Larry Hoover: An equine craftsman

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LOUISVILLE, Ohio – Larry Hoover wasn’t sure what was wrong was him. He was sitting in his living room when the walls began to spin like a carousel and he was trapped in the middle of it.

After the dizziness made him ill, Hoover slept in the living room that night, unable to walk to his bed. His wife, Bonnie, took him to the doctor the next morning.

The doctor told him a virus in his inner ear disrupted his equilibrium, forcing him to lose his sense of balance.

It was a life-changing loss for a man who made his living walking on rooftops while laying brick chimneys and who spent his free time riding his four draft horses.

Difficult task. While riding a bike and walking in the dark is next to impossible, Hoover hasn’t lost his ability to walk.

“I just have to concentrate more when I do it now,” he said.

While Hoover, 54, had to sell his draft horses, he hasn’t drifted far from the equine business. He formed Alpine Manufacturing, a company that builds the shafts used in harness racing that connects the horse to the race bike.

Got the idea. While spending a lot of time buying items for his horses in the Amish communities of Holmes and Coshocton counties, Hoover got the idea to build shafts from Melvin Stutzman, who makes wheels for horse buggies.

In the two barns behind his home, Hoover makes his creations with Wayne McDonald, his only employee.

The duo sells between 300 and 400 sets of shafts a year at $85 a pair. Most of the buyers are east of the Mississippi River, Hoover said, although he does sell some overseas.

“We have buyers in Canada and we send shafts by boat to Germany and Finland,” he said.

First product. Hoover built his first horse-racing part in 1995. It was a sweat scraper, a curved piece of wood that riders ran over the horse to wipe away the sweat after a race.

“It’s like a horse squeegee,” Hoover said.

Now Hoover makes three types of race bike shafts: an aluminum shaft and two styles of jog cart shafts, which riders use for practicing.

Because of its medium weight and tradition, ash wood is used to make the shafts.

The process. Hoover gets his ash logs from Phillip Boreman Inc., in Wooster, then sends them to Minerva, Ohio, where all of the 8,000 board feet of wood Hoover uses annually is cut into planks at Hoeger Hardwood.

After drying in his barn for four months, the 2-by-2 inch planks are put in a steam box that reaches a scorching 220 degrees to make them bendable.

Then a cloud of steam is released when the steam box door is opened and the wood is removed after sitting in the box for 90 minutes.

Next, the wood is placed in a bending machine that firmly grips the wood and uses just enough pressure to bend it.

“Maybe only two break out of hundred,” Hoover said.

Six hours later, the wood is sanded and shipped to buyers.

While pride in his work plays a big part in his craft, being able to work alone is reminiscent of his days when he farmed 20 acres of crops.

“I like working independently because I have a lot of farmer in me,” Hoover said.

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