The "clank, clink clink" of metal on metal breaks the cool morning quiet in a pastoral setting near Forest Glen, luring the curious to where a blacksmith labors at his fading art.
It's Willie Culkin, hammering shapes out of red-hot steel just as men for centuries have sweated over worn anvils in a profession virtually eradicated by the Industrial Revolution.
Culkin learned his craft as a lad in Ireland more than 40 years ago. He learned it from his father, who in turn had learned it from his father.
The image of a blacksmith as a burly man, perhaps wearing the odors of his work in a dank place, has no doubt been nourished by the name itself. But the word "black" refers to the color of the smith's medium, iron, not to the dirt under his fingernails.
Culkin is living proof that while machines can make almost anything out of preformed steel and iron, only a blacksmith, or "farrier" can provide the attention needed to properly fit a horse with shoes.
Culkin's only client for the last 20 years has been the United States government. He keeps shod about 60 mounts used by the U.S. Park Police, refitting each of them every six weeks. The task keeps him busy three or four days a week, working at sites where the horses are stabled on the Mall, in Rock Creek Park, at Calvert Street NW and at Fort Dupont Park in Southeast.
On Mondays, he drives from his Silver Spring home to his workshop or "smithy" at Forest Glen, in Montgomery County. It is a small white shack set amid large, well tended vegetable gardens at the end of Woodland Avenue and laced with cobwebs inside. Horseshoes are strewn over the dirt and ash floor, lending authenticity to the scene.
On a silvery anvil in the corner, Culkin pounds hot steel from early morning well into the afternoon, his skin glistening from the heat of his forge, where temperatures of 1,800 degrees Fahrenheit are needed to make iron white hot and malleable.
Culkin says that he enjoys his work, but it is demanding and he is now 62. He looks forward to retiring in a few years and perhaps buying a cottage on a lake somewhere where he can pursue his favorite hobby, fishing.
In what may be the perfect "irony" for a man in his trade, Culkin says that he intends to take with him into retirement the hundreds of worn-out horseshoes he has collected and turn them into objects he wants to make -- a chandelier for his home, for example.
After a recent morning of shoeing horses in a stuffy barn in Fort Dupont Park, Culkin straightened from his bent-over position and went to gaze out the door and into his future with a wistful sigh.
"I think I'd rather be fishin' right now."