What inspired you to become a bootmaker?
Necessity. My father was a lifelong rancher and after one summer working on his ranch at age 10, it was necessary for me to find something else to do in the summers and after school! Coming from a tiny town of less than 300, there were not a lot of employment opportunities for an 11 year old. So I jumped on the first opportunity that was available. He said “Can you sew welt?” I replied “What is welt?”
Who were your teachers? What was it like to learn from them?
I learned boots from Larry Jackson in Walnut Springs, TX. Larry ran a shop with a small daily production and I enjoyed learning from all the people that worked there. There was a never ending order pile and once a skill was learned, there was another operation that would be added to responsibilities. By my high school years, I could do all of the steps!
What were some of your early struggles and successes as a young bootmaker?
The struggles as an employee are distant and faint memories. The struggles as the owner of the shop that I grew up in (bought in 1997) are still very sharp in my memory. Fit was my main struggle. Mostly because “poor” fit stood in the way of payment for services. I discovered that I could build a last to measurements nearly every time–my main problem was customer’s perception of “fit” I struggled with satisfying each customer’s idea of fit, some wanted to stand and pull until red in the face and others wanted to not actually touch the boot when they put it on. My most memorable success was also Fit. Ben Nobody, an Oklahoma boot maker at the time, showed me his method for trial fit and I never had another issue with pleasing a customer with fit.
What advice would you give to young bootmakers just starting out?
My advice to young makers would be to practice patience and spend all the time required to master the operations of boot making. I think that several hundred pair need to go through your hands before proficiency and muscle memory can take over. I believe apprenticeship is the best way to learn, mostly because as an apprentice in a busy shop, lots of boots go through your hands and the Master of the shop can direct the apprentice at every step.
What are your hopes and expectations for the future of the craft?
I hope that the craft of boot making can grow and all those that are involved can prosper. My expectations for the future of the craft are mostly negative. I think that it is too hard to make a living at this trade in its current state. I believe that young people can do easier work for more money and that hand made footwear is less and less important to more and more of the public. These are not the ingredients for success. Maybe the values of a society are changing in a way that makes this kind of trade less relevant.
Waco TX 76712
The Cowboy Bootmakers. Memories and photos collected by Dana Perrotti, 2019.