Tin Man road attraction
This man's metal passed many a test
By Jane Roy Brown, Globe Correspondent
October 22, 2006
Goshen -- "Every stove has a story," says Richard "Stove Black" Richardson, who restores and sells antique stoves at the Good Time Stove Co. in this small town northwest of Northampton.
But the story of even the most ornate Victorian cylindrical parlor stove would have a ways to go to match that of the 20-foot-tall Tin Man who stands guard over Richardson's shop on Route 112.
As Richardson tells it -- and he's had plenty of practice ever since the two-story sheet-metal figure appeared in the "Zippy the Pinhead" comic strip -- the Tin Man "came to life" in about 1955, when he was created to advertise a local fuel company.
"Originally, he was going to have a wife, a son, and a daughter," Richardson says. "But as soon as they put him up, teenagers started dressing him in funny clothes. You know, polka-dot pants and so on." He shrugs. "It was a cleaner era then."
That chapter of the Tin Man saga was history in 1971, when Richardson first arrived in Western Massachusetts from New Jersey in a friend's Model A Ford . He fell in love with tiny Goshen (current population 921). Two years later, he returned and started the Good Time Stove Co .
An artist as well as a collector, Richardson has since assembled not only an impressive assortment of vintage stoves (both cooking and heating models), but also old bicycles and other intriguing metal items.
The stoves stand gleaming inside the shop, sporting handsome details like silver curlicues and claw feet. Two of Richardson's daughters, Sara ("Stove Princess"), and Megan ("Stove Parts Girl"), and a son, Jamie (no stove name), also work in the business.
The Tin Man had many years and miles to go before joining the Richardson family enterprise. His original owner at the fuel company, tired of the relentless sartorial sabotage, put him on the auction block, where a local farmer snapped him up and tried, unsuccessfully, to donate him to the Goshen Historical Society.
The farmer then put the big guy to work as a scarecrow, equipped with an outsized pair of tin snips and a hammer, the tools of the metalworker or "tin knocker." But the local kids resumed their raids and even started using the Tin Man for target practice.
As a final insult, someone made off with the Tin Man's tools and head.
What was left of him stood in the field for several more years until the farmer offered to swap Richardson the bullet-riddled remains for stove parts. So it was that the Tin Man lay in Richardson's field for "about five years."
Eventually, Richardson persuaded Smith Vocational and Agricultural High School in Northampton to restore the battered icon. He tied what was left of the Tin Man to the top of his van and headed for Northampton, about 15 miles away. En route he stopped for coffee and ran into the Tin Man's previous owner, who announced that he had just recovered the missing head. Richardson took this as an auspicious sign.
Sure enough, a class of aspiring metalsmiths reunited the Tin Man's head and body and added a glowing red heart, like the one celebrated by his precursor in "The Wizard of Oz."
"He had a lot of bullets in him," says Jamie Richardson, who was a student in the class.
Fully restored and installed in front of the stove company, the Tin Man became not just a trademark, but also a local beacon of . . . something.
"It gives people a sense of stability," Richardson says. "And since we put him up , he's never been vandalized."
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