Without a doubt, his career has been one that most of us would have found exciting. You see, for 25 years he was a farrier for Ringling Brothers Circus. Added to that, for four years Jimmy flew out to Las Vegas every six weeks taking care of the horse used in the Siegfried and Roy performance.
Jimmy grew up in Cherokee County. After Buffington Elementary, he went to Cherokee High School before transferring to Forsyth County High.
He and Jane Holbrook, high school sweethearts, were married soon after graduation. They are now approaching their 50th wedding anniversary.
After his deployment to Vietnam, he was stationed at Fort Hood, Texas. While there, he and Jane visited the Bob Gerkin School of Horseshoeing in Houston. Then was when Jimmy decided to be a farrier.
After he completed his training, their Cherokee County roots brought them back to Canton. Both their parents, James and Billie Johnson and Gene and Hazel Holcomb, lived here.
Like most parents, Jimmy’s folks gave him advice about how to live his life. In addition to working hard, it included, “Don’t buy whiskey and don’t buy bottled water.” His father added, “Don’t waste money on big weddings or funerals.”
Jimmy admits that like most of us, he has not always done exactly what his parents told him to do.
While Jimmy was working with Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey, he sometimes flew two or three times a week to wherever the circus was performing. When the circus was in Florida for the winter, he went there to maintain and shoe the show horses. At one time there were over 100 of them.
But it was not just the feet of the horses he cared for.
He also trimmed the feet of the camels, zebras and elephants.
As you may know, Siegfried and Roy featured lions and tigers in their Las Vegas show but their lame dressage horse was important to the act, too. Roy would ride the Andalusian onto the stage. Before shoeing it, Jimmy had to make it corrective shoes.
Jimmy’s job definitely had some great perks. Every spring before the circus went on tour there was a big send-off in New York City’s Madison Square Garden.
Jane, a bailiff in Cherokee County Courts for 26 years, often went with him. Sometimes their friends, Kathy and Olin Holtzclaw, went, too.
Awards and pictures in the Johnsons’ home chronicle Jimmy’s long career. Some are from his work with the circus and some are from championship horses he has shod. Others are from the many championship-winning show horses he has owned himself
Jimmy and I talked about the Ringling Brothers “unicorn.” He says it is a long-haired goat. The horns have been manipulated to grow together so they appear to be one horn.
He remembers when Florida local enforcement officials confiscated the highly controversial goat a la “unicorn,” saying it was illegal to have animals that had been altered like that in the state.
Unbeknownst to them, Ringling Brothers had more of the so-called unicorns, so the show went on.
Jimmy has worked for many prestigious owners and trainers. Some of his work was at Happy Valley Farm in Rossville.
It was a sad time for him when he learned of the horrendous fire earlier this year that took the lives of 35 horses. The horses were valued at millions of dollars.
Being a blacksmith requires many tools. He makes his own. Jimmy’s truck has most everything a blacksmith needs to go on the road.
His blacksmith shop is huge and so are some of the pieces of equipment in it.
While it is possible to buy pre-made horseshoes, Jimmy makes all of his himself so they are a perfect fit for each animal he shoes. It is an art he has perfected.
It is amazing what he can do with a piece of iron. With the children nearby — Amy and her husband, Larry Massey, and Kim and his wife, Latrice, — he makes gifts for them and friends like andirons, baskets and fireplace sets.
As you might expect, Jimmy makes toys for granddaughters Atherton and Aughton Massey, too.
Recently, Jimmy was honored as one of the founding members of Artist-Blacksmith’s Association of North America at the 40th convention in Columbus.
He was also chosen to demonstrate his art and skills in Historic Westville Village in nearby Lumpkin.
Congratulations are due to Jimmy Johnson for his many successes including the role he has played behind the curtain in “The Greatest Show on Earth.”
Marguerite Cline is the former mayor of Waleska.