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Merrell Boot Company
Having been raised on a horse ranch, I loved western boots! I still vividly remember the pair of Tony Lama’s that I fell in love with when I was 16, saved my money for, and bought for myself. Naturally that is what I started out making. However, I had another love—love of the mountains and the canyons, the out-of-doors. I gained a love for backpacking as a 13-year old Boy Scout, a passion that I have maintained for 50 years now.

When I started making boots in ‘75, backpacking in the U.S. was still in its infancy. I wondered why the boots imported from Europe were so stiff and heavy. The Austrian made hiking boots I was wearing at the time weighed about 7 lbs. for the pair. After I became somewhat comfortable with my western bootmaking skills, I went to work making a few pairs of hiking boots. I continued to ask myself why the Austrian boots I was wearing need to be so heavy and rigid? I developed a dream of making hiking boots much lighter and more flexible–but yet durable. Lou Ann says I am a visionary man, and in this case she was right. It took some time for me to work out my design, and there was some hybridization between what I had been doing with western boots and our outdooring boots.

As we started making lightweight hiking boots, there was an explosion that took us totally by surprise. It was like going to the sink to get a glass of water and then trying to drink out of a fire hose! I had no idea of the pent-up need, desire, demand for made-to-measure, custom, hiking boots! I was completely overwhelmed with orders. At one time we had a four-year backlog—not a good way to do business.

About this time we were contacted by a couple of men from New England and, in time, the Merrell Boot Company was formed. The plan was to take my boot design and last—which was modeled after American feet—and go to Europe to have our boots made where they had many generations of heritage making high quality mountain boots. Wonderful European craftsmanship specific for American feet and American needs–and it worked!

I am often asked, “Are you the guy that started Merrell Boot?” Yes, that is my name, and there were three of us.

This was an interesting, exciting and heady experience for me. I was such a youngster in bootmaking taking my design and skills to Italy and later, Germany. Here I was surrounded by men with very, very deep roots in bootmaking. Instantly the uniqueness of my designs were praised. There were many other U.S. boot concerns making boots in Europe; we were not the first. Typically they would show up with drawings that would be turned over to the “modelist” (pattern maker) and the U.S. reps would wait in the anteroom or down the street at the restaurant or bar while the prototypes were made. With me it was a whole different situation. As a bootmaker with bootmaking skills—not only was I invited into the factory to assist with pattern making and boot making—I was drafted! They asked for my help with the cutting, the skiving and stitching—whatever needed to be done. This happened both in Italy and Germany. I had the run of the factories where they NEVER let visitors or strangers past the front office. It was a lot of fun, and a real ego trip for me.

For five years I was the Corporate President, having the responsibilities of getting the prototype work done in Europe, selection of materials and lasts, and responsibility of getting manufacturing done with quality and on time. Every year I made four two-week trips to Europe, plus meetings in Vermont and various trade shows. After five years it wasn’t fun any more. The last year I was with Merrell Boot I traveled well over 100,000 miles. The relationship between Lou and I was going downhill very fast, and my four sons wondered who this stranger was that occasionally walked in the door. We made the decision to step aside—a decision which we have not regretted. I went back to doing that which I loved: making custom boots in my shop, and teaching bootmaking.

Those five years, however, gave me training that dollars could never purchase. I worked with some of Europe’s greats such as Alfonse Meindl, Tony Vello, Piero Martinbianco. It is no longer called The Merrell Boot Company, simply Merrell.

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