As a child in the '50s and '60s, I stepped up into the stirrup and swung my leg across Sandy's saddle many times, as did my own children in the '80s. With Pooh's discovery of Sandy last week, the tradition reaches down into another generation like a sweet, old cowboy campfire song.
Here's how it works: You slide a quarter into Sandy's slot, give the coin box a little jiggle, and hold your breath for a split second to see if the old horse will lurch into his full, jerky gallop one more time. Then, you stand back, enjoy the accompanying "William Tell Overture" ("The Lone Ranger" theme to us '50s kids), and watch the eyes of your grandson light up for the duration of the minute-long ride.
The sign on Sandy's coin box, lettered by a store employee, is a testament to the fact that his performance may be a tad irregular. This close-up of the sign explains it all:
A store manager recently told me that their company's two stores, both named Bing's, opened their doors in 1952, the year I was born. In the late '50s, they bought a Sandy horse for each store, and they both remain operational to this day.
Clearly, the machinery that makes Sandy go hails from an era in American workmanship when things were built to last. But with the technological changes of the past half century, the parts that trigger Sandy's mechanism have become obsolete.
Thus, there will be no replacement parts when Sandy balks on his final rider or when his saddle finally wears out. The leather reins that I used to pull back to make him buck a little harder are already gone. As a result, Sandy's saddle horn is shiny from the grip of hundreds of little hands.
A few Sandys remain available on the internet, but only for the kind of big bucks clearly out of reach for a small hometown grocery business. There will come a day when a local welder can no longer wield his soldering magic. At that point, Sandy will have to be put out to pasture for good.
But for now, at least, Sandy rides relentlessly on, charming a sixth decade of riders with his novelty and his simplicity. And when Pooh came to spend the week with me last week, the Sandy Fan Club gained another enthusiastic new member.
On the day of our last grocery store visit of the week, Pooh, who is not especially open with his expressions of affection, bade Sandy a fond farewell. "I love you, Sandy," he said as we walked past.
Sandy's face didn't register much expression. I imagine he has heard this before.