What inspired you to become a boot maker?
Well……. Short answer, It was Jack Reed. The expanded version is a more complex. While working in a Shoe repair shop in 1985. One of my first jobs was to do patch work while doing so I became interested in how boots were made and the different materials used. What was fascinating to me was how did the boot begin and what were the steps that would turn leather into a finished boot that you could wear. Unlike today in the 1980’s there was no internet to research and find a boot making seminar to attend. Even if there had been I wouldn’t have had the money required to attend. Ha!
Who were your teachers? What was it like to learn from them?
My teacher was Jack Reed and he lived in Henderson, Texas. I found him through the Southern Leather Salesman that would call on us once a month. Back then as I recall they were called “shoe finders” and they sold “shoe findings”. I suppose because they traveled the country selling repair supplies they knew pretty much who was doing what in their area! At any rate through him I contacted Jack and told him I wanted to learn to make boots! Fortunately for me he agreed to let me come over in the evenings and learn on a “pay as you go” basis. I think he charged me like $8 an hour. Which I think minimum wage was $3.50 an hour. It was a bargain $8 an hour!!!
Jack was a good teacher. He did encourage me to take more notes and not rely so much on memory. Hard concept for a 19 yr old.
What were some of your early struggles and successes as a young bootmaker?
Some of my early struggles were making a boot look like the boot that I had drawn on paper. My early success was when I could finally make a boot look like I wanted it to and it no longer looked or fit like an irrigation boot!!
What advice would you give to young bootmakers just starting out?
For young bootmakers my advice would be to follow your dreams! You may have to work 2 jobs to support your bootmaking habit until you’re established. Just hang in there and don’t ever give up!!
My hope for the future of our craft is that there will continue to be a passion to make handmade custom fit boots!
PHOTO CAPTION: “This is where it all began, August of 1985. I was on a hiatus from college. The local boot repairman had passed away and the shop sat idle for sometime. I talked my Dad into co-signing a promissory note at the bank on the condition that I could find someone to teach me how to do the repairs. Joe “AJ” Berry was my teacher/mentor/boss for Boot and Shoe repair. I also learned other things from him, exposure to blues, soul music, home style cooking, and other things that I won’t or shouldn’t repeat here. He was in his mid 40’s at the time and I had just turned 19. We had some good times and he wouldn’t hesitate to abruptly correct me if I wasn’t doing things the way he had shown me! LoL He taught me how to run the curve needle. Which I’m still pretty proud of. He’s been gone a few years and I still have fond memories of him.” — Al Franklin.
Franklin’s Handmade Boots • Al Franklin
The Cowboy Bootmakers. Memories and photos collected by Dana Perrotti, 2019.