Archive for September 2012 | Monthly archive page
I grew up on a farm in Idaho before all this fooforaw we have now. You know, cell phones, endless choices of television channels to choose from, etc. Looking back, it seemed like a lot of time was spent entertaining myself when I wasn’t helping out on the farm. One of my favorite past times was tinkering around in my dad’s shop making something. The die was cast at a young age. Now in my fifth decade, I’m still tinkering around in the shop. I make little pieces of leather out of big pieces and sometimes I put flowers on them. My work is therapeutic. I’d do it for free were it not for a few economic realities that stand in the way. The little bit of joy that I can bring to people’s lives through my work makes it worthwhile. Sincere thanks to all of you who have made it possible for me to do what I do…family, friends, customers, critics, and otherwise ‘fans’.
It was about 1987, and I was trying to gain traction with my saddlemaking business with a main street location in Salmon, Idaho. I’d become acquainted with a local rancher who was related to an old timer in the area by the name of Sid Williams. Sid had been a mink rancher and did some commercial tanning. One of the things that Sid had been tanning for many years were beaver tails. My rancher friend suggested that I make bucking rolls out of this very tough leather. The first pair I made was half beaver tail leather and the other half was chrome tanned cowhide. I sewed the silhouette of a beaver on the cowhide side of each roll. I am quite certain that these were the first of their kind and I’ve wondered where these half breed bucking rolls wound up. Since then, I have made literally hundreds of pairs of beaver tail bucking rolls. I have never seen a hole worn in any that I’ve made over these many years. Sid Williams was my supplier of these tails until he became unable to do the work in his old age. Sid eventually passed away, but a relative of his by marriage had also been in the fur ranching business and did some commercial tanning as well. His name is Randy Shuff and he has been furnishing me with beaver tails for many years now. The tanning process he uses is almost identical to Sid Williams’ and is a solid color through the center of the leather and has the same rugged durability. Randy now supplies many others with beaver tails to be used primarily for bucking rolls. If you see any beaver tail bucking rolls, the chances are pretty good that the leather has been tanned in Idaho by Randy Shuff.
This is a nice letter from a customer:
After speaking with you the other day, I thought a lot about our conversations over the past couple years. When I first talked to you I thought maybe I was looking for something similar to a cutting saddle that I could rope on, and that somehow evolved into the saddle I am riding today. This all lead me to think about how your craft not only involves leatherwork, but also the challenge of communicating with your customers. I have no doubt as to your skill with leather. I did not, however, know about your skill in communicating with people. I feel better educated about the art and the craft of making saddles and how they are, whether the saddle maker acknowledges it or not, a way to express art as well as produce a very functional piece of equipment. “Form following function,” you said to me on more than one occasion. I also recall a conversation we had about the tooling you do in the seat of a saddle and how it is a shape of the cantle and the seat that dictates where the design is most suited. I really never did think that there was a particular place that a design would look best and that half an inch either too high or too low would make the placement unbalanced. Somewhere among our various exchanges about starting colts, my veterinary school experiences, or you sharing your philosophy on making saddles, you seemed to have a clear picture of the type of saddle I was looking for. Although we have not met, I feel that I have learned about how much pride you take in your work. Saddle making does not seem like just a job for you, but more an expression of you life’s work.
I remember a saddle that my brother had. It was a Will James type tree with a big round horn cap, probably larger than five inches. The saddle seemed to stand out to me. It didn’t have any fancy tooling, just a different stamping than I had seen and that covered about three-quarters of the saddle. It didn’t have a smooth flow, this was of course before I even knew what that meant. I just knew that the saddle design seemed abrupt. A large bill of a horn cap that jutted out over the front of the fork, and held in place by a skinny neck atop a bony set of shoulders. It had a very round cantle and round skirting. I was intrigued by it, I think because of its awkwardness and really its uniqueness. I thought about that saddle when I was talking to you about this new saddle. Although this saddle isn’t exactly what I was looking for, it gave me the idea of a larger horn with moderate swells and a fairly thick stock. I knew I didn’t want a Wade tree, I never did like how my Wade tree didn’t provide much of a brake to keep my leg from sliding forward in the event of uneasy waters. And the thought of having bucking rolls didn’t appeal to me, as it seems to detract from the look of a saddle. I wanted something there, but just not a jutting swell to bang my thigh on if my horse did indeed turn loose in a moment of uncertainty.
I just wanted to thank you for the opportunity to work with you. This is a very unique saddle that I have thought about for a long time and I thank you for your efforts, ability, and your diligence. I had an idea of what I was looking for when I first called you, and that changed over the next few years. I am glad your wait list was long enough that we could finally sort out what would suit me best.
The halfbreed saddle has become a classic over the last twenty years or so. Most of the ones I’ve made have been on a Wade tree. This was a nice exception…it is a Lewellyn tree made by Warren Wright. The front (fork) is thirteen inches wide and is covered without a seam. I’ve taken extra measures to present a clean look on the fork by not having a welt sewn in. It makes for an uncluttered look, but perhaps more importantly, it has no seam to catch and wear as time goes by. I was very pleased with the ‘architecture’ of this saddle, and it came in at 35.5 pounds (including latigos, cinches…ready to put on a horse). It is always a struggle to keep the weight down on a full size saddle (this one is 16″) and avoid the ‘parred down’ look of most light saddles. I accomplished this by installing a ring, inskirt rigging, using 11/12 oz. leather, and using single stirrup leathers.