Growing up my Uncle Harlan worked as a farrier and several of my family members owned horses. One year for my brother’s birthday, my Uncle Harlan gave us a horse. We named that horse, Tony the Pony and boy did we have fun with him. I have many fond memories of going outside to the barn with bare feet, feeding him grain from the old metal grain cans, giving him sugar cubes and riding him bareback around the acreage we grew up on. Tony the Pony was also a little mischievous and more than once he just walked up the road and ended up in town in someone’s backyard usually just enjoying eating some grass. One time we were driving down the street to turn onto the gravel road to our house and there came Tony trotting up the road with his lead dragging behind him.
On the day the Barta estate was delivered, I was at home with the kids and I received a text message from my husband and Harry Lahr Auctions Auctioneer Matt Lahr with a photo of a pony. Not a real pony, a life size hobby pony that used to stand in the window of the Saddle & Leather Shop. As the weeks passed and the auction got closer, we received several calls about the pony and arranged times for several possible bidders to view the pony prior to the auction.
The Leather & Saddle Shop had been in business since 1908 and George purchased it in 1946. The pony sat in the window of the store and George often dressed it all up and took it with him to western shows around the state. In 2008 which would have been the 100th anniversary of The Leather & Saddle Shop which had since closed, the City of Cedar Rapids flooded. The Leather & Saddle Shop was in one of the hardest hit areas know to locals as Czech Village. For two weeks, the family was not allowed into the area. When George’s daughter was finally allowed into the store, she found the pony floating upside down in the flood water. When the water finally receded, and the family could start cleaning up, they took the pony outside and tied him up to a lamp post to start drying out. George’s daughter knowing how much he loved that pony would later clean its real horse hair mane and tail strand by strand to remove the mud left by the flood water.
All day during the auction, as people would come to the cashier counter to pay for their items, they would take the time to share a memory of George and The Leather & Saddle Shop. I heard stories of a women that remembered visiting the store with her parents as a child. She said that George would let her sit on the pony to keep her and her siblings occupied so her parents could shop in his store. Several people asked if the bidder that purchased the pony planned to keep it or sell it. And they were all relieved to hear that they planned to keep it in their home and enjoy it for years to come.
I never had the opportunity to meet George, but through the memories of his family and the customers of his store, I felt like I did. Our children, Mahala and Caleb loved going to the auction center in the weeks leading up to the auction to see the pony, just as I imagine that many children did when they would pass by or visit The Leather & Saddle Shop over the years. To view the video of the pony being auctioned off please visit our Facebook page here.
Photos provided and used with permission from Nancy Barta, George’s daughter.