by Liisa Andreassen
When Dan Hickman couldn’t find the right boots to fit his feet, he decided to take matters into his own hands – quite literally – and has been making boots since 1975. Bootmaking was not really a job for him; it was more of a calling. He’d meet with other bootmakers while he traveled the country during his 37-year career with the railroad. Today, he reflects on his past, present and future.
Nurturing a passion
Dan was 18 years old when he first started working in shipping and receiving at a boot company in Kansas. One of his job perks was having his boots custom made for his 11A narrow-width feet. But after he left that job, the perk went with it and he had difficulty finding what he really wanted.
“Everything I saw was just plain brown or black – nothing exciting,” he says.
So, when his brother was going to school in Oklahoma and he learned about a trade school for boot and saddlemaking – Oklahoma State Tech – and he thought he’d give it a go.
“I’ve always been a fan of fancy boots,” he says.
While Dan worked for the railroad as a track and maintenance welder, his job took him to many small towns across the country and he’d always try to scope out a local bootmaker to talk with about what they were up to.
“I just enjoyed learning about new stuff,” he says. “I also love being part of the bootmaking community. It’s a great group of people who are always willing to openly share what they know.”
Lee Miller is one of his bootmaking heroes and whenever he has a serious question, that’s the man he turns to.
“I just love Lee’s style,” he says.
There are many others who he really admires and respects, such as Tex Robin with his vintage looks and Brian Thomas, but Lee is his go-to guy.
Creative and custom-made
Dan mostly makes boots for himself and his family and he also makes the occasional custom boot for a client craving his unique style – about five to six pair per year. All boots are custom and hand made in his 10 x 20-foot backyard shop.
“I never wanted bootmaking to turn into a job. It’s just a fun little hobby for me and the boots I do sell pretty much help to fund my craft,” he says.
Dan says he will travel up to two hours to meet someone to measure their feet, but he’s also had people come to him. He had one woman come from Topeka, Kansas, who wanted him to make some boots from an ostrich she killed in Africa. He also recalls one of his most unusual requests from a musician in California.
“He’d seen a pair of boots in a museum that once belonged to Porter Wayne Wagoner, an American country music singer. They were made from red patent leather and had rhinestones on the heels. The client was a 12D. I found a last to fit and sent him two to three samples of leather, which he didn’t really like until someone sent me two patent leather kangaroo hides and we had a winner.”
On average, if you want a pair of boots from Dan, it will set you back anywhere from $950 to $1,500 and you’ll have your boots in about three months. Dan likes to take his time and get it just right. What he really enjoys the most about making boots is the solitude and putting the pieces of leather together to create a work of art.
“It’s very satisfying and I also enjoy experimenting with the color combinations and design work,” he shares.
His personal favorite is a pair of brown kangaroo boots with green tops and butterfly inlay. Currently, he has about 18 pairs himself – all of which he’s made.
Dan is now retired from the railroad, so he’s got more time for bootmaking and he also enjoys riding motorcycles, sporting clays and restoring hot rods. Right now, he’s got his hands into a 1930 Model A Ford Coupe.
When asked what plans he has down the road, he says, “When I grow up, I want to be like Lee Miller.”
View some of Dan’s creations here: https://www.facebook.com/Dan-Hickman-Boots-528095817356280/.
*Photographs Courtesy of Dan Hickman