Pendleton Leather Show Going Strong
By Liisa Andreassen
This past November marked the passing of another Pendleton Leather Show in Pendleton, Oregon. This year’s show consisted of a trade show, classes and a saddle contest. Historically, Pendleton is a leather-working town and is also home to one of the best PRCA rodeos in the country and to the famed shop, Hamley’s Saddle.
Vandy Douglas, the event’s coordinator, started producing the show in 2012. Prior to that it was organized by Ferdco Sewing Machines and was started approximately 20 years ago by the Leather Crafters & Saddlers Journal.
“We count ourselves fortunate to have Pendleton as the location,” Douglas says. “The area has such history. Over the years, we’ve worked closely with the Chamber/Travel Pendleton and the Convention Center to improve the show’s experience. This is the only show of its type in the area and we’re constantly striving to increase its reach to bring even more attendees from a wider audience.”
The show was attended by about 800 people and held at the Pendleton Convention Center; admission was free. The 30+ vendors were mostly from the western U.S. and specifically from the leather crafting industry.
“The vendors are the backbone of our show,” Douglas says. “They displayed a diverse selection of goods such as leather, hardware, saddle trees, stirrups, fancy conchos, stamping tools, saddlery tools, bootmaking supplies, glue, conditioners, dyes and much more.”
The classes featured ranged from chink measuring and fitting to floral pattern drawing and hand sewing. There were even free kids’ classes that highlighted engraving and the basics of leather crafting.
“We’d like to increase the number of kids who attend, so we can teach them the foundational skills of Western craft and possibly inspire a life-long pursuit in a few,” Douglas says. “We’re looking forward to an expanded roster next year and hope to make it a destination for leather crafters of all types.”
Douglas adds that they’re always interested in talking with people about types of vendors they’d like to see to make it a well-rounded event.
Plans for 2019 are already in the works. There are going to be more contests and classes. Tours of Pendleton area attractions, in addition to many other activities, will be offered too. Visit the website for details: www.pendletonleathershow.com and also check Facebook and Instagram for the latest updates throughout the year.
2018 Roughout Saddle Contest Results
1: Steve McKay, McKay Saddles, Burns, OR, 662 points
2: Doug Koontz, DK Saddlery, Buhl, ID, 637 points
3: Trevor Alexander, Salina, UT, 601 points
4: Aaron Gilkey, Rock Star Custom Leather, Selma OR, 449 points
1: Angel Murillo, Pendleton, OR
2: Ryan Archibald, Salina, UT
People’s Choice Award: Angel Murillo
The winners split prize packages totaling over $3,000 with donations from Hermann Oak Leather, Hansen Silver, Douglas Tools, Steel Stamps, Bee Natural, Oregon Leather, Leather Wranglers, Barry King Tools, Gomph-Hackbarth Tools, Maverick Leather, Jueschke Tools, Shop Talk! Magazine and Pendleton Leather Show.
Moser Leather Sells Latta Manufacturing
Moser Leather has sold Latta Mfg., a manufacturing division that specializes in saddlery equipment, to Ludwig and Marglin Company of Blanco, Texas. Ludwig and Marglin, formerly of New Braunfels, Texas, recently moved to Blanco. The new owner, Craig Gourley can be reached at 830-833-3074. Moser is focusing on its core business of leathers, its RENEWED MANUFACTURING OF LEATHER LACES, and saddlery and stable supply lines of the business.
Nat Fleming, 1921-2018
Weldon Burgoon, 1930-2018
By Gene Fowler
Heaven got a lot more Texas in the last few months as two of the finest cowboys who ever called the big state home rode off into the sunset one last time. Nat Fleming operated the Cow Lot Western wear store in Wichita Falls from 1952 to 2006, and Weldon Burgoon ran Weldon’s Saddle Shop and Western Wear in Denton from 1957 to 2017.
“You can tell by looking if it’s from the Cow Lot” was Nat’s slogan, and Weldon took to the airwaves to say, “Here’s your chance to buy from a real cowboy.”
Nat learned about leather and bootmakers in 1947 when he went to work for Wichita Falls’ Dixon Boot Company. Generations of Texoma Country cowboys and cowgirls knew there was nothing like a Nat Fleming fit. And many a country-western star bought Cow Lot boots when they were in the Red River territory. He also enjoyed a radio and TV career, hosting The Nat Fleming Show on Wichita Falls airwaves. When I interviewed Nat by phone some years back (see Shop Talk!, February 2017), he spoke about the time in the early ‘50s when he drove Hank Williams from Wichita Falls to Dallas. “Hank wrote an entire song on the trip,” Nat recalled.
When a customer would buy a new hat at the Cow Lot, they would often leave their old, much-lived-in hat for Nat to hang up on the rafters. When the store closed, some 500 of “Nat’s Hats” were installed in a permanent exhibit at Wichita Falls’ Museum of North Texas History. A temporary exhibit through the end of 2018, Boots On, North Texas, commemorates Dixon, Nocona, Westex, and other boot companies that once called the Red River area home.
Growing up in the Denton area in the Great Depression, Weldon Burgoon (see Shop Talk!, October 2018) began crafting leather items because money was too tight for store-bought. He was a professional calf-roper for a time after high school, and in 2010 he was inducted into the Texas Rodeo Cowboy Hall of Fame. In addition to his work as a saddlemaker, Weldon helped start the Denton County Livestock Association’s Youth Fair and Rodeo, where kids can show animals and compete in agriculture and rodeo competitions. He also played a prominent role in the North Texas Fair and Rodeo.
“Burgoon was a revered figure in Denton and often served as a visual reminder of what the city used to be like,” wrote Caitlyn Jones in the Denton Record-Chronicle. “Never without his boots, belt buckle or cowboy hat, Burgoon took up the torch of preserving the Western way of life in a place where feed stores gave way to bars and farm land transformed into subdivisions.”
Grandson Clint Wilkinson, who creates handmade leather items in a part of the building that served as Weldon’s saddle shop, has started a small museum in his shop to preserve his grandfather’s memory. “I’ve got things from his bit and spur collection,” says Clint, “and some of the saddles he’s made and some he’s collected. And there’s also some plaques and awards from his career.”
In a Facebook post honoring his “Paw Paw,” Clint wrote, “I’m continuing his legacy the only way I know how, which is through leather. I will never fill his boots. They’re too big and they need to be left alone anyhow.”
A Tribute to Dave Little
By Danna Burns-Shaw
Renowned boot-maker Dave Little passed away September 24th after a two year battle with kidney disease. In true Dave fashion he decided when it was time to go, stating he had had a good life and was tired.
Before boot-making, Dave served 25 years in the Air Force retiring as a Senior Master Sergeant. Following his years of service, he joined the family business of boot making, a business his grandfather began in 1915.
Dave and his wife, Mary Jane took over the business (Littles Boots) in 1975. Dave decided to limit the company’s production to high-end, completely custom, handmade Western dress boots. With decades of developing the best boot possible, Dave’s desire to build the best western boot in the world became a reality.
Dave truly loved building high-quality boots. He taught many craftsmen this masterful skill and was able to create an outstanding team of boot-makers.
Dave and Mary Jane gave many years of love and dedication to Little’s Boots, the longest of any of the previous owners. Dave was thrilled that his daughter, Sharon and son, Duane took over as owners and operators when he retired at the age of 85.
Dave loved and enjoyed life. His military career allowed him to travel. He leaves his family many memories of camping all over Europe. Growing up, all his children worked at the boot shop where they learned a good work ethic. His favorite times were gathered at a table sharing a meal with family and friends. Anyone that knew Dave respected him, and will miss his genuine laugh.
While Dave Little the man is no longer with us, his legacy of quality, artistry and value inspires and lives on through his descendants who now run Littles Boots in San Antonio, Texas.
Surviving is his loving wife of 65 years, Mary Jane Little nee Bolner; sons: David (LeeAnn) Little, Duane Little, daughters: Sharon Little and Sandra (Mike) McNease; grandchildren: Kevin (Erica) McNease, Jennifer McNease, Sarah (fiancé Christian) McNease, Morgan (Royal) Brown, and Zachary Little; great-grandchild, Cayden McNease and a baby girl.
The 2018 Western Design Conference – From Cowboy to Contemporary
By Liisa Andreassen
This past September marked 26 years for the Western Design Conference Exhibit + Sale produced by the Western Design Conference (WDC) in Jackson Hole, WY. This four-day, multimillion-dollar annual event awards more than $20,000 for design excellence and brings together artisans, collectors, interior designers, architects and fashion designers who all have one thing in common – a passion for the west.
Ranging in style from rugged to chic, contemporary American artists who create museum-quality functional art that represent today’s thriving western culture are the core of the event. Exhibit + Sale attendees get to meet the makers of handcrafted works in furniture, fashion, jewelry, home and lifestyle accessories and can purchase directly from the artisans with no commissions paid.
This year, a new exhibit floor layout improved flow and the hugely popular opening night festivities only added to the event’s enduring ability to unite design enthusiasts in a meaningful and entertaining way.
The Opening Preview Party + Fashion Show provided attendees with a first peek along with the opportunity to buy direct and distinctive creations of every price point from more than 100 juried artists, as well as the chance to wander through the Designer Show House’s five exquisitely conceived rooms. A live auction, sumptuous local cuisine, a runway fashion show and specially-crafted cocktails at five open bars were all part of the festivities.
The “Artitude Adjustment” happy hours also provided a fun venue for attendees and artisans to sip cocktails and talk shop.
Allison Merritt, executive director, WDC, continues the strong commitment to Western arts with an expansive national reach that draws artists and visitors from across the country. Each year more than 3,500 locals and tourists attend the event and artists/designers are accepted through the WDC jury process to showcase work at the Snow King Event Center.
The WDC affords artists the opportunity to tell their story to the judges. Last year there were 52 juried entries; this year there were 73.
“This number ebbs and flows,” Merritt says. “We know that the knowledge and inspiration of materials used, design process, and concepts should be shared not only with the public, but also with our panel of experts.”
Juried presentations take place by genre in a randomly selected order. As the committee views each piece, an auditor assists the judges by reading aloud the artist’s written comments. The submissions are scored by the judges based on:
- Quality of Craftsmanship
- Effective Adaptation of Materials
- Design Quality
After scoring each piece, judges discuss their respective scores and collectively determine the winner in each category. This year $20,250 was awarded from among 73 juried pedestal exhibitors, 19 fashion collections and six interior designers.
“We embrace innovative ideas and heritage techniques,” Merritt says.
Award Winner Highlights
- Best of Show: Hollifield Bamboo Fly Rods
- Best Collection – Fashion Show – Rebecca’s
- Western Spirit Award: Michael J. Guli Designs/River Crossing
- Historical Craftsmanship: Norseman Designs West/Christina Chapman
- Interior Design: Harker Design
- Exhibitor’s Choice: A tie between Prairie Sky Designs and J. L. Blair Saddlery
For a full list of all winners and categories, visit: https://westerndesignconference.com/featured-artists/awards/
“Rounding-Up” 30 Years of Boots and Saddles
By Jennifer June
This year was the 30th Annual Custom Boot & Saddle Maker’s Roundup. Eddie and Kathy Kimmel noted the milestone, but for them it was really just another show. Then without warning, all of that changed; Eddie Kimmel passed away on July 14th.
In spite of their grief, the Kimmel family regrouped and gave us a wonderful show. The Morris family was on hand to help, as they have for many years. Dale Morris drove the forklift in Eddie’s place and made sure the seminars ran smoothly. Teresa Morris greeted everyone at the door and supported Kathy and Kathy’s daughter, Jodie Tucker, who were both at the registration table.
These two days in Wichita Falls have always felt like part-trade show, part-family reunion. This year we were missing Eddie, as well as bootmaker Dave Little of San Antonio,Texas, who passed away on September 24th, at the age 87. (Please see sidebar for remembrances.)
Instead of a mournful event, the Roundup became one of gratitude. Many of us were grateful for a chance to once again spend time with old friends. Bootmakers Ray Dorwart (Guthrie, OK), Len Boden (Sweetwater, TX), Cricket Garcia (Eagle Pass, TX) and Pablo Jass (Lampasas, TX) all made surprise appearances.
After doing business over the phone for months, or years, the show is a chance to put faces to names, and see the leather colors in person. This year there were 58 vendors. Whether you are buying leather, tools or machines, the best selection is on Friday…and the best deals are on Saturday. Bootmaker Wes Shugart drove from Nashville to Wichita Falls with his shopping list in hand. He was convinced he bought the last piece of white kangaroo on the planet. We will be watching his Instagram posts (@musiccityleather) for a look at that inlay.
You arrive with a list, but then you discover new vendors and things you never expected. Sean Aquino was new to the show this year. When every detail counts, his Fine Leatherworking Tools are specially crafted for hand sewing and edging quality leather goods.
Sorrell Notions and Findings (Guthrie, OK) had new items like thread for stitching soles, in strong new colors like red, yellow and green. Lisa Sorrell uses the products she imports and sells. She can tell you how much she personally likes the water-based glues — specifically the Renia – Aquilim SG – the glue she is now using in her inlay work, describing how it almost turns leather into a “Post-it note.” Lisa only needs to glue one surface, and no longer needs to spend time removing excess rubber cement once she is done stitching her boot tops.
Saving money on shipping costs was one more good reason to buy at the show, whether it was saddle skirting or a big jug of glue. And of course, everyone had their fingers crossed that they would win some “Roundup Dollars.”
Unlike other leather shows, all the seminars at the Roundup are free. Most were standing room only, like the Q&A panel featuring Texas bootmakers Mike Allred (Whitesboro,TX), Lee Miller (Austin, TX) and Mike Vaughn (Bowie, TX) and this year’s guest-star, Alan Bell (Abilene, TX).
The crowd asked tough questions about patternmaking and fit. Mike Allred took the boot off of his foot (a bright-orange boot visible from the back row) for panelists to use explaining their answers. Some questions got the same answer up and down the table…other questions got two, three or even four different answers. The panelists remain good friends despite their differing opinions on leather vs. celastic toe boxes. One question that’s hard even for a master bootmaker to answer: “Do I try something new or go back to the way I was taught?” The one thing they all agreed on is that building a good boot takes practice.
Why aren’t there more saddle-making seminars? All Kathy Kimmel needs are a couple of volunteers…
Mike Vaughn counted 31 pairs of boots in the contest this year, a few more than last year. Pebble and Robert Browne, owners of Brown’s Custom Leather in Paradise, Texas, are caretakers of the saddle contest; 14 saddles were entered this year. Pebble wants new saddle makers to step up and enter the beginner category with their very first saddle. She told everybody else to think about bringing in a customer’s saddle order, “Don’t tell them it’s done until after the contest!” Each contest is judged by anonymous judges. Buckles and bragging rights go to the winners.
When Kathy Kimmel was asked if she’d like to say anything about this year’s show, she said, “I just want to thank everybody for coming …and we hope to see you next year.”
Information about next year’s show and contests will be coming soon at bootandsaddlemakertradeshow.com.
We Will Miss Eddie Kimmel
Eddie Kimmel’s presence was felt throughout the show; Heath Tucker, Eddie’s son-in-law said, “Eddie must be looking out for us this year because we haven’t had a hitch.”
A large photo of Eddie sat close to the registration desk, near Eddie’s “usual spot.” Only unlike Eddie…it stayed put the whole time. People remarked about how they kept catching themselves wanting to talk with Eddie. Here are a few of their remembrances:
“My grandad raised me… [he called] people like Eddie “white hatters” because they wore white hats and they were good people…that’s what I thought of Eddie. He was a white hatter.” — Alan R. Bell (Abilene, TX)
“After Duck passed away, not really knowing if I was credit worthy or if I was trustworthy… I would order materials from Eddie. Eddie told me, “Pay me in the next 30 days.” That had a really big impression on me…that he put that trust in me. Eddie gave me a really good start.” — Dustin Lauw (Salado, TX)
“Eddie did whatever he could for the industry. He was just interested in helping everyone out. He would pick up a lot of stuff that no one else would pick up and he ran with it. He just did everything for everybody.” — Brian Thomas (Abilene, TX)
“It didn’t matter how busy Eddie was at the show. Even if you caught him traveling from one end of the show to the other, when you were talking to Eddie he gave you his full attention. You knew he wanted to help you anyway he could.” — Jennifer June (El Cerrito, CA)
Memories of Dave Little
Dave Little will be remembered for years to come for his generous spirit and the beautiful boots built in his shop. He greeted you like family. The shop is in good hands with Sharon and Duane Little, but Dave Little will be greatly missed.
“One day I went down to his shop, and he just treated me like royalty. I didn’t come announced or anything. Dave took me through the showroom and then to the shop where everyone was working…I got a full tour of Little Boots. I wasn’t expecting that.” — Mark Fletcher (Plano, TX)
“I’ll miss Dave. I started my apprenticeship in 1982 with my dad and that was about the time the Texas Boots book came out. There were 12 pictures of Dave Little boots; they really inspired me. Still do.” — Deana McGuffin (Albuquerque, NM)
Over the years, he always tried to buy me a steak dinner. I never took him up on it. Early on, I would call him when I was having trouble with a pattern…he was always trying to help. — Lee Miller (Austin, TX)
Boot Maker Eddie Kimmel Passes
By Nick Pernokas
Eddie Kimmel was born in Spur, Texas, on August 16, 1949. Spur sits on the plains in the middle of West Texas cowboy country. It’s ironic that Eddie was never really into ranching or cowboying as a young man, but sometimes fate has a sense of humor. His family moved to Comanche, Texas, when he was 10. In Comanche, Eddie met a local girl named Kathy.
Eddie and Kathy Kimmel were married in 1968. Eddie was going to school with plans to become a teacher. Fortunately for the leather industry, he decided that teaching was not what he wanted to do.
By the late 1970s, Eddie was a successful tile layer. Unfortunately, the housing market slowed and things were bleak in the construction business. In 1979, Eddie was looking for something else to do, when he happened to run into a gentleman in Comanche one day. This individual owned a boot shop in town with several boot makers, but he had other interests as well. He told Eddie that he was looking for a manager for the boot shop, so he wouldn’t have to be there all the time. Eddie didn’t know much about the boot business, but he liked to build things.
The boot shop gained a new manager in Eddie and he also began to learn how to build boots from the boot makers. Within six months, Eddie knew that he wanted to build boots for a living. Eddie and Kathy purchased the shop. In 1980, they moved the shop out to their home. In 1987, they built their current shop. With only two or three employees, Kimmel Boots were producing around 450 pairs of boots a year. Eddie would build the lasts and cut out the leather, and his boot makers would finish the boot. Eddie thought that this was the best way for him to produce a high-end custom boot.
“That was how he made it successful,” says Kathy. “I don’t think there was any place he would have rather been than right out there in that boot shop.”
Eddie made a lot of friends in the boot industry. His competitors were also his friends, and he enjoyed talking boots with them. One problem they all faced: having to buy in quantity to get the materials they might need for a small number of boots. Eddie tried to start a boot maker’s co-op, so boot makers could buy in quantity and share the materials, but that didn’t go over with other boot makers. Eddie had always been good about sharing his inventory with other boot makers in need, and he found he really liked that end of the business. A few years ago, he and Kathy formed a more formal company to wholesale boot making materials to fellow boot makers.
“Eddie really enjoyed that because he would have a business that was separate from the boot business, but he still got to visit daily with all those boot makers,” says Kathy.
On January 1, 2018, Eddie’s son-in-law, Heath Tucker, took over the actual boot shop. The shop continues to produce the same, high-quality custom boots in the same location, under the name Kimmel Boot Company. Eddie’s wholesale supply company continues as Eddie had planned, as Kimmel Boots.
“The supply business was Eddie’s joy, and I enjoy it also,” says Kathy.
Kathy feels that Eddie had irreplaceable knowledge that he shared with his boot making customers. Eddie resisted creating a website for it because he didn’t want to lose the personal touch. Kathy and Heath will try to maintain that level of service, to honor Eddie’s spirit.
“That’s what got him up in the morning,” says Kathy, “getting to visit with those people every day on the phone.”
Eddie and Kathy took over the Custom Boot and Saddle Maker’s Roundup in the mid- 1990s. It had outgrown its Burnet, Texas, location so they moved it to Brownwood. In reality, the Roundup probably wouldn’t be in existence today if it wasn’t for Eddie and Kathy. The Roundup continued to grow and became an important event in the leather industry, where vendors and makers could come together. In 2001, it moved to its current location in Wichita Falls.
Eddie had open-heart surgery in 1999; he was left with 35 percent of his heart functioning. Eddie didn’t let it slow him down.
Greg Carmack, longtime friend and custom boot maker, was in his early teens and working for another boot maker in 1983, when he met Eddie for the first time. The sole stitcher in the shop he worked for had broken, so his boss called Eddie to see if they could sew 30-40 pairs of repair boots on Eddie’s stitcher. Eddie said, “Sure.”
“We took over his sole stitcher,” says Greg. “I just remember how nice that was. I just never had him tell me no. And that was a fault of his actually. He was a little too good to people.”
Eddie was once offered a yearly contract for boots that was a really nice deal. He felt that he wouldn’t be able to meet the deadlines with all of his other obligations, so he referred it to Greg. It has turned into a really profitable endeavor over the years for Greg.
“That’s the kind of guy he was,” says Greg. “I don’t want to mess with it, but I’ll damn sure help this guy.”
Custom boot maker Mike Vaughn was friends with Eddie for 30 years. They talked boots on the phone a couple of times a week.
“Eddie enjoyed helping the smaller shops out, selling them what they needed for just that pair of boots. He was a really, really good ambassador for the custom boot industry,” says Mike. “I’m not going to lie to you. I sure miss talking to him.”
Eddie liked things uncomplicated. He didn’t even have a cell phone. Eddie was a homebody and loved tinkering with things around his place. Some of Kathy’s fondest memories are of Eddie grilling in the backyard with his family.
“Eddie was a good man. He was a great family man. He was a good husband, a good father, a good grandpa and a good papa. He was so talented; he could do so many things. He was my best friend. He had a good life,” says Kathy.
On July 15, 2018, after a day playing with his family, Eddie’s heart gave out unexpectedly. But, Eddie had used it well.
Eddie is survived by his wife of 50 years, Kathy Kimmel; his children, Justin and wife Tricia Kimmel of Coleman, Texas; and Jodie and husband Heath Tucker of Comanche, Texas; four grandchildren, Bailey, Will, Austin and Kate; one sister, Suzie and husband Don Harrison of Gustine; and one sister-in-law, Sue Kimmel of Canton; as well as numerous nieces, nephews, family and friends.
Silver Creek Leather Co., LLC Acquires Stewart Manufacturing, Inc.
Silver Creek Leather Co., LLC is pleased to announce the acquisition of the business assets of Stewart Manufacturing, Inc., of Poughkeepsie, New York, makers of the popular Speedy Stitcher Sewing Awl.
This sale will ensure that the Speedy Stitcher will continue to be made in the USA, as it has been since it was patented in 1909. This tool is an important aid in the leathercraft, outdoor, marine and saddlery markets, and it is so well designed that it has been basically unchanged for over 100 years. The awl, along with high quality needles and thread is an important part of any craftsman’s tool chest for building products and making repairs to all sorts of sewn items.
The Stewart factory will be moved to the premises of Silver Creek Leather Co., at 5035 Keystone Blvd., Jeffersonville, Indiana, and be operational by August 31, 2018. Silver Creek realizes it is important to customers that there is no disruption in service or shipments. Silver Creek has no plans to modify or change the tools or the components, and will be using the same equipment and suppliers that have made the Speedy Stitcher successful for so many years.
Stewart Manufacturing has produced these items in their factory in Poughkeepsie, New York since 2002, being managed by company President Sheila Kelleher. Much of the assembly and packaging work was done there by a sheltered workshop, allowing many disadvantaged individuals to find employment that made them proud contributors to the business and their community. Silver Creek Leather plans to continue using the same type of workforce as much as possible after the move to Southern Indiana.
“Sheila Kelleher has been an important business partner and friend to us at Silver Creek Leather for many years. We wish her and her husband Bob all the best as they are now able to pursue retirement together. We look forward to continue the production and sale of the Speedy Stitcher and hope to grow its reach throughout the world,” said Greg Sartor, President of Silver Creek Leather.
Please direct all inquiries regarding the Speedy Stitcher to the offices of Silver Creek Leather Co. at 812-945-8520 or email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Silver Creek Leather is the leading supplier of leathercraft products to the US craft store market. They manufacture and distribute leather lacing, leathercraft kits, finished leather goods, tools and other supplies to chain stores such as Michaels, Hobby Lobby, JoAnn Stores, Boy Scouts of America as well as independent specialty distributors. These are sold under our own Realeather brand or private label in over 3,000 retail locations nationwide. Silver Creek Leather works with tanners worldwide to source the highest quality leathers that are cut and assembled by our skilled craftsmen in our Southern Indiana facility.
49th Annual Harness Maker’s Get-Together Minutes
July 20th, 2018
The 49th Annual Harness Maker’s Get-Together was held at held at M.D.Y. Horseshoeing and Harness Shop. It was hosted by the Mahlon Yoder family.
From 10:30 to 11:00 there was an informative meeting from the Antibaptist Financial Business out of New Columbia, PA. It was held by Dale Savage on creating efficiency and profitability in wholesale and retail business. It was very interesting and informative.
At 11:20 the Harness Maker’s Meeting was called to order by Kevin Yoder. Kevin thanked the Yoders for hosting the auction and the get-together.
The committee members introduced were Reuben Byler from Middlefield, OH, Mose Beachy from Baltic, OH, Wayne Chupp from Fredericksburg, OH, Jonas Stoltzfus from Honey Brook, PA, Kevin Yoder from Nappanee, IN, Andre Hostetler from Arthur, IL, and Mark Brenneman from Springs, PA. Gary Miller from Arthur, IL was also introduced. He will be taking Andrew Hostetler’s place.
Former committee members were Lloyd Miller, Jim Weaver, Eli Schlabaugh, Dan Lapp, Atlee Yoder, and Abe Miller.
Mahlon Yoder thanked everyone for coming to the auction and get-together. He introduced his wife Laura and six children. His auction report was that hardware prices were good and the leather prices were fair.
Andrew Hosteteler read the minutes of the 2017 meeting.
Harness makers deaths in the last year were Vernon Weaver, Mose Beachy’ s mother, and Huber Gillaugh.
Jim Weaver from Weaver Leather said it was their largest auction ever, more lots of leather and equipment.
Tanners recognized were: Doug Morrison from Hermann Oak, Jeff Ballard from Thorobred Leather, and Jim Cox from Moser Leather.
Also recognized was Scott Hanna from Biothane, a special thank you to them for paying for the tent.
Also, a thank you to Chupp Brothers for the delicious dinner after the auction.
Longest in business: Bolander Harness from Gorrie, Ontario Canada since 1959
Newst in business: Miller Pad Shop from Arthur, IL since July 2018
Most miles traveled: Harolds Harness from AR
Oldest man: Ben Beiler at age 82
Shops present were: KY 2, IL 5, IA 2, MI 2, IN 21, OH 21, MD 1, NY 2, AR 2, PA 16, SC 1, MO 1, VT 1, Canada 1
We had special grab bags for children so only 18 and older registered.
Next year’s get-together is to be at:
1613 Newcomb Rd.
Middlefield, OH 44062
Door Prizes were donated by:
Fisher’s Shoe and Saddle
Brenneman’s Leather Goods
Broadhead Collar Shop
Hillside Harness Hardware
Mid River Sales
Bowman’s Harness Shop
Beachy’s Nylon Harness
Fairview Country Sales
Sugar Valley Collar Shop
Shetler’s Collar Shop
Stauffer’s Harness Shop
N & A Harness Shop
Miller’s Harness Shop
Suggested meal price was $10.00 for adults.
The 49th Annual Harness Makers Get Together and Consignment Auction
By Nick Pernokas
Nice sunny weather greeted consigners and attendees from all over the country at the 49th Annual Harness Makers Get Together this year. The gathering was held in Middlebury, Indiana on July 19- 20 at MDY Horse Shoeing and Harness Shop.
The auction, held in two rings on the first day, had some really good merchandise including 3 harness shop liquidations. One 205 Adler sewing machine was the high selling consignment at $4300.00. Eight skids of leather from various tanneries were sold as well. Lots of old and new hand tools and bench tools were sold. There were all kinds of hardware including many stainless steel pieces, which sold at, or slightly below wholesale value.
The quality of the consignments, and the enthusiasm of the 150 buyers, was such that only a small skid of items went unsold. After the sale, everyone was treated to a grilled hamburger supper sponsored by Chupp Brothers Wholesale.
“I just want to thank all the consigners, and the auctioneers that did all the work,” said host, and owner of MDY Harness, Mahlon Yoder.
MDY Harness makes all types of leather, and Biothane, harness. Mahlon, and his small staff, provide a custom touch to all of the work they produce. Mahlon also has an equine and shop related consignment auction at his 5 acre facility every May. This experience was one of the reasons he was asked to host.
The gathering is a place that folks, like Mahlon, can have a face to face meeting with people that they only talk to over the phone during the rest of the year.
“There are definitely people that you don’t see until the Get Together,” says Mahlon.
This year, the gathering included a seminar that featured an Anabaptist Financial business advisor who gave advice on dealing with retail customers. Thirty vendors were also on hand to visit with customers in person.
For a laid back atmosphere in the heart of America’s harness making industry, the Get Together is hard to beat. It moves every year to a different location, so if you’re interested in harness, and would like to attend next year, you can call committee chairman Kevin Yoder at 888-259-9448 for dates and location. To find out more about Mahlon Yoder and MDY Harness, call 574-825-8161.
WEAVER LEATHER’S ANNUAL AUCTION DRAWS RECORD CONSIGNMENTS
By Lynn Ascrizzi
Does a magnet attract metal filings? Do birds travel long distances each year to find great feeding grounds?
This past June 13th and 14th, roughly 400 auction-goers flocked to Weaver Leather’s 34th Annual Consignment Auction, held on the grounds of the company’s large facility, set in the scenic countryside of Mount Hope, Ohio. Described as “the largest consignment auction of its kind,” they were drawn to the popular event to sell leather equipment and goods and to find terrific products and deals.
This year’s auction, run by Weaver Leather, LLC, a leather goods manufacturer, distributor and retailer, was one of its best. “It was the fourth largest auction on record, with a record number of consignments, roughly twice as many lots as last year’s auction,” said company CEO Jason Weaver.
“It was the fourth biggest we’d had,” added Christ Miller, who served as auction coordinator and chairman. A long-time employee, he has taken part in 29 of the company’s annual auctions. This year’s event, he said, was busting with so much machinery, that all of it couldn’t fit under the 60-foot-by-120-foot, machinery and tools tent. Their 40-foot-by 160-foot tent for leather and nylon goods was also busting at the seams.
“We had to set up four rows of machinery outside the tent. And, we had tons of leather that sold the first day, which included tannery overstocks. We had more chrome-tanned leather than we ever had before. We sold leather until 7:15 p.m., the first day, under that big tent and sold more the next morning. We were selling with two auctioneers both days and had a third ring for a while, Wednesday morning,” he said. Auctioneers were from Martin Auctioneers, of Intercourse, Pa.
The auction moved fast. “We had quite a few Adler sewing machines here, and clickers and skivers, splitters, riveters, hand tools and other machinery,” Miller said. Hand tools (including hard-to-find tools) were sold the second day in the machinery tent. For the most part, the machinery and hand tools sold were used or refurbished.
A number of generous prizes sparked the event. For every $100 spent on Weaver Leather products, buyers got a ticket to enter an auction drawing. Later the tickets were put in a big barrel and drawn for eight attractive prizes. For example, the grand prize was an Adler 669 Sewing Machine; first prize was a Weaver 205 leather sewing machine; 2nd prize was $500 worth of Hermann Oak leather; 3rd prize was $400 of webbing by Brahma Webb®. The products used for prizes are offered in the Weaver Leather catalog.
The company also offered a 5 percent “Cash & Carry” sale for their leather, hardware and all-new machinery, the whole week, starting on Monday, June 11. “We have a lot of people coming on Monday and Tuesday, dropping off products and placing their order early,” Miller explained.
And, the company offered a 10 percent discount for their Weaver 205 sewing machine and on all Adler sewing machines, in memory of former machinery sales representative Vernon Weaver. He had retired from Weaver Leather two years ago and passed away in early June, just days before this year’s auction event.
“There are always some new faces each year, but we had many of the same customers that attend every auction,” Jason Weaver said. “The neat thing is, that many of the new faces represented the next generation. You see some youngsters coming along with their fathers. It’s great to see things being passed down from generation to generation. One of the big benefits of the auction is that everybody can meet each other. There were a lot of fresh ideas about crafting products. It’s a good relationship-building kind of thing. We love to open our doors and show hospitality to our friends and customers.”
Miller echoed the observation. “I saw a lot of new people here that I never saw before. A lot were from other states, like Florida, Maine and California — people of all ages.” And, he observed the usual, big concentration of folks from Indiana, Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee.
Organizing a big consignment auction is a complex task, involving lots of company expertise and practiced coordination. More than 100 people helped out with the event. Designated ‘captains’ were put in charge of every area, including parking, Miller said.
The team also had to plan for food to feed the guests. Hearty, home-style cooking was dished up by an Amish-run parochial school, located right across the road from the company. “They set up a lunch stand, and proceeds from food sales went to cover school tuition,” he said.
In the morning, auction-goers could fill their bellies with a full-course breakfast —sausage gravy and biscuits, orange juice and a breakfast casserole made with eggs and bacon. For lunch, it was veal or chicken sandwiches, or hot dogs, a tossed salad with dressing and potato salad. “People ranted and raved about the strawberries and ice cream. A lot of the work was done by mostly the parents of the (school) children,” he added.
Obviously, setting up the auction kept the Weaver Leather staff extra busy that month. But, a few days before the auction date, the company’s 300-plus employees had an opportunity to share a brief moment of camaraderie with fellow coworkers and to celebrate company spirit.
“The beauty of this year’s event was, on the Friday evening before the auction, we were able to hold our Weaver company picnic beneath one of the auction tents that went up on Thursday. Afterward, we set up the auction tables, and customers started coming on Monday morning to bring consignment items,” Miller said.
P.O. Box 68
7540 CR 201
Mount Hope, OH 44660-0068
Customer service hours:
8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Mon.-Fri. (EST)
A ONE-OF-A-KIND SALESMAN
Vernon Weaver of Kidron, Ohio, a former machinery sales representative for Weaver Leather, LLC, in Mount Hope, Ohio, passed away on June 10, 2018, at the age of 71. He had retired from the leather goods manufacturer, distributor and retailer in 2016, after 35 years of service
Weaver is the brother of the company’s former CEO Paul Weaver and the father of its current CEO, Jason Weaver. “My father had declining health,” his son said, as he shared memories of his dad’s singular character.
“He found his niche with sewing machines. He came into the company when it was really small, with his brothers Paul and David. Dad took to the sewing machines. He ran a Union Lockstitch for many years. He could take apart an Adler or a ‘Union Lock’ (no longer in production) and put them back together.”
His father’s knack for getting the machinery up and running is not only memorable but still influences company values, today, he said.
“One of the cornerstones of this business is our quality in stitching. You have to make sure that sewing machines are timed right and in top working condition. They have tight tolerances. If the tension is not right, you can have skipped stitches or knots. It’s something we’ve always paid attention to — good, solid stitching. Dad had that kind of expertise and desire. He carried the torch. He had the technical ability.
“Dad had a big influence on me,” he added, pointing out how his father treated customers and coworkers. “That service mindset, I picked up from Dad. He was so loyal, really proud of the company and of the role he had. His love and passion came through. A lot of his best friendships were with his customers. Yes, we want the sale, but we want people to be successful with a product, after the sale.”
His father was also proud that he had a son who worked for the company he cared so much about. “It was nice for him to see me step into that role. I’ve worked here 18 years. I don’t remember life before Weaver Leather,” he said.
During those years, he got a heap of nitty-gritty training. “I spent a lot of time in operations for order fulfillment and in the leather shipment area. I learned about leather, what leather to use in different operations, and about hides in different parts of the world,” he said. He also spent time in leather and nylon manufacturing, and for a number of years, was a leather-cutting supervisor.
“A cornerstone of a successful leather operation is knowing how to cut leather, to understand what part of the hide to use, so you have a very high-quality product. You have to teach this principle of maximizing leather yield to the cutters,” he said.
Christ Miller, company sales implantation manager, also reminisced about Vernon Weaver’s unique contribution.
“I have a lot of good memories about Vernon,” he recalled. “I worked with him for 27 years. The biggest thing was his passion to get the customer the best sewing machine possible.” To do this, Vernon Weaver walked more than the extra mile.
“He could help customers with their sewing machine problems, over the phone. And not just our customers,” Miller said. “Some of our competitors would sell these machines, and they had no idea how to fix them. Those companies would refer their customers to Vernon! And, he gladly helped them with their issues. He never charged them over the phone. He helped countless people with sewing machine issues, whether they bought them from Weaver Leather, or not. The Adler sewing machine was his specialty.”
In the long run, “Vernon’s generous customer service actually helped give Weaver Leather a great reputation and drew more customers into the fold,” he said.
Remembering William Byron (Bill) Shackelford
September 18, 1943 – April 25, 2018
Bill Shackelford passed away from congestive heart failure on Wednesday, April 25, at the age of 74 in Sheridan, Wyoming. He was a third-generation Sheridan rancher and an esteemed businessman. He was a titan of sales and business in the Western Sales Industry, winning numerous awards and holding many official positions. He was past president and chairman of the board for WESA which is the world’s largest Sales Organization for Western and English Equestrian-related products and was a consultant and mentor to many in the industry.
Bill was also a big contributor to the Miss Rodeo America and Miss Rodeo Wyoming Association’s. He also contributed to numerous local, state and western regional rodeos, roping’s, and horse shows. There are few youngsters in Sheridan County who rodeo that haven’t won a bridle, breast collar, saddle pad or saddle that Bill had donated. Bill and his wife, Janice, won the prestigious sponsor of the year award for the Miss Rodeo Wyoming Association in 2008.
Bill was a true cowboy, as a teen working cattle for The Gill Cattle Company in Montana and other local area ranches. He participated in High School and College Rodeo’s. Bill raised longhorns and quarter horses and grew grass hay on his beautiful Sheridan ranch; he was riding and roping off his horse Coors up until last summer. He was very happy and proud that his son, Scott and family moved to Sheridan recently to take over the family ranch.
Bill enjoyed life to the fullest and on his terms. His word and handshake were his bond and he “suffered no fools.” He leaves those who knew him with many memories and his departure will be a huge loss for all whom he held dear.
Bill leaves behind his beloved wife Janice, and her three sons, Justin Houston (Rebecca), Jason Houston (Nikole), Jordan Seiler (Dakotah) and five grandchildren. Son Scott Shackelford (Susie), six grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. Daughter Lisa Shackelford and one grandson. His brother Richard (Dick) Shackelford (Gloria) and two nephews.
Bill loved and lived the true western lifestyle; he was never without his cowboy hat, a great pair of boots, a good horse and he enjoyed a good glass of scotch. He fought gallantly against great odds the past five years…he will be greatly missed and now he can rest, as “the cowboy rides away.”
–Tribute by Janice Shackelford
Paula Leddy Passes
Paula Leddy, wife of James Leddy of James Leddy Custom Boots, passed away on June 3, 2018. Paula was born on May 28, 1938 in Abilene, TX. She married James Wilson Leddy on June 22, 1955. She was a great support to her husband as they managed a boot shop and family. Paula worked as a bootmaker, homemaker, mother, and caregiver all her life.
Paula is survived by her three children, Debbie Meek and husband Glenn, James Zeno Leddy and wife Arlene, Brent Leddy and Carol; three brothers, Zeno Wise, Jr. and wife Mary, Eddie Wise and wife Neva, Danny Wise and wife Cindy; and one sister, Linda Couturier all of Abilene. She was blessed with many grandchildren and great grandchildren as well as numerous nieces and nephews.
Wear your custom made boots in heaven with pride Paula.
May 28, 1938 – June 3, 2018
Lee Liles Passes
By Nick Pernokas
On May 11, 2018, the leather industry, the farrier industry, and the equine world, lost larger than life legend Lee Liles. If you were involved in any of those things, and you didn’t know Lee personally, you at least knew of him.
Raised in Mississippi, Lee Liles moved to Tennessee at the age of fifteen to start a horse shoeing career. In the Sixties he learned to shoe race horses, and ventured as far west as California. Lee also developed a love of roping. Uncle Sam put a hold on Lee’s career, and when he came back from Vietnam, Lee started back shoeing in Tennessee. He also started working in the specialized field of Tennessee Walkers. By the Eighties, the western pleasure horse business was flourishing in the South. Lee made the move to shoeing “high tech” show horses. Lee and his wife, Alma, ran a horse ranch in Collierville, Tennessee called Carrousel Farms. Always handy with fabrication, Lee dabbled in building shoeing tools, including a well known hammer. He also built shoeing rigs. Because he was working with a lot of show horse people, he began competing in the roping classes at Quarter Horse Shows. Lee had a successful career in the horse show business and won numerous national roping titles in the AQHA. He became very interested in the saddle business as he traveled in the West, and made a lot of tools for the saddle makers that he met. One of these was a device for positioning riggings on saddles, and another was a device for burnishing edges.
Lee became interested in doing his own leatherwork so he could repair his own gear. Phillip Cheaney, owner of Cheaney Tack, and a friend of Lee’s, fixed him up with some basic tools and instruction. Another friend, Jerry Hull, who owned Trophy Tack in Oklahoma, also roped with Lee, and helped him advance in his leatherwork. Eventually Lee transitioned from being a collector of saddles to building them.
Lee, Alma, and their daughter, Samantha, moved their operation to Sulphur, Oklahoma in 1998. Lee had collected horse shoeing memorabilia since he was a kid, and now he started to organize his collection. In 1999, Lee opened The National Museum of Horseshoeing Tools and Hall of Honor. The city of Sulphur presented him with the Key to the City at the official opening ceremony to the public. The museum is now the most comprehensive collection of shoeing, blacksmithing, and farrier history in the world. Lee was inducted into the International Horseshoeing Hall of Fame in 2004, located at the Kentucky Derby Museum in Louisville, KY.
Not one to rest on his laurels, Lee also opened 3L Custom Gun Leather at the ranch so he could continue his leatherwork. It was a state of the art shop in which Lee and one employee could quickly build almost any holster that was ordered.
I met Lee in 1987. Lee and Alma’s door was always open if you were a cowboy, and needed a place to stay. I stayed with them many times in Collierville, and I was not the only one. Lee was a generous and hospitable person.
Lee is survived by his wife, Alma Liles of Sulphur OK, daughter Samantha Liles Frank (Andrew Frank) of Dallas, TX; three siblings, Bill Liles, Danny Liles, and Tonie Rayburn; two aunts, Blondell Pearson and Mary Lynwood Liles Slankard.
Lee Liles R.I.P.
February 8, 1950 – May 11, 2018
Moser Leather Acquires the Wright-Bernet Brush Line
Moser Leather has acquired the rights to the name, and remaining horse brush inventory for the Wright-Bernet Brush line from DQB Industries of Detroit, Michigan. DQB acquired Wright-Bernet a few years ago, and has decided to close out the line. Moser will continue to make horse brushes on the popular lines including the Cowboy Brush and others.
Remembering Joe Frank Patrickus, Jr. – family man and world renowned bootmaker
By Liisa Andreassen
Joe Frank Patrickus, Jr., a world famous cowboy bootmaker in Camdenton, Mo. passed away in his home on April 17, 2018. He was 71. Chicago born, he was designated a Master Bootmaker by the Missouri Folk Arts Council and recognized as such by the State of Missouri Traditional Arts Program. He was also featured in many publications and had his work shown in the George Bush Presidential Library exhibit on the Legends of the West Exhibition. In 2003, he was named as Businessman of the Year the by National Congressional Committee’s Business Advisory Council.
Joe and his wife of 50+ years, Marcella, who is still living, had eight children, 18 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. He moved to Camdenton in 1975 and by 1978 he had opened his shop, JP’s Custom Handmade Boots, which quickly became a fixture in the town and his talents known around the world. Joe made custom boots for famous stars, athletes and royalty. His boyhood idol was Roy Rogers and when he was asked by Rogers to be his personal bootmaker, along with making the officially-licensed Roy Rogers boots for the public, he was over the moon. This became one of Joe’s greatest accomplishments – a dream come true.
But Joe was not focused on fame, he also made custom boots for Camdenton area citizens for special occasions such as weddings and graduations. He participated in the Missouri County Music Hall of Fame Fundraiser and said it was always exciting to introduce new people to handmade boots.
Joe was fifth-generation in his craft. Previous generations built and repaired shoes, but he took the family business to the next level and started crafting custom handmade western boots. In addition to making boots, he was also one of just a few artisans who made wooden “lasts” – the wooden form around which the boot is shaped.
His son, Joey, who will continue to run the family business and follow in his father’s footsteps says that his father was “a true artist; there was never a customer idea that he couldn’t design. He bonded with each and every one of his customers.”
Joe retired in 2011, but his son stepped in to continue with the shoe repair and boot making under his careful guidance.
“We will proudly continue the family tradition of providing quality products and outstanding customer service,” Joey says. “As my dad used to say, ‘old shoes don’t die, they just get re-soled.’”
Lewis Sales: Marking the End of an Era
Shoe-findings business is closing after 65 years
By Lynn Ascrizzi
Paul Friedman, owner and operator of Lewis Sales in Lawrence, Mass., is stepping out of a long tradition — 40 years of buying and selling materials used to make shoes, handbags, wallets and belts. “I’ll be done by the end of the year. I started in 1978,” he said.
The family business was founded by his father, Herman “Hy” Friedman, 65 years ago, in Haverhill, Mass., a city that had been a bustling hub of the U.S. shoe industry for close to 200 years. The company was located in a 23,000-square-foot, four-story brick building on Wingate Street, in an industrial area just two blocks from the Merrimac River.
The youngest of his father’s three sons, Paul Friedman first began working with his dad, at age 16, while attending Haverhill High School. “I worked during the summers and sometimes after school. I got paid $1.50 per hour. Basically, I did straightening out, putting in orders, helping Dad with whatever I could,” he said.
The family’s stake in the shoe industry, however, stretches back to Friedman’s grandfather, Morris Friedman, a Haverhill shoe manufacturer who owned and operated Unique Shoe, which specialized in women’s, wide-width shoes.
After WWII, the city’s shoe industry surged, for a time. But by 1952, Morris Friedman closed his business. Hy Friedman, who at that time had been helping his dad run the company, was left scrambling to figure out what to do next. In 1953, he launched Lewis Sales in Haverhill, naming the enterprise after his oldest son. It was located in a warehouse just down the street from his father’s former business.
Paul Friedman kept the father-son tradition going, when he began working full time for his dad shortly after graduating with a degree in business and accounting from Boston University, in 1977.
“My father’s business was in Haverhill for 30 years, and then we moved it to Lawrence, Mass., in 1983. In the old days, most of the orders, we delivered ourselves. Most of the factories we did business with, were within a half-hour drive. Nowadays, everything is shipped UPS,” he said. He took over Lewis Sales when his father semi-retired in the mid-1990s. Hy Friedman died at the age of 89, in 2006. But, by that time, business started to slow down.
“By 2013, it just died,” Friedman said. “There are less than 10 shoe factories left in New England, out of about 500, originally. Nike was one of our biggest customers, when they manufactured in Maine and New Hampshire. They had a huge factory in Saco, Maine. One day they said, that’s it.”
The Saco factory closed in 1985, the last Nike shoe plant in the U.S. Six-hundred people lost their jobs. Today, Nike’s footwear manufacturing is done in 42 countries, like Vietnam, China and Indonesia, and they employ more than 1 million workers.
“I used to ship all over the world,” he recalled, “to Jamaica, Africa, South America, Dominican Republic, Mexico. I haven’t shipped overseas in 10 years. Right now, I’m doing 90 percent closeouts. Nobody is left here in this business that sells everything I did. It is hard to believe what happened to this industry in less than 40 years. Where did it all go?”
Since doing business in Lawrence, he has moved to four different warehouse locations and downsized considerably. “We went from a 78,000 square-foot warehouse, to one that was 50,000 square feet, to 30,000 square feet,” he said. His current warehouse is 10,000 square feet.
“It’s about one-third empty. There’s nothing to buy. There are no factories to clean out, anymore. I only sell. I don’t buy anything anymore, unless I’ve already got it sold. It was easy in the old days. It’s not fun anymore.”
As for inventory, he cited about 50,000 pounds of nylon thread, 25,000 gross of bobbins, 40,000 square feet of leather, mostly cowhide and some calfskin, and lots of miscellaneous items, like elastic, buckles, eyelets, shoelaces. “Everything is half price, and more, depending upon the quantity,” he said, at the end of April.
“At one time, I had 2,500 sewing machines. Now, there are only two shoe machinery guys left in New England — Sloan Machinery Co. in Salem, N.H., which is still open, and Pamco Shoe Machinery Co., in Lewiston, Maine, with an office in Auburn.”
Friedman, 62, lives about a half-hour from Lawrence, in Hampton Beach, N.H. He hopes to close his business by the end of the year. “I don’t have an official closing date. It’ll be when everything is gone,” he said.
In retirement, he plans to play golf and poker, “which I’m pretty good at,” he noted, of the latter. “Thank God I’ve saved for a rainy day. And, I want to thank everybody for their support over the years.”
468 Canal Street
Lawrence, Mass. 01840
An announcement from Schutz Brothers, Inc. of North Manchester, Indiana
Mitch Schutz, owner of Schutz Brothers, Inc. of North Manchester, Indiana, has announced he will be retiring and closing the 72 year old business.
Schutz Brothers was founded in 1946 by Mitch’s father, Don, and his Uncle Dick as a retail tack and gun shop. The capital for the business came from the sale of Don’s prized Arabian stallion, Indraff, who sold for $10,000 which was an astonishing amount back then!
As the brothers’ business evolved, and the popularity of the quality tack that Don made grew, a wholesale tack division was formed. With the death of Don’s brother, Dick, in 1977 the firearm division was sold and Schutz Brothers became exclusively wholesale in 1980.
Mitch’s wife, Penny, became office manager and together with Don and his wife, Delta, the couple focused the business on the manufacturing and distributing of the nation’s leading horse equipment to all 50 states and many foreign countries.
With the passing of Penny in early 2013, Mitch hired his son-in-law, Doug Hayden, to help with the day-to-day operations while Mitch and Penny’s daughter, Brogan, completed her residency as an MD specializing in pediatrics.
Mitch married Margie, a newly retired school teacher, in 2016. They plan to travel, enjoy their backwoods cabin, spend time with their grandchildren and serve others through the church.
All business dealings with Schutz Brothers will cease with the exception of the patented DARE® Cribbing Control Collar. The collar will continue to be produced and made available exclusively from Mitch and Margie Schutz.
A huge retirement auction is planned for June 29th and 30th, 2018. It will include inventory, tools, machines, antiques, fixtures, horse memorabilia and much, much more.
“I will miss the people the most,” says Mitch. “I am so grateful for the ones I had the privilege to work alongside, the vendors and customers I consider good friends and the many horse people I met along the way that so whole-heartedly supported us!”
Boot and Saddlemaker Gathering in Salado, Texas
By Jennifer June
On April 28, 2018, more than 50 bootmakers, saddlemakers and their loved ones gathered together at Duck’s Heritage Cowboy Boots in Salado, Texas. This was the second year that Dustin and Cheryl Lauw have hosted this special event. Kenneth Wayne Duncan (Killeen, TX) was there once again with his show-stopping BBQ trailer.
Unlike the Annual Boot & Saddlemakers Trade Show in Wichita Falls, there are no vendors, seminars or contests. There is nothing to buy, except gas for your truck and a plate of BBQ. People come from Oklahoma and all over Texas — Austin, Houston, Abilene and Dallas. Deana McGuffin and Dean Jackson travelled from New Mexico. Deana drove from Albuquerque with her two shop dogs in tow.
The sunny day was a time to relax and enjoy each other’s company… catching up on family news, sharing memories, information and sometimes offering advice. A unique place where you can hear the names of discontinued leather colors missed like old friends. Remember that tobacco color? That nicotine kangaroo?
Dean Jackson (Hobbs, NM) started making boots in 1983, when “it was tough going. Nobody talked to one another like they do now. Maybe the internet has helped, but people are more willing to share advice and supplies than before.”
Lee and Carrlyn Miller (Texas Traditions in Austin, TX) brought some beautiful vintage cowboy boots made by Charlie Dunn, Lucchese, Willie Lusk and others. They sat on top of the boot shop’s glass case, but everyone who stopped by picked them up and joined the show and tell.
Folks wandered between the tables on the lawn and Dustin’s shop all day. The only time everyone cleared out of the shop was when Dustin gathered everyone up for a few words, equal parts blessing and prayer, just before the BBQ was served.
“Dear Lord, we thank You for gathering us here today… We thank You for safe travels for everyone who made it here today. We thank You for the people who have paved the way for us… Lord, we ask that You bless this meal…Lord, we pray that You always guide our hands, guide our eyes; that the two would work together as we are doing what we do.” Amen.
How long before something becomes a tradition? That depends who you ask.
Ask about the “first” bootmaker gathering and you will hear stories going back two, nine and twenty-nine years. Kathy Kimmel remembers going to the “first gathering” at the fairgrounds in Burnet, Texas. “Just tables and chairs and sitting and talking …kind of like this.” That was in 1989, when bootmaker Jack Reed and saddlemaker Sam Harris sent the invites for a “Boot & Saddlemakers Roundup.” That grew to become the trade show in Wichita Falls that we know today.
It was Duck Menzies and Doug Collins who planned the next social get-together nine years ago – first, “behind the grocery store,” then, at Johnny’s BBQ in Salado. Duck had a talent for bringing people together and helping new bootmakers feel like they belonged. Thanks go to Lee and Carrlyn Miller, who brought everyone together again once Duck passed away. Duck, Steve Martin and Carl Lichte were all remembered and missed this year.
Dustin Lauw may have moved Duck’s boot shop from Temple to Salado, but the shop is just the same, right down to the spot where the hammer sits on the bench. For anyone who ever visited Duck’s shop, this makes you feel right at home. And with the hospitality of the Lauw family, the Spring Bootmaker Gathering continues to be a place where even good friends get to know each other better…Did you know that Alan Bell hasn’t owned a pair of shoes in 45 years?!
For information about next year’s event, contact Dustin Lauw (254) 681-5300.
Duck’s Heritage Cowboy Boots
11095 Brewer Road
Salado, TX 76571
Closing Its Doors: Pilgrim Shoe & Sewing Machine Co.
By Lynn Ascrizzi
For 67 years, Pilgrim Shoe & Sewing Machine Co. played an important role as a supplier of new and rebuilt machinery and replacement parts for the shoe manufacturing and repairing industry. And, for a number of decades, it braved the sharp decline of the U.S. footwear industry, which began in the 1970s.
But by 2013, company president, Harris Feierstein, saw the need to relocate the Massachusetts business from Quincy to Woburn. “The industry shrunk to the point where, economically, it didn’t pay to maintain a 14,000-square-foot building (in Quincy) and all the equipment in it. I had to diversify to survive. I sold all the equipment and transferred only the essential parts,” he said.
For the past five years, the company no longer sold machinery for shoemaking and repairing. Instead, it specialized in replacement parts and in related items, like brushes, polishing wheels, needles and awls. His customers included a variety of other leather industries — makers of saddles, handbags, sandals and holsters.
But now, Feierstein, 79, is closing shop. “My doors will be shut in mid-April, 2018. I’m clearing out inventory. I’m selling it to machine companies, wholesalers and anyone else who wants to buy whatever they need. I’ve got approximately two-thirds of my inventory remaining. I still have a number of operating parts, and hard-to-find, new internal parts for primary machines, like Landis sole stitchers, Fortuna skivers and for 29K Singer patching machines,” he said.
Those affected most by Pilgrim’s closing will be shoe repair shops or diverse leatherworking businesses, here and abroad, who depended upon the company for hard-to-find parts.
“At any given time, I had over 20,000 parts, including many for real-old machines. So, it might only cost a business $500 to put an old machine back in operation. The only other option for that business was to spend $5,000 for a new or reconditioned machine,” he estimated.
One product line he had specialized in was replacement buffing and polishing wheels. “All the prior companies that used to represent those products, were no longer here in the U.S. I provided a definite service, mainly selling parts that people couldn’t get anywhere else, short of buying a new machine,” he said.
He acknowledged that a lot of new entrepreneurs are going into making their own footwear, saddles and all kinds of leather products. “And that’s a wonderful thing. But they buy only what they need, when they need it. That’s narrowed the field for whoever was left in the industry to absorb the bulk of the parts,” he said.
Pilgrim’s closing also marks the end of a two-generation, family business. Feierstein’s father, Julius Feierstein, founded Pilgrim in 1951. His son joined his father in 1956 and officially took over the business in 1997. His father died at the age of 92, in 2000. “He was working every day,” his son said.
Pilgrim Shoe & Sewing Machine Co. was truly a survivor during the rapid decline in the U.S. shoe and repair industry.
“Twenty-five years ago, the shoe industry went overseas, including all the shoe machine equipment, which created a tremendous void in shoe machinery, in the U.S. That caused the importation of new, foreign machines. The industry in the U.S. dropped from approximately 600 shoe factories, down to 25, and the shoe-repair business dropped from 100,000 down to 6,000. At the height of the shoe industry, we employed 17 people, and today, I have two, plus myself,” he said.
“There is a lack of qualified mechanics to repair these machines,” he added. “There is no new American machine manufacturing for shoemaking or shoe repairing left in the U.S., today.”
He pointed out that people could buy a limited number of new machines in the U.S. And, they have the option of buying reconditioned American-made machines. “But, it’s getting harder and harder to find the replacement parts for older machines.”
Feirestein decided to close Pilgrim for both personal and business-related reasons. “I’m planning retirement, and I lost my wife, Janice, of 58 years, a month ago,” he said, this past January. “It’s not that I wasn’t going to close, but that made a final decision for me.”
He will miss many aspects of the business. “It’s a wonderful industry, something I’ve always thoroughly enjoyed — talking with people and resolving their problems,” he said. After retirement, he plans to travel and spend more time with his two grown children and nine grandchildren.
And, for at least a year after he retires, Feirestein said that he plans to help people who might have questions about locating parts for shoe repairing and manufacturing, if they email him.
Pilgrim Shoe & Sewing Machine Co.
150-V New Boston Street
Woburn MA 01801
2018 CSMA (Colorado Saddle Makers Association) Winter Seminar
HELD JANUARY 26-28TH in SALINA, UTAH
By Danna Burns-Shaw
Burns Saddlery graciously hosted the CSMA Winter Seminar at their manufacturing facilities located in Salina, Utah January 26-28th.
Artisans and craftsmen traveled from six different states to attend the fun, informative event. Burns’ 13,000 square foot manufacturing facility was transformed into a campus for higher-learning as the nearly 100 attendees came together to share knowledge, techniques, and friendship.
Braydan Shaw, 6th generation owner of Burns Saddlery, kicked off the event with an informative, interesting lecture on doing business as an independent entrepreneur after which Matt Wanner rounded folks up and took them into the saddle shop to give a hands-on demonstration on how to make a cell phone sheath, as seen in Shop Talk! Magazine.
After a tasty lunch, Trevor Alexander, assisted by Shane Deeter and Matt Wanner, gave a helpful demo on how to put a padded inlay seat in a saddle which was followed by a fascinating demonstration on braiding a cantle binding by Loren Skyhorse.
Closing out a busy, exciting first day, the attendees were treated to a delicious dinner (sponsored by Burns) at the local Firehouse, a block from Burns Saddlery. Outstanding food was prepared and generously furnished by Rochelle Horne, controller for Burns, along with Angie Shaw, Burns production office manager, Candace Jensen, Shop Talk! Magazine’s office manager and Susan Williams, Burns Saddlery’s manager.
Saturday’s seminar kicked off with a demonstration on covering a horn by Drew Holdaway, assisted by Trevor Alexander and Daniel Dudley.
After lunch, a fun hands-on floral tooled belt demonstration was given by Matt Wanner, Audrey Austin and Julia Clements. Over 60 people participated making their own floral tooled belt. This demonstration included lots of tapping, carving and hammering, as each person created their own belt out of leather donated by the hosts Burns Saddlery.
Saturday night, an amazing Chuck Wagon Dinner was graciously donated and prepared by master leather craftsmen, and outstanding caterer Jon Judd of San Rafael Works from Castle Dale Utah. He was assisted by his lovely wife Cindy.
After dinner, folks gathered back at Burns Saddlery to participate in a Texas Hold ‘Em Tournament, where the winner Steve Morrison received a 20X Burns Custom Hat.
Sunday was a short day that included a full breakfast, a chance to finish belts and a lecture given by Bob Brenner about light weight saddles. He also made plans for members to build two saddles at the next CSMA Seminars.
2018 Spring Seminar
April 20-22, 2018
Travel Lodge Ball Room
Grand Junction, CO
Coordinator: Bob Bennett
2018 Fall Seminar
September 28-30, 2018
Castle Rock, CO
Coordinator: Brian Warner
Cowboy Arts and Gear Museum Opening
By Cristina Faulconer
Elko Nevada was bustling early February and it wasn’t just due to the annual National Cowboy Poetry Gathering. The excited anticipation of the opening of the new Cowboy Arts and Gear Museum also brought in some colorful characters. The museum, which was a two year labor of love, was the partnership of John and Susan Wright of J.M Capriola and NVEnergy with John’s mother, Paula in mind.
“Initially this was a dream of Paula’s. She knew that the building was Garcia’s home and shop. I’m just so pleased we could bring it to life in her honor,” John Wright said.
The museum is four doors down from J.M Capriola Co. in the old G.S. Garcia building in historic downtown Elko.
The museum building, at 542 Commercial Street, was once the center of the community where ranchers, miners and businessmen could appreciate the business G.S. had created. G.S. Garcia moved from California in the late 1800s to Elko where he immediately saw the need for exceptionally made gear in the Great Basin area. His gear quickly became some of the most sought after and recognizable gear on the market. Demands were high. In the early 1900s the family business moved back to California and stayed there until the 1970s when J.M Capriola acquired the business and brought it back to Elko.
The grand opening was nothing short of grand. The museum, which was filled wall to wall with visitors, was buzzing in awe and appreciation. “Everyone who walked in was touched. Doesn’t matter your age, this museum is truly for everyone,” Wright noted. As you walk through and see the many beautiful bits, spurs, saddles and other cowboy gear, much of the collection from the Garcia vault, you can’t help but smile at the American artistry that has inspired many today.
In the future, John and Susan hope to host gear building classes on the second floor of the museum. Wright says their goal is to “encourage and preserve the arts”. They hope to have saddle, bit and spur making classes, along with other trade classes that the museum’s audience appreciates.
You could find just about anyone among the crowd of folks who attended the event from the traditional cowboy to next-generation enthusiasts. Even the granddaughter of Garcia himself attended the event. You could even find The Outside Circle, a crew of musicians that celebrate the art of the cowboy lifestyle, who ended up playing a few impromptu tunes outside the museum.
Deemed the “guardians of tradition”, John and Susan emanated the feeling of gratitude towards all that helped bring this dream to life. That feeling brought collectors and artists together for their appreciation of this art and lifestyle. “Cowboys are never thought of as artists but most of them are… to the core!” exclaimed Wright.
The museum opening is not the beginning or end of an era but merely a continuation of the preservation and appreciation of the ranching and cowboy lifestyle. The crowd at the opening made that apparent. The current exhibit of Garcia memorabilia is one you shouldn’t miss. Many congratulations and thanks to the Wrights, NVEnergy and all who contributed in making this happen, continuing this wonderful piece of history and keeping ranching nostalgia present.
To donate to the museum please visit https://cowboyartsandgearmuseum.org
Cowboy Arts and Gear Museum
542 Commercial Street
Chester Hape Passes
By Nick Pernokas
On November 23, 2017, legendary saddle maker Chester Hape passed away after a long battle with Parkinson’s disease.
Born William Chester Hape, on March 3, 1935, Chester was raised in a ranching family around Sheridan, Wyoming. In the 1940’s, Chester hung out at Rudy Mudra’s saddle shop in Sheridan. He was fascinated by the leatherwork, and began trying to tool leather at the age of twelve. By the time he was sixteen, he was making belts and purses, and he considered himself a “fairly decent” tooler. He rode bareback broncs and roped calves in his late teens. In 1955 Chester joined the army, and was stationed in Germany as a paratrooper with the Eleventh Airborne. He developed a love for flying and jumping, as well as physical fitness and running in the service.
In 1958, Chester went to work for Lloyd Davis in his saddle shop. In 1959, Chester married Wanda, and went to work for Otto Ernst Saddlery for $1.75 an hour. Chester was just doing tooling for Ernst, but he met a young saddle maker named Don King, who was building saddles for Ernst. Don tutored Chester in saddle making, and Chester built two saddles under his guidance. Soon Chester was building saddles for the Ernst Shop.
In 1963, Chester went out on his own. He fixed up an old chicken barn on his dad’s ranch, and built saddles for himself, as well as doing piecework for Don King. In 1963, Chester got the contract to build the trophy saddles for the Northwest Ranch Cowboys Association. This was followed, in 1976, by a contract with the PRCA to build their trophy saddles. This continued for fourteen years, and allowed him to make fancy, fully carved, and silver mounted saddles which were seen and noticed by many people outside of Wyoming.
Eventually, according to Chester, the PRCA became more “bottom line” oriented.
“I couldn’t give free saddles like some of the bigger companies could, so it was time for me to get out,” said Chester.
Chester had made a name for himself with the beautiful, intricate, Sheridan style tooling that he did. He became inundated with orders for gift items. As busy as he was in his shop though, Chester continued to run a Hereford cow calf operation for many years.
“I could build saddles all night, and bale hay all day, if I had to,” said Chester. He always felt that his experience on the back of a horse gave him an advantage in building saddles. “It’s like a guy who builds race cars but doesn’t know how to drive.”
After his kids were grown, Chester took swimming lessons, and found that he enjoyed that. Originally his goal had been to run triathlons, but he developed a new love for windsurfing. For almost two decades Chester “chased the wind” from the Columbia River Gorge, to places like Venezuela, The Dominican Republic, and Maui.
When problems with his hands and eyes started hampering his saddle work, Chester quit because he didn’t want to turn anything out that was less than a hundred percent.
He is survived by his three children, Camille, Juanita, and Wayne, and a sister, Jackie. He will always be remembered by those of us in the leather community for his contributions to the Sheridan style of leather tooling.
Pendleton Leather Show Connects U.S Suppliers to Northwest
By Liisa Andreassen
The sixth annual Pendleton Leather Show proved to be a fun weekend for all. Held during the first weekend in November at the Pendleton Convention Center in Pendleton, Oregon, people gathered to learn new skills, hone old ones and to compete in the Roughout Saddle Contest.
“We’re happy to say that this was our best year yet for attendance and vendors,” says Vandy Douglas, the event’s coordinator. “We had about 800 in all.”
Douglas says that they started producing the show in 2012. Prior to that it was organized by Ferdco Sewing Machines and was started approximately 20 years ago by the Leather Crafters & Saddlers Journal. The purpose of the show is to unite suppliers form all over the U.S. with customers in the Northwest.
Leather-friendly town; leather-friendly classes
Historically, Pendleton is a leather-working town and also home to one of the best PRCA rodeos in the country. It’s a very leather-friendly town and has at least five leather/saddle shops – and that’s just in the downtown area. According to Douglas, Hamley’s and Severe Brothers are the most famous.
“We’ve revitalized the show with the help of the Pendleton community and leather industry,” Douglas says. “Hamley’s hosts a reception for all of our participants at their historic Slickfork Saloon. There’s live music and a fabulous Western atmosphere.”
The Pendleton Leather Show consists of classes beginning Thursday of the show week and continues throughout the show. Classes cover basic subjects like basket stamping to more elaborate projects like tooling and painting iPad cases decorated with ospreys and trout.
For example, classes included:
- Basics of design and engraving by Nevada Watt
- Braiding an eight strand kangaroo bracelet by Beaner Flaten
- Fundamentals of sharpening tools and swivel knives by Paul Zalesak/On the Edge
- iPad case decorating with tooling and paint by Annie Margarita
- Sewing machine fundamentals by Leather Machine Co.
- Tooling and painting leather boxes and notebook covers by Ed LaBarre
The Roughout Saddle Contest is an event highlight. It’s the only contest of its kind with a comprehensive and extensive scoresheet that was created just for this event. The scoresheet is designed to provide immediate and specific feedback to the entrants so they can improve their work accordingly.
This year’s expert judges were: Pedro Pedrini, Randy Severe and Conley Walker. Each contestant paid a $150 entry fee to enter one of two categories – novice for those who have built less than five saddles; and open for everyone else.
Door prizes and raffles were popular with the crowd too. People have a chance to win “Leather Dollars,” which are $100 vouchers that can be spent with any vendor at the trade show. Gift baskets and hand-tooled leather items were among the prizes. Tandy Leather, Frogjelly Leather, Leather Wranglers, Bee Natural Leathercare, The Turquoise Arrow, Richard Stapleman Boots all donated door prizes.
Planning for the 2018 show has already begun.
“We may even have a new exhibit of hand-crafted Western items that we’re very excited about,” Douglas says. “But we’re keeping that under wraps for a few months until we work out the details. We’ll also be working to attract more saddle makers for the contest and plan to use all the integrated classrooms to their fullest. Every year we add a little more to the show and every year we strive to make it the best show yet.”
For more information, visit: www.pendletonleathershow.com.
Roughest Saddle Contest Winners
Novice 1st Place
Novice 2nd Place
Open 1st Place
Court’s Saddlery Closes
By Nick Pernokas
Kathy Court of Court’s Saddlery in College Station, Texas, recently announced that the historic business will close its doors by the end of November. Established in 1956 by Tony and Zella Court, Court’s Saddlery was unique in that the ownership had remained in their family for over fifty years of operation. They also enjoyed an excellent reputation in the western wholesale business, furnishing products and supplies to many other saddle shops and stores. At one time Court’s had a traveling salesman who would call on saddle shops and bring them supplies. In the roping world, the Dee Pickett Roping Saddle demonstrated how an endorsement could be successful, and the saddle has been ridden by many ropers over the years.
On January 9, 2011, a fire burned the venerable saddlery to the ground. The only building left standing was the one that housed the nylon products. Included in the complex of destroyed buildings were the offices with all of Court’s records. Within a few months they were operating out of temporary buildings. The old buildings had been grandfathered into to the new zoning regulations. Now they could not rebuild on the original site. Still, over the next few years they rebuilt their business on a different site.
“I don’t think we ever recovered completely from the fire” said Kathy. “That was really devastating, and it was like starting a brand new business all over again. We gave it 100 percent but I don’t think we ever completely recovered.”
Kathy also feels the way in which the market has changed and the rise of internet retailing really affected their business. Court’s found it hard to compete with internet sites that didn’t require a brick and mortar store to operate out of. Unfortunately this seems to be where many younger customers are shopping these days. Jimmy and Kathy Court had been involved in running the business since 1974. Many of their employees have been with the business for forty years. Kathy said that most of them have been finding jobs and were encouraged to leave when they did. Jimmy and Kathy’s son, Tony plans to continue his own custom saddle business.
Court’s Saddlery leaves behind a void that won’t be filled in the memories of those of us in the leather industry.
YEE-HAW! Another Great ‘Roundup’
Leather goods were flying at the 2017 Annual Boot & Saddlemakers Trade Show
By Lynn Ascrizzi
To Kathy Kimmel, the Annual Boot & Saddlemakers Trade Show, held in Wichita Falls, Texas, shines a welcoming, bright light on her long, leatherworking career.
“I consider it a blessing in my life,” she said, of the popular event that she and her husband Eddie have co-organized for 29 years. “I love it! The closer I get to show time, the more energy I get. I love the whole idea that people in the business can get in touch with each other. I love the vendors. It’s nice to see them meet with customers, one on one. At the show, you can do business and get to see friends.”
After the showgoers head for home, however, she misses all the fun and excitement. “I’m let down when it’s over,” she said. But then, there’s always next year!
Kimmel and her husband co-own Kimmel Boot Company, in Comanche, Texas. They bring to the show a ton of experience and a hometown touch that fosters a sense of community between custom leatherworkers and vendors.
The two-day trade show, also known by the boot and saddle crowd, as the “Roundup,” was held this year on Friday and Saturday, Oct. 6 – 7. The event, set once again at the Wichita Falls Multiple Purpose Event Center (MPEC), attracted about 1,100 attendees, not counting the vendors, Kimmel said.
The roughly 42,000-square-foot show area that the Kimmels provide, allows exhibitors plenty of exhibit and storage space, plus room to hold free teaching seminars — sessions where folks can pick up, in an informal and relaxed setting, expert, how-to leatherworking tips, such as, “pegging and stacking heels” “crimp boards and lasts,” “leather carving,” “economics of a one-man boot shop,” and “fitting the customer’s foot.”
This year’s lively event drew about 60 vendors. For leatherworkers, the Roundup is a great place to find thousands of must-have products under one roof — fine leathers, saddle trees, boot lasts, hand tools, hardware, findings, stitchers and other machines, steel cutting dies and clickers, silver buckles, conchos and trim, and plenty more.
“Leather was flying out of there, and the Leather Machine Co. (of Ontario, California), sold half of their inventory,” said one enthusiastic participant. “It was reassuring for the industry and exciting to witness. It was also good to meet some of the incredible saddle and bootmakers from the Midwest and South. They were so humble and kind — wonderful people. The crowds were good and everyone seemed happy to be there.”
Kimmel gave a big nod to the vendors. “Without their support, there would be no show,” she said.
RECOGNIZING THE TALENT
Besides helping to promote the custom leather industry, the Boot & Saddlemakers Trade Show nurtures a deep sense of pride and appreciation for the extraordinary set of skills involved in handcrafting leather. This gratitude is given expression each year, through its boot and saddle contests.
The saddle contest was organized this year by Pebble Brown, co-owner with her husband, Robert Brown, of Brown’s Custom Leather. The Browns literally live and work in Paradise — a small city in northeastern Texas, home to about 460 souls.
“It really is paradise,” she said. “We like to think so. I do the boot tops; he does the bottoms, to make sure they fit. We’ve been running full time for about two years. We have three grown kids and five grandchildren. Our son, Patrick, comes and helps when we get behind,” Pebble Brown said.
Their shop typically makes holsters and gun belts. “We don’t make saddles. We repair them. We’re the only repair shop for miles, and folks come from far away,” she added. Their business keeps their workshop tools humming, which include top and heavy stitchers, a curved needle machine (for attaching soles), finishers, burnishers and a post machine (for lacing boots). “We guarantee our boot repairs are out in a week. On other stuff, like saddles — it’s three weeks. I also repair purses and horse blankets.”
They buy a lot of leather at the trade show — “exotic stuff, like ostrich,” she said. “If you order online, or call, you don’t get to see what the leather you want looks like. There are so many different textures. We’re spending a lot on exotics, so we want to make sure we get the best we can. We do most of our shopping for the year at the show.”
The Browns have been coming to the Roundup for about 20 years. “It gives us a chance to get out of the shop and visit with people. We get a couple of days off. People are of the same mindset. We learn a lot of new things,” she said.
Master bootmaker Mike Vaughn, owner and operator of Mike Vaughn Handmade Boots in Bowie, Texas, honchoed the boot contest. “I kind of feel like there’s a lot of camaraderie in the boot and saddle industry,” Vaughn said, reflecting on the high level of good-natured cooperation at the show. “And, you get to visit vendors face to face, instead of over the phone.”
Besides coordinating the boot contest, Vaughn, a bootmaker for 37 years, took time out to do a little shopping. “I bought another piece of equipment — another top stitcher machine — a Singer. I also got a lot more hand tools, like edgers and knives, from Bob Douglas of Sheridan, Wyo. And, I bought some calfskin from Greg Carmack of Carmack’s Custom Boots, of Waco, Texas.
“I really enjoy seeing all these guys and gals. The show is a good opportunity to see other people’s work. It never hurts to look at someone else’s boots and to critique yourself. If you’re struggling, you can pick other people’s brains, if what they’re doing looks better than what you’re doing. . . . Pretty much everybody I know there will sit down and help you,” he said.
Vaughn observed, however, that bootmakers are in danger of becoming a rare breed. “Without a doubt, there needs to be more young people in the custom bootmaking trade. That’s why a lot of us have a backlog of orders! In today’s world, everybody wants instant gratification. It takes years to learn bootmaking. You can’t learn it in two weeks. I’m 52. There’s probably only a handful of bootmakers that I know who are in their 50s. Most are in their 60s to 80s. We need more young ones in their 20s and 30s. That group is getting really, really small,” he said.
Pebble Brown, 50, agreed. “Not as many people know the trade, as there used to be,” she said. But, she also sees encouraging signs. “There were quite a few ‘kids’ among the saddle contest entries. Twenty-somethings. Probably half the entries were younger people. One of the young men who entered the contest was interested in the older type saddles — like the ones made in the late 1800s to early 1900s, especially, the high-back saddles,” she recalled.
KUDOS TO CONTEST WINNERS
The following is a list of the 2017 winners of the Boot & Saddle Contest, held this fall at the Boot & Saddle Trade Show in Wichita Falls. Altogether, eight bootmakers and 18 saddlemakers took part in the two contests. An awards program was held Oct. 7, on the last day of the show. The entries were not judged by contest coordinators. Instead, three anonymous judges were selected.
The journeyman and open division winners listed below were awarded an engraved, trophy buckle. Winners in the intermediate class were awarded plaques.
- Journeyman Boot — Billy Cannon, Blakely, Ga.
“There are always new bootmakers coming in, which is why you have the journeyman division for people who make 15 pairs of boots a year, or less,” explained master bootmaker and contest coordinator, Mike Vaughn.
- Intermediate Top Stitching — Alan Franklin, Mineola, Texas.
“This division was created several years ago. It’s for those fresh out of the journeyman class, who can’t compete against people with 30 to 35 years experience. I remember when I first competed, there was no such class. I had to compete against the guys doing it all their lives,” Vaughn recalled.
- Intermediate Working Cowboy Boot — Matt Hopson, Bowie, Texas.
- Open Top Stitching — Carl Chappell, St. Jo, Texas.
“The open category is for bootmakers who have been making boots for a living for many years. It’s a professional division,” Vaughn said.
- Intermediate Dress Boot — Jim Brainard, Parker, Colo.
- Open Dress Boot — Edwin Boche, Burleson, Texas.
“Dress boots are those that might be worn with a suit or slacks. They might be made with exotic leather and have a little more ornate work or inlays,” Vaughn explained.
- Shop Boot — Tejas Custom Boots, Houston, Texas.
“The shop boot division is for folks who have more than one person working in their workshop. All the other boots were made by one bootmaker. There was no master bootmaker category this year, because we only had one entry,” he said.
Winners were awarded engraved belt buckles.
“This is my second year of running the saddle contest,” said coordinator Pebble Brown. “We’re trying to build it back. Last year, we had 12 saddlemakers enter the contest — this year, 19. Next year, we’re planning to send everybody a newsletter and take more time to get entries.”
- Working Cowboy — Pete Matherne, Houma, LA
“This division is for heavy-duty, well-made saddles that can withstand all kinds of everyday use and cattle working — a good saddle to rope off a calf or do whatever work a cowboy needs to do,” Brown said. The saddle can have tooling and design,” she added. “Matherne’s was the sturdiest saddle. Everything he incorporated into the design fit together well.”
- Geometric Design— Junior Miller, Junior’s Custom Saddlery, Millersburg, Ohio.
“Geometics use stamping tools. You have to get the stamp lined up exactly, and some of the tools are complicated. Basket weave and meander tools require planning, to get the stamp to do what it’s supposed to. You don’t just hammer and stamp. You can get frustrated real easy if you mess up while doing something important. Miller’s geometric designs were very striking,” Brown said.
- Open Floral Design — Mike Eslick, Mountain View, Okla.
“Those entering this division could use any floral design they choose and also incorporate a little geometric design if they wanted, say, for a border. The majority of the floral designs, like the Sheridan, are commonly seen. Eslick’s design was original and unique, not a flower that everybody does. He designed it himself.”
- Novice — Russ Gottlob, Diamond G. Leather, Winfield, Kan.
“The novice category is generally a class of people in their 20s to mid-30s, who are starting out,” Brown said. His (Gottlob’s) was a working saddle, put together very well. The overall appearance was good, and it was built like a working saddle needs to be built.”
Boot & Saddle Makers Trade Show
Kathy and Eddie Kimmel
Kimmel Boot Co.
2080 CR 304
Comanche, TX 76442
Fax: (325) 356-2490
Mike Vaughn Handmade Boots
Bowie, TX 76230
Shop: (940) 872-6935
Cell: (940) 867-2173
Brown’s Custom Leather
Pebble & Robert Brown
1820 County Road
Paradise, TX 76073
Horse Slaughter Ban is Lifted
Below is a letter James Cox, owner of Moser Leather Company sent to the Trump Transition Team on behalf of the leather industry on November 11, 2016. He would like to share it with the Shop Talk! community in light of a recent lift on a ban that will allow horses to be slaughtered at meat processing plants in the U.S. again. The horse slaughter ban has mostly been in force for more than a decade. The ban is enforced by blocking the Agricultural Department from providing inspectors at meat plants that slaughter horses and is in place through September 30. There are no horse slaughter facilities operating the in U.S. at this time.
Congratulations on your win Mr. Trump and Mr. Pence! I campaigned heavily for you in my area, as well as many of my friends. We are businessmen, and feel that your team will implement policies to unleash the American Machine again, like Reagan did years ago. I do have some concerns about your possible trade policy that I would like to share, as well as some other points I would like to make.
I purchased what was left of a tannery back in 2002. We are now contract tanners. What that means is that we contract with companies here in the USA, as well as in Mexico to do our tanning. Most of the hides that we process in Mexico are USA hides that are sent there for processing, and then sent back here to be finished into a better product. What we do in Mexico is make a natural vegetable tanned product. This product is then brought back here and either colored, or hot stuffed with oils and waxes to make it an upgraded product for further manufacturing. We sell this leather to other companies for further manufacturing into belts, holsters, saddles, personal leather goods, upholstery, etc. Our leathers are used as components in many products. Sometimes the customer buys them in the natural state and does their own coloring or finishing; either way it is an important component in the process. I think if you are putting a duty on any import items, especially from Mexico and Canada (those in the Nafta agreement), that you should put an exemption on products that are considered a component. Whether this be a cut part, or a raw material that needs further processing, to be finished into a product. Because of the EPA regulations, there are only two all-vegetable tanneries left here in the United States. That being said, if the duty goes into place, the many other leather companies like our own that do finish work, or are distributors will be at a disadvantage. These two tanneries may not be able to keep up with the demand of industry. We provide a great service, and employ as many people as we can. We subcontract with many companies here in the USA for our cooperative efforts to provide leather to many small and large manufacturers here in the states. We work with chrome tanned tanneries here in the USA, who have upgraded their effluent and treatment systems to EPA standards (at their own expense), and help to keep many people employed at these companies. I have been to other countries where the government works with tanneries to build treatment plants that meet the standards for health and safety, and these governments actually help to share in the cost of those facilities instead of putting the cost on the tannery. This is the reason many of our own tanneries went out of business back in the 80’s. We are a small company, but we are holding on, and hope that you can get money back into the pockets of Americans to help spur our industry. Many of our products are paid for by people that have some disposable income. We have seen a decline in this due to the lack of good paying industrial manufacturing jobs. This is also shrinking to many degrees because of imports from China, India, and Pakistan on finished products especially in the horse and saddle industry. There are basically no duties on products coming over from those countries to the extent that belts, bridles, saddles, etc. are sold for a 1/3 of what it would cost us to buy the leather, fabricate a product, and have a decent markup here in the USA. This is where a duty would be most appropriate, finished products… not components or components subject to further processing like tanned leather. I would make myself available to your administration for any advice that I could give on the subject. I have been in this business for over 35 years myself, and my family many years before that. We not only sell our own leather, but we represent most of the tanneries in the industry, and sell leather and machinery for them through auctions and trade shows that we host for the industry. We do our best to sell and promote leather.
One of the other things that really hurt this industry and you could change for the better, is the Rule in place that does not allow any human consumption of horse meat in the USA, and the subsequent fall out of slaughter plants killing for this purpose. Lindsey Graham sponsored the law, which President Bush let go through. I am sure it was attached to something that was needed to pass at the time, or he would not have allowed it to happen. The humane society had filed lawsuits because they thought that horses were being handled cruelly. While I am sure this has happened on occasion, it is no worse than what has happened since this rule went into effect. When horses were being slaughtered here in the USA, there were sale barns all across the country that people in each of those regions could bring their horses there to sale. What this did, was create a market where people would buy horses for their own personal use, showing, working, etc., and in many cases rescuing them from the killer market buyers that were at each of those auctions. The killer buyers created the base price, which propped up the overall horse market. The personal buyers would pay more. This created an overall good market for the horse industry. Every time someone buys a horse for personal use, then they need a saddle, saddle accessories, jeans, boots, cowboy hat, spurs, shirts, etc. – the list goes on. Since this rule has gone into place, there has been a collapse in the market place. There are no longer localized auction barns… most of them has closed. There are very few killer buyers, because now, the horses are being trucked to Del Rios Texas, to a slaughter house in Aquina Mexico. This has created jobs for Mexicans, who are now exporting the meat to France, etc. There needs to be a killer market, as well as horse meat packers here in the USA to create jobs here, and bring the horse market back… which helps all of us in the industry. As a result of this ruling, the horse market has collapsed and people do not have a place to sell their horses for a profit. If they need to get rid of them because of a broken leg or some other problem, then there is no one wanting these animals anymore. Many times people are just turning them loose because they cannot afford to keep them, and the demand has went way down for anyone to take them. The horse dealers would have to feed them, and get them out west to an acceptable market in another country. Most of the localized horse dealers have quit selling horses because there are fewer places to buy them, thus creating a lower demand/prices for animals overall. Turning a horse loose to starve to death, is more cruel than transporting to a market!! Here is a link of some of the things we are currently up against, including the names of a couple of meat packers trying to do business here in the USA. Keep in mind, the hides at these packer plants can be used to produce leather here in the USA. Horween Tanning in Chicago, IL produces Cordovan… which is horse leather. Here are the links:
Moser Leather Company
48th Annual Harness Maker’s Get-Together Minutes
Courtesy of John Raber of Hillside Harness Hardware
July 21, 2017
The 48th Annual Harness Maker’s Get-Together was held at Hillside Harness Hardware. It was hosted by the John Raber family.
The meeting was called to order at 11:30 by Kevin Yoder. Kevin thanked the Rabers for hosting the auction and get-together.
John Raber thanked everyone for coming and gave a short report on the auction the day before. They had over 2400 lots and over 200 buyers. They had 3 auctioneers going most of the day and finished at about 5:30.
Allen Burkholder of Weaver Leather gave a demonstration on timing and repairing a sewing machine at 10:00. It was very worthwhile. A special thank you to Allen and Weaver Leather.
The minutes of our 2016 gathering were read by Kevin Yoder.
Committee members introduced were Andre Hostetler of Arthur, IL, Mark Brenneman of Springs, PA, Kevin Yoder of Nappanee, IN, Jonas Stoltzfus of Honeybrook, PA, Wayne Chupp of Fredericksburg, OH, Mose Beachy of Baltic, OH, and Reuben Byler of Middlefield, OH.
Former committee members present were Eli Schlabach, Dan Lapp, Atlee Yoder and Abe Miller.
Jim Weaver gave a short report on the auction at Weaver Leather in June. They had over 400 buyers. They had more lots of leather than ever and the prices were a little soft at the last. Tools and machinery were about average.
Tanners recognized were: Doug Morrison from Hermann Oak and Jim Cox from Moser Leather.
Also recognized was Scott Hanna from BioThane. It is their 40th year.
A special thank you to Bio Plastics for paying for the tent again this year.
Harness makers deaths in the last year were Eli Beachy, Keith Travis and Frieda Mast, wife of Myron Mast.
Longest in business was Ora Knepp started in 1959.
Newest in business was Amos Schlabach (Buckhorn Harness) started in April.
Most miles traveled was Dicky Harold (Harold’s Harness) from AR, over 900 miles.
Oldest man present was Dan Kauffman, 93 years old.
Shops present were: KY 3, IL 11, IA 5, MI 4, IN 12, OH 48, MD 2, NY 7, AR 2 and PA 35.
We had special grab bags again for children 17 and younger, then 18 and older registered.
Next year’s gathering and will be at M.D.Y. Harness in Middlebury, IN.
Door prizes were donated by:
Stauffers Harness Beiler Mfg.
Brenneman’s Leather Goods Sugar Valley Collar Shop
Weaver Leather Bowman Bits
Toledo Industrial Sewing Machine Bowman Harness
BioThane Hillside Harness Hardware
Fairview County Sales Chupp Brothers Wholesale
Troyer’s Rope Beachy’s Nylon Harness
Chupp Blacksmith Mid River Sales
Coblentz Collar Shop Broadhead Collar
Suggested meal price was $11.00 for adults.
B&B Boot Makers Gathering
Where friends meet to swap info about the craft
By Lynn Ascrizzi
This past May, the 8th Annual B&B Boot Makers Gathering was held in Salado, Texas, the town where this social event has been held for the past seven years. “It’s an artsy little town with a lot of antique and art shops and bed and breakfasts — a unique place near a major highway — Route I-35,” said Dustin Lauw, owner and operator of Duck’s Heritage Cowboy Boots, also located in Salado.
“It’s an annual social event, like The Boot & Saddle Makers Trade Show held in Wichita Falls,” Lauw explained. “This gathering provides another opportunity for leatherworkers to see each other in the middle of the year. It’s a small mix of the industry — most of us are very good friends. We talk about boots and our leatherwork. We don’t mind sharing information and the work we’ve done in the past six months. All kinds of people come, including some who never touched leatherwork.”
This year’s event, however, instead of being held at a local barbecue restaurant, was hosted by Lauw at his own workshop. It turns out, that the very first B&B Boot Makers Gathering had been founded and launched by his mentor, the late Texas boot maker, Duck Menzies. “It’s nice to carry on what Duck, my mentor, started,” he said. After Menzies passed away in 2014, Lee Miller, owner of Texas Traditions Cowboy Boots in Austin, Texas, handled the annual social event. He and his wife Carrlyn helped to organize the recent gathering, too. “This year, though, Lee handed the responsibility for the event to me,” Lauw said.
There is no membership or fee for the informal get-together. Those who attended this year’s event enjoyed a barbeque catered by saddlemaker Kenneth Wayne Duncan, owner of Duncan’s Saddle Shop in Killeen, Texas. And, the gathering attracted a whole bunch of talented boot makers and leatherworkers from all over Texas, and beyond, Lauw said.
One notable participant was Jennifer June of Concord, Calif., a leading expert on cowboy boots, past and present, and author of the highly praised, “Cowboy Boots: The Art & Soul” (2007). The 10th anniversary of her book was recognized at this year’s gathering, including a cake decorated to match the boot design on her book’s cover. June also posts cowboy boot information and advice at her blog site, dimlights.com.
Lauw, a fourth-generation leatherworker, apprenticed with Duck Menzies for 12 years. When Duck passed away, he inherited the business, including his mentor’s customer base and all the orders he had while running the workshop. Before he died, Menzies told him that the shop could be his, if he agreed to teach an apprentice, and eventually, pass the business on to that person. Then, Lauw relocated the business, formerly called Boots by Duck, from Temple, Texas to Salado. In fact, he designed and set up his new workshop to be almost identical with the original site he had apprenticed in.
Most of his business is spread by word of mouth, he said. “Business is good. I’m adjusting to not having a mentor, and I’m building my customer base. Currently, I have a 12-month backlog. I take extreme pride in my inlay work, the more challenging for me, the better. I think my work can carry its own weight in the boot-making trade.”
Although the date hasn’t yet been set, the 2018 B&B Boot Makers Gathering will be held next spring, in Salado.
In the meantime, in case you’ve been wondering what, exactly, B&B stands for — well, those initials kept a lot of event participants guessing, for quite a while. “Finally, someone figured out that they stood for ‘bitching & bragging,’ ” Lauw said.
Duck’s Heritage Cowboy Boots
11095 Brewer Road
Salado, Texas 76571
Dustin Lauw, owner & operator
For appointments & inquiries:
In loving memory of
Paige Marie Sorrell
May 10, 1997-May 12, 2017
Paige Marie Sorrell was born at home in Guthrie on May 10, 1997, the daughter of Dale and Lisa Sorrell. She found peace on May 12, 2017 at the age of 20 years and 2 days.
Paige was a bright and shining light—stubborn, wise, caring, generous, brave, and strong. She loved to read, she loved music, and she cared deeply about the rights of the downtrodden and oppressed. She made her first pair of shoes at age 12 and worked with leather after that. After graduating high school with straight A’s she received a full academic scholarship to the University of Central Oklahoma. A semester and a half later, she came home and said, “I hate college—I want to be a shoemaker.” She was an incredibly talented shoemaker and was known, loved, and respected throughout the world for her passion, her skill, and her personality.
Paige met Shane Colvin in June of 2016 and he quickly became the love of her life. She frequently remarked on how lucky she was to have found such a special relationship at a young age. Shane loved and supported her through the good times and the bad, and she leaned on his strength.
Paige Marie Sorrell is survived by her parents, Dale and Lisa Sorrell, her sister, Morgan Sorrell, and her love, Shane Colvin.
From Lisa Sorrell, Paige’s mother:
Paige took her own life on May 12, 2017, a victim of severe anxiety, depression, and anorexia. She fought her battles with grace, humor, and incredible bravery, and preferred that no one but her immediate family know of her struggles. We mourn the loss of such a special and wonderful life, and we refuse to speak of her illness or her death with shame. Mental illness is a real disease, and just like any other sickness, sometimes it wins.
SBS EQUINE Celebrating 30th Anniversary!
SBS EQUINE is celebrating its 30th year in business. SBS is a well-known pioneer and innovator of quality hoof care products.
Dr Rick Shakalis and Dr John Pautienis are considered the fathers of modern hoof sealants. Their scientific research and informative articles on hoof disease and other equine health related issues are highly regarded in the industry.
Ray Tricca, along with Drs Rick and John founded the company in Hyannis, MA in 1987. Their mission was to produce quality hoof care products that are based on sound medical principles and are safe for horses, humans, and the environment.
After 30 years, the company is proud to have lived up to this promise. It is interesting to note that the original founders still own and operate the business. SBS products are sold in over 70 countries. When asked about retiring or slowing down, Rick, John and Ray all agree that the frequent positive feedback they receive from farriers and horse owners is what gets them up every morning, “so why stop doing what you love?”
SBS manufactures over 20 hoof care products including SBS THRUSH STOP, which was named the #1 thrush remedy and “Product of The Year” in 2009 by THE HORSE-JOURNAL. Other well known SBS brands include – SAV-A-HOOF, TOE GROW, STARTING GATE GRANULES, TOPCOAT Hoof Conditioner, and SBS CRACK FILLER KIT II. For more information please visit www.sbsequine.com.
BS Trading Co. – From Tools to Hides
By Liisa Andreassen
Kenzie Lee Ratterree, e-commerce director for BS Trading in Burleson, Texas, says that while her father, Mark Ratterree, and his brothers, Troy and Rick Ratterree, were still in high school they got into selling tools at flea markets. Once the business became quite large, they were told they had to file as an official business with the state – and so it began. In 1978, they went to file for a business license and the burgeoning entrepreneurs were asked for their business name. They were stumped; no one had ever asked this before. They had a dog named BS, so they went with that. Today, the namesake continues.
“My grandparents, Bill and Betty, joined around this time also,” Kenzie says. “They continued selling tools at flea markets and then slowly got into rugs. Eventually, the tool side of the business evolved into air compressors and the rugs into cowhides to fit the changing markets.”
Evolving Markets Yield Change
When Bill and Betty retired in 2007, they split the company because it made more sense to have the air compressor and cowhide companies separate from each other. Additionally, they had outgrown their warehouse in Arlington, Texas. So Troy moved his compressor business to Grand Prairie, Texas, and Rick and Mark took over the cowhide business, expanding to use the entire Arlington location. Since then, BS Trading has continued to grow and they recently purchased a new, larger warehouse in Burleson.
BS Trading was primarily selling area rugs until the early 2000s. However, when many manufacturers started selling direct, the market became flooded. As a result, they had to start selling a few cowhides as area rugs. The market became more and more flooded with rug manufacturers and every major chain was carrying their own line of rugs, so BS Trading transitioned toward the cowhides.
“At first it was just the hide, but over the last 10 years we’ve started carrying every cowhide product imaginable – patchwork rugs, pillows, bags, table runners, coasters, placemats, can coolers, benches, ottomans and more,” Kenzie says. “Since being in the hide business we’ve started selling all kinds of other hides, including Tibetan lamb, Icelandic sheep, zebra, antelope, crocodile and much more. “
The company’s primary markets are retail stores and designers, but they also sell hides and Tibetan lamb to furniture manufacturers as well.
“We are solely a wholesale business, but sell anywhere from one piece to a designer for a custom job to several hundred pieces at a time to our larger retailers. When we sold area rugs, we had retail frontage at our location in Arlington,” Kenzie explains.
Ninety percent of the cowhides come from Brazil. The remaining 10 percent come from Argentina or Columbia, as they can get colors from these countries not commonly found in Brazil.
“Brazil tends to have better tanning quality, although both Argentina and Brazil have improved their quality in the last few years,” Kenzie says. “The Tibetan sheep is native to Northern China, so the product is made there.”
Currently, BS Trading’s best-selling cowhides are grey and champagne tones. The Tibetan sheep has also grown in popularity over the years and is a strong seller as well.
Consumer-Driven Sustainable Growth
With 11 full-time employees, BS Trading continues to be driven by the changing markets. They have a showroom in Denver, Colorado, open year round at the Denver Mart, a permanent showroom in High Point, North Carolina, and a showplace open during the major furniture shows twice a year. A small showroom is also set up in the company’s warehouse where customers can browse their inventory.
Custom orders are welcomed, especially on patchwork rugs. They have made rugs up to 20’ x 30’ for customers and can work with designs and colors to specification. They also do custom pillows and throws, as well as custom-order plates for upholstery, in Tibetan lamb.
The company’s plans for the future are to continue to build the brand and to become more user-friendly for the customer. They also hope to source different hair on items and to have running stock on their website, so customers will be able to pick the exact hide they are buying.
“We are willing to work with any company,” Kenzie says.
BS Trading Co.
253 Loy Street
Burleson, TX 76028
The Leather Company Buys Sunset Leather
New owner expects increase in customers and sales
By Lynn Ascrizzi
John Wright, owner of The Leather Company in Monterey, CA, had run his business for only one and a half years when he seized upon a chance to purchase Sunset Leather Company, based in nearby Pacific Grove, CA.
Sunset’s former owner, Harry Crawford, 72, a leather craftsman for 48 years, who was retiring, initiated the sale last summer. Despite the fact that Sunset’s sales had dropped about 15 percent in the last quarter of 2016, Wright couldn’t resist. He bought the company, April 1, 2017, for $175,000.
“It’s a big jump. The merger will bring an increase in sales. We’ll have more clientele — more awareness of the business,” he said, noting that before the purchase, retail sales at The Leather Company had been increasing.
The business attracted him for several reasons, he said. “Sunset had well-established accounts and certain equipment that I didn’t have in Monterey. Also, we were doing our manufacturing in a limited, 1,000-square-foot area, and our retail had to fit in a 400-square-foot space. Sunset has a 2,500-square-foot manufacturing area, with offices. And, we didn’t have splitting machines. Sunset had two, and much larger hydraulic clickers, as well as five trained employees. I only had two, freshly trained employees.”
A convenience factor helped sweeten the deal. The two leather facilities are only 2.2 miles apart, and Wright lives in Pacific Grove.
Prior to the sale, about 50 percent of The Leather Company’s business came from selling leather tools, supplies and finished goods, such as bags, belts and backpacks. Manufacturing made up about 40 percent of its business and how-to leather classes, roughly 10 percent.
“We’re hoping to move manufacturing from the Monterey store to Sunset and increase our retail operation in Monterey,” he added. “Sunset had its own little bit of retail, so, we’re moving their retail to Monterey. But, we’re still planning to keep a little manufacturing in Monterey.”
A hands-on leather craftsman for 30 years, Wright, 50, enjoys teaching advanced leather classes and is a creative participant in the process of making handbags and other leather goods. “I usually make the prototypes, and I’m a general grunt. When it comes to tooling or other aspects, those are jobs I do myself,” he said.
He first began doing leatherwork in a garage shop in Monterey. In 1990, he opened a brick-and-mortar business called The Leather Shop, in Morro Bay, CA. While running that shop, he traveled back and forth for five years, to Thailand. His goal — to build a leather company overseas.
In 2000, he sold his business in Morro Bay to an apprentice, moved abroad and launched TLS Leather Company Ltd. in the sparsely populated, rice-farming community of Loei Province in northern Thailand.
But, in 2011, he moved back to the states to be closer to family. He made frequent trips to Thailand to oversee his business and did leatherwork in a garage. Then, in October 2015, he opened The Leather Company in a 1,800-square-foot facility in Monterey. “I got out of the garage!” he joked.
Wright still heads up the Thailand company, which operates in a 6,000-square-foot workspace and has about 25 employees. The overseas business makes bags, belts, wallets and the like, mostly in exotic leathers, and sells leather supplies and tools. Today, Wright makes fewer, exhaustive trips abroad and manages his overseas business mainly via Skype, email and phone.
“It’s a lucrative, export business — a joint overseas partnership,” he said. I lived there for about 15 years, so I have experienced staff that handles the operation.” He speaks Thai and his staff speaks English. “I trained them (staff) to make things the way they’re made in the U.S. We get a better product, because of my direct influence.”
For now, the names of his two U.S. companies will remain the same. “We’re going to keep it Sunset Leather,” he said, of his recent purchase. “I’m running The Leather Company, Sunset Leather and TLS Leather Company Ltd. as separate DBAs, but under one company name — TLS Leather Company, LLC.”
Through the Sunset purchase, Wright has picked up a number of prime manufacturing jobs. “We’re making leather menu covers for new restaurants and guitar straps for Moody Premium Guitar Straps. We just got an order to make guitar straps for Eric Clapton,” he said, of the renowned, rock ’n roll guitarist.
His enterprise also makes leather golf accessories for Pebble Beach Company, of Pebble Beach, CA, and leather door hangers, please-do-not-disturb signs and desktop tablets for high-end hotels that furnish guest rooms with amenities made of leather.
Other customers include: Jennifer Haley Handbags of Boca Raton, FL, Camino Brands, LLC, based in Orinda, CA, with a line of fashion leather accessories, and Gustin, designers of men’s jeans, shirts and accessories. “We make little wallets and belts for them,” Wright said, of Gustin.
Prices for his leather products average from $30 to $600. “We do high-end, custom designed pieces, too. All our products, made here or abroad, are sold in the U.S. through TLS Leather Company, LLC,” he said.
The Leather Company
638 Lighthouse Ave.
Monterey, CA 93940
Sunset Leather Company
Russell Service Center
2088 Sunset Drive
Pacific Grove, CA 93950
(For information about TLS Leather Company Ltd., in Thailand, contact John Wright at The Leather Company.)