The Penny Blacksmith of Waukomis pays himself back with priceless smiles

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WAUKOMIS, OKLAHOMA -- The pennies minted before the early 60's work best for Ronnie Lehenbauer.

"I've been blacksmithing around here for right around 30 years," he says.

He buffs them up first so they look brand new.

Then he takes them over to a homemade stamp and proceeds to make them un-spendable, but not necessarily un-useable.

He learned this trick six or seven years ago from some other blacksmith friends.

If you hit one of his pennies just right, the coin becomes a copper-colored cowboy hat.

It takes a sure hand.

A miss means a wasted penny.

"I like them to be fairly close," he says.

On a good day he'll press 35 pennies.

He punches a hole in one end and passes a key ring through it.

Then he's done.

Ronnie used to be great at all kinds of metal work but he sticks to the little things now and they haven't ever disappointed.

"Give them to little kids and the smile on their face will be worth a bunch of dollars," says Lehenbauer.

He never leaves his house any more without his pockets filled with his own useless change.

He didn't have to go far on the day we visited, just to the local grade school for a hastily planned assembly and a special award for one student in each grade at Waukomis Elementary to get something for which they didn't ask or pay.

Ronnie smiles, "Just seeing the different kids faces was more fun than anything."

The simple things, the little things.

There are all kinds of quotes in circulation about how we should enjoy them because, at the end of life, those little things become much bigger.

Ronnie Lehenbauer figured that out a few years back.

His penny hats brings smiles and he change he gets back makes him smile too.

Lehenbauer like to spot children who look like they could use a smile or something free.

He says if you come up and ask for one of his pennies you probably won't get one.

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