By Nick Pernokas
When you roll across Interstate 80 in Nevada, you pass through a vast swath of the American West. You might appreciate the emptiness of the country. You might wonder how it felt to cross this land on horseback a century and a half ago. Elko, Nevada, has been here since before the highway was thought of. A railroad town, a mining town and home to the annual National Cowboy Poetry Gathering, this town has always been an oasis for the high desert traveler. Perhaps this is the reason, then, that one of the best leather tool makers in the country feels at home here.
Seventy-seven-year-old Wayne Jeuschke was born and raised in Amistad, New Mexico.
“It was lonely country, and pretty damn windy too,” laughs Wayne.
His father had a farm and ranch, and ran about 150 cows. Wayne learned to farm and cowboy at an early age. Like many boys in that time, Wayne had a set of Tandy tools that he started stamping leather with. One of the projects that he remembers fondly is a tooled longhorn horn cover for his ‘55 Chevy.
In 1962, Wayne joined the Army. When his stint was over, he returned to Amistad. Wayne day worked on some of the local ranches for awhile, but he wanted something that would bring in a little more money. Wayne and his brother started a well repair company and soon they were fixing windmills in the panhandle region of Texas, Oklahoma and New Mexico.
In 1967, Wayne married Betsy, a rancher’s daughter from Montana. Wayne wanted something with more of a future than climbing windmills, so the couple moved to Albuquerque. Soon, he had a good job with the Caterpillar Company. He hired on with Caterpillar as a welder, but ended up working in the machine shop for two years. Learning the machinist trade gave him the basic knowledge for fabricating tools.
“If you don’t learn a little something every day, then you’re not doing things right,” says Wayne.
Wayne’s parents had moved to Elko, Nevada. Wayne learned of a good job he was qualified for in Elko. In 1971, Wayne and Betsy moved up there as well. Wayne went to work for the state highway department as a machinist and welder. He decided that he needed a hobby, so he brought his old Tandy kit out of retirement. Wayne’s other hobby was hunting, so he began building holsters and rifle slings for himself and his friends. As he advanced in the type of projects that he was making, he found that he needed some new tools. In the early Eighties, using his machinist experience, Wayne began to build his own tools.
Wayne’s neighbor worked for legendary saddle shop, J.M. Capriola. When he found out that Wayne was building his own tools, he asked to borrow some of them to try at work. Within a few days, he was back with requests from the saddlers at Capriola’s for more tools. Wayne had also become friends with Eddy Brooks, a well-known saddlemaker in Elko. Wayne began taking his newest tools over to Eddie to critique.
“I’d take a new tool up to Eddie to see if he okayed it and he’d say yeah, you better build a bunch of them.”
Wayne was primarily making basket stamps, as well as mauls and string cutters. For a while he made Bissonnette edgers, concho cutters and French skivers.
Don King was one of Wayne’s first customers. Wayne felt like he had accomplished something when Don approved of his tools. Wayne was also friends with Ellis Barnes. Don and Ellis became good people for him to compare notes with.
Wayne started displaying his wares at the Cowboy Poetry Show in Elko in the late Eighties. He started doing the Sheridan Show in 1994. He did other shows over the years like Wichita Falls and Wickenburg, Arizona. Betsy became a fixture at some of the shows, helping him in his booth. The word of mouth created by this exposure became his sole method of selling his tools.
In 2003, Wayne retired from the highway department. His tool production now became his priority.
“It started out as a hobby, and now it’s a hobby-business. It’s been pretty steady for the last 17 years.”
Mauls and stamping tools are his mainstays today. His mauls have a tapered polyurethane head that allows you to get a solid flat hit on the top of the tool without having to raise your arm so high. Wayne feels that the tapered head creates more control over the tools and keeps the maul from glancing off tools.
Wayne’s stamps are known for their unique designs. The handles are a half inch longer than most stamps for more clearance for the craftsman’s index finger. They are all machined, except for a few tools that Wayne has to do some filing on. He tries to come up with techniques that allow him to avoid the filing because that’s hard on his hands these days.
Wayne uses good, high-grade carbon steel that has a tensile strength of 130,000 psi, which means it’s strong and doesn’t require heat treating. The hardness of the “free machining” steel prevents arms on basket stamps from bending. This degree of hardness is a happy medium though, because if the steel is too hard, it can become brittle and break. Wayne’s stamping tools are made to hit. He feels that a good leather tool is one that’s durable. Of course, the image it produces has to be good, but the material that it’s made out of has to be good as well.
All of Wayne’s tools are marked with “Jueschke” and “Elko,” (although his shop is actually in Spring Creek, a few miles out of town). The stamps are numbered in the order that Wayne comes up with them.
Some of Wayne’s styles come from customers wanting a tool modified. If it works, he’ll keep it in inventory. The rest come from his imagination. A completely different image can be created by merely cutting a tool a little deeper. Wayne tries to come up with new tools from time to time, but when he does, it’s hard to keep them in stock.
In his 20×30-foot garage, Wayne makes everything from geometric stamps and basket stamps, to stamps for floral carving. Wayne thinks that the leather shows have caused a mixing of more leather styles from various regions, which has made the desired styles of stamping tools more varied as well. Wayne doesn’t do any leatherwork anymore, unless it’s an item for his family.
Betsy was creative in a culinary sense and was well-known in Elko for her pies, which were sold in a local store. In 2019, she wrote and published Glorious Cookin’ from the Big Sky Country, a cookbook about Montana ranch-style cooking. Unfortunately, Betsy passed away in March of this year.
Wayne continues to walk the 40-foot commute to his shop every day. He doesn’t have a website or any internet presence at all. Wayne has a phone and a pricelist, and stays busy via word of mouth. This summer, his grandson has helped him cut up bar stock and is learning to use the lathe. Will the business become a family business in the future? Who knows?
As Wayne says, “One thing leads to another. You never know where it’s going to go.”
If you would like to get Wayne’s pricelist, you can call him at 775-738-4885.