge. We cut the old one in half and made a blueprint. See this hydraulic hammer? The date stamped on it? May 2, 1905. If you bought a brand new one, it would be pretty much the same.”

He and Ciarallo make everything from crowbars to the brackets that hold and separate streetcar power lines where they meet at intersections.

“If you can’t buy it, we’ll make it,” says Maietta. “An engineer will come to us with a problem … ‘Can you come up with something?’ It can be very creative.”

You tend of think of blacksmiths working for a riding stable or turning out expensive gewgaws for the daytrippers in a picturesque village setting.

“Yeah, you can make good money in the tourist trade,” says Maietta. “But I like it here. It’s hard work but I go home happy.”

The steel rod he’s working with glows orange-red and dangerous.

“You’re very careful before you pick anything up. Even if it doesn’t look hot, it could still be very hot indeed.”

He’s missing the tip of his left little finger. A reminder of the risks of working with heavy metal?

“Nah,” he says. “Home renovation. Power saw. Dumb.”