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Bootmaking has always been more than a job to me. It's been more than a career, more than a craft. Truth being, it has been a challenge. I started at a time when many of the masters from the old country were retiring or dying. Quality instruction, accurate information, and even tools and materials were often difficult to obtain. Had it been easy, I would have lost interest. I took it as a challenge. Many a time I have been in the shop before 5:00 a.m.-and frequently I have awakened in the middle of the night with the answer to a perplexing question. When you are into your work that much, it can be a lot of fun.
The Beginnings
My formal training as a bootmaker started as a boy on my fathers horse ranch with him expecting me to do a man's work. I built fences and barns, shoed horses, mucked stalls, hauled hay, irrigated, delivered foals, repaired the pump, and on and on. This jack-of-all-trades beginning provided an excellent foundation for what became my career.

After spending a few years at Utah State University as well as two years in Brazil, I came to an unusual career choice: I wanted to become a bootmaker. In South America I had known two artisans who followed this trade, and I was very intrigued by their craft. Although my father was not a bootmaker, my grandfather, like many rural men of his time, repaired footwear for his family in addition to the harnesses and other horse tack.

My training in shoe and bootmaking started at the Lynn Shoe School (Lynn MA). After completing their program I commandeered a garage on my dad’s ranch for my boot shop, borrowed 5 grand from my father-in-law to be and bought a retiring shoe repairman’s shop in Salt Lake City, UT. I had brought four sewing machines home from MA with me on the train, along with some leathers and thread. I then bought a few pairs of lasts from Jones & Vining—and went to work building boots as I had been taught in Lynn.

I look back at those times with incredible mixed feelings. It was a great time because I was very excited and diving head first into something that was incredibly new and mentally delicious to me. Then there is the other side of the mixed feelings—let me explain like this: I once saw a poster that said: “hire a teenager—while they still know everything!” I wasn’t much more than a teenager, and I really did feel like I knew everything. But now, thirty years later I look back, and shake my head.

We were incredibly fortunate. Lou-Ann, my wife, was often in the shop helping out. Our expenses and overhead were very little: we weren’t having to pay rent on the shop space, nor on our home.

We were driving my old blue Chev pickup that had been paid for years ago. Materials for boots, at the time, were about one sixth of what they cost now. Essentially we only had to pay for utilities, groceries, and shop improvement.

So I went about the work of learning a craft and building a business—line upon line, precept upon precept. Frequently I would create learning opportunities.

Truth be known, most of my know-how came from early mornings and late nights in my own shop struggling over challenges brought to me by my clients and working against deadlines.

"Necessity is the mother of invention."

I still travel and visit with boot and shoemakers both at home and abroad; I have learned new skills from makers in Australia, Brazil, Italy, Germany, Canada, and Mexico as well as here in the U.S. I also gained a great deal from the years with Merrell Boot Co. Those times were enormously instructive and allowed me to work with boot-makers and pattern-makers in Europe whose trade heritage went back several generations.
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