By Nick Pernokas
Sometimes, no matter how hard we plan and pursue our chosen course, fate steps in to change our path. In the case of George Cubic, this persistent course correction created a talented craftsman.
George was born in Eastern Europe in 1956. His father, Viktor, immigrated with his family to the United States a couple of years later. Viktor loved to tinker with things and get them working. He instilled that talent in his son.
George was raised in southern California. The closest that he got to a western lifestyle were a young boy’s daydreams about being a cowboy, as he watched Roy Rogers and the Lone Ranger on T.V.
In 1974, George joined the Air Force at age 18. He was interested in becoming a police officer and the Air Force had the best law enforcement program. By 1976, George found himself stationed in West Berlin, Germany. There was an American rodeo stock contractor near the base who traveled throughout West Germany and put on rodeos. Some of George’s Air Force friends had been involved in rodeo before their military service, so it was natural that George would tag along with them when they headed to the European rodeos. Soon, he was drawn into the rodeo world as well. Eventually he competed in the bull riding, bareback bronc riding, team roping and the wild horse race. The athletic 20-year-old had come halfway around the world to stumble into his cowboy dream, and now he was at home in a hat and boots.
George didn’t have a lot of money to buy his own rodeo gear, but his friends gave him some of their broken equipment when they replaced it. He had always enjoyed tinkering with things, and now he found that he could repair some of these hand-me-downs. George headed to the department stores in Berlin and discovered that many Germans repaired their own shoes. He was able to buy needles, glue, thread and cobbler’s hammers. As he repaired cowboy gear, he figured out how to build it as well. Soon cowboys were calling him the “tack guy” and they were bringing him equipment to fix.
“The next thing I knew, I was supplementing my meager military income with that work,” remembers George.
George noticed that the rough stock cowboys were buying leather dog collars from the store to make boot straps for their riding boots. Bull riders wrap these straps around the shaft of their boots to get them tight, so the boots won’t be jerked off when a bull rider is using his spurs to hang on. Greg began to customize these straps for the cowboys by stamping their names on them and buck stitching them. His volume of work exploded.
“I realized that not only was it fun, and that I got the pleasure of seeing their reaction when I gave them something that was personalized, but I got money for it at the same time,” says George.
This epiphany changed George’s outlook on the leather business. Chris Ledoux’s music and western films were already popular in Germany. The western craze, which would become known as the Urban Cowboy movement, began to take off. George found himself making lots of carved and buck-stitched name belts.
“It was a feast over there. I wasn’t very good, but they didn’t care.”
In 1979, George was transferred to Chanute AFB in Illinois. George was eligible to attend any school on base if they had a slot open, so he attended the firefighter school. George made friends with the instructors, and found that graduating firefighting students had a need for something to put their badge and credentials in. He began making a badge case to serve the purpose and for several years, every firefighter who graduated had one of George’s cases. George also learned to repair some of the firefighter gear.
With a 1984 transfer to Alaska, came a whole new world of leatherwork. George was able to work part time for Dark Horse Leather in Fairbanks, doing repair work. George soon realized that in Alaska, everyone hunted. Hunters needed knife sheaths. George built his first one and once again the orders flooded in. Soon, he was building nothing but knife sheaths. He traded knives for sheaths with some of the knife makers. As he became accepted in their community, he began to attend some of their meetings. George was even asked to put on sheath making demonstrations. One night, another attendee set up a video recorder and taped his demonstration. George realized that he might have a skill that other craftsmen would be interested in. Still, he was already committed to his day job, so he filed the memory away.
In 1991, George was transferred to Tucson, Arizona. He liked the Wild West history that the area was steeped in, so he stayed in Arizona when he mustered out in 1994. George became a volunteer for the Tucson Rodeo Parade Committee. This group was responsible for producing the longest, non-motorized parade in the world. To do this, they needed plenty of horse-drawn vehicles. The TRPC actually had a working museum to house its rolling stock and harness. They also had a harness shop to fix it in. Naturally, George was attracted to the harness shop, where he could watch old timers work on harness while they reminisced about using it in bygone years. Enthusiastically, he learned to repair the old harness. George became so proficient on the fine points of harness that he became part of the team who harnessed all the horses for the annual parade.
George joined the Pima County Sheriff’s Department and fulfilled his original dream of a career in law enforcement. Pima County was the same sheriff’s department that Wyatt Earp had worked for. Gun leather was a natural part of their history. Other law officers admired George’s leatherwork and soon George was making miniature reproductions of historic belts and holsters. These were mounted on plaques and given to retiring members of the sheriff’s department. With Tombstone nearby, the area was full of cowboy action shooters and re-enactors, which provided a lot of customers for full-size gun rigs.
In 1996, George was injured on the job and couldn’t work. Remembering the videographer in Alaska, he used the downtime to hire a crew and filmed an instructive video on building knife sheaths. The resulting How to Make Custom Quality Knife Leather was a profitable success.
In 2000, master gun engraver Phil Quigley approached George about helping him with a reproduction of Tom Mix’s spurs and spur straps. They duplicated the originals that were in the basement of the Autry Museum in Los Angeles. Phil was pleased with George’s leather work and recommended him to the producers of a western film that he was working on as an armorer. George ended up making the gun rigs for the cast of Legend of the Phantom Rider.
George worked for Pima County until 2018. Upon retirement, Viktor George Leather Goods became George’s full-time job. The name of Viktor George Leather Goods is actually a tribute to George Cubic’s father, Viktor, and to George’s uncle, who was his namesake.
“I needed to honor where it all came from.”
George has continued his leatherwork, but under his terms. He doesn’t work under any pressure or deadlines anymore. For this reason, George doesn’t do a lot of custom work.
“I build what I like.”
Although George will take an order if it’s for something that he’d like to make, he’s found that Instagram allows him to market products that he’s already completed. Most of his items have a western theme, but there is also a strand of uniqueness running through them. One of his best sellers is a bracelet made from a deceased pet’s collar with the license tag attached as a charm. Military buttons, from loved ones who served, are also incorporated into bracelets as a popular memorial. Knife sheaths are a staple, as are novelty items like potholders made from western items. With George’s years of service, there is no wonder that the American flag is a reoccurring theme. George enjoys fabrication and design more than anything else, so the cleverness of the construction is the actual art in his products. Many of his products are hand stitched, but he still has an old Ferdinand Bull to sew the heavier work and a Cobra Model 26 for lining belts.
George remembered the struggles of trying to perfect his skills as a self-taught leatherworker, so he introduced a weekly tips blog to his Instagram page. Called “Tuesday’s Tips,” there are some unique approaches to leatherwork, which even a seasoned craftsman will appreciate. There are also links on them to some of George’s mentors.
Ironically, the military turned out to be the strongest influence in George’s career in leather. For this reason, a military acronym is included in the title of his Instagram page.
“With every assignment there was a whole new opportunity of leatherwork,” says George.
Located in tiny Ajo, Arizona, George’s shop resembles an old barn. Filled with western memorabilia, it’s only about 50 feet from George’s house.
“It’s a fun space.”
And fun is what George has when he gets in his shop.
“I have such a silly passion over this leatherwork. Sometimes I just dream about it. And if I’m not in my shop, I think about what I’m going to make when I get back to my shop. So it’s kind of an obsession.”
If you ask George how long he plans on continuing to build his unique leather goods, he’ll tell you, “Until my ashes are scattered on the open range.”
If you want to speak to George before then, you can call him at 520-909-8256 or check out @viktorgeorgeleathergoods on Instagram.