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Blowtorch, the Mechanical Horse

“The only horse in the world you have to choke to start”
W.J. McIntyre, inventor

By Collections Curator Ruth Bitner
February 2008

Man riding Blowtorch in parade

Allan Jacobs riding Blowtorch in the Swift Current parade, 1968
- WDM Archives

Blowtorch, a life size mechanical horse, was the pet project and creation of W.J. McIntyre, a Swift Current, Saskatchewan inventor. Described by former employees as “rather eccentric with a keen, creative mind,” McIntyre built his first mechanical horse about 1947. Over the next five years he made design improvements, perfecting its look and mechanics. Blowtorch III, his third horse, was his best and last.

Blowtorch’s body was fashioned from sheet metal. A nine hp gasoline engine provided the “horsepower.” Small wheels were hidden under his hooves. The legs slid back and forth. A foot throttle controlled the speed; a brake cable slowed it down. A coat of black and white paint and a horsehair mane and tail completed his “horsey” look.

McIntyre rode his mechanical steed at local fairs where its peculiar lurching gait delighted the crowds. Blowtorch’s fame spread beyond Swift Current. Horse and rider reportedly appeared in a Grey Cup parade in Toronto, the Red River Exhibition in Winnipeg and events in other Canadian cities. Newspaper stories spread the story even further. Even Walt Disney wrote to inquire about Blowtorch.

After McIntyre’s death in 1965, Blowtorch was put out to pasture. Neglected and almost forgotten, the elements took their toll. Rust began to eat away at his shiny coat. The bearings in his mechanical body seized up. That’s when Allan Jacobs, a welder at McIntyre’s shop, spotted the tired horse and decided to do something about it. Along with McIntyre’s son Jim, he decided to bring Blowtorch out of retirement, restoring him to his former glory.

On a $20 dare by Jim, Jacobs headed for the fairgrounds astride Blowtorch in the 1968 Swift Current parade. However, disaster struck when the horse’s tiny wheels got stuck in an expansion joint on an overpass. The jolt was more than Blowtorch could take and the poor horse lost his head. Jacobs managed somehow to put the head back on, holding it in place with the halter and bridle. But things did not go well for long. As they turned a corner, Blowtorch snapped a leg bolt, and down went horse and rider. Jacobs, dressed as a cowboy, pulled out his toy gun and “shot” the crippled horse as the crowd roared its approval.

Man tinkering with Blowtorch's mechanical insides via a lift up flap

Blowtorch gets a tune-up at the WDM, c. 1980
- WDM Archives

But this was not the end of Blowtorch. A decade later, Jim McIntyre donated his father’s favourite horse to the Western Development Museum. Treated to a “tune up” both inside and out, Blowtorch found a safe home at the Moose Jaw WDM. In 1986, he made the trip by rail to Vancouver where he was stabled in the Saskatchewan pavilion at Expo 86.

W.J. McIntyre was also a practical inventor. In addition to his rather fanciful horse, McIntyre invented many things for use around the farm. Some were patented; others were not. His foundry and machine shop turned out land packers, windchargers, seed treaters, grain loaders, animal dehorners, swath turners and tractor cabs.

In the late 1950s, McIntyre organized the Inventors’ Association to encourage inventors like himself who had experienced difficulty in patenting his ideas and promoting them to likely buyers. By 1958 the Association had over a thousand members scattered across Canada and the United States.

Blowtorch is currently featured at the Moose Jaw WDM.

Narrative Threads
Blowtorch has been featured nationally as part of the Narrative Threads: Crafting the Canadian Quilt! online exhibit produced by the Textile Museum of Canada.

Saskatchewan InnovationYou might also be interested in:

- More Saskatchewan Innovations

- About the WDM Collection

- How to donate an artifact