Compleat Idler, Free Society, Humor

Boots – a tradition

(c) 2012 Earl L. Haehl Permission is given to use this article in whole as long as credit is given. Book rights are reserved.

Joaquin Ochoa and I were buddies in grade school in Arapaho County, Colorado. His dad worked at Highland Ranch when it was a ranch. It was in 1955 that I left to journey back to Nebraska where five generations of my mother’s family—both sides—had lived. But during the time we played together we mostly practiced roping and mounting horses and other stuff. At 10 Joaquin finally got permission to do Little Britches, a junior circuit rodeo taking its name from Ralph Moody’s book series that took place in Arapaho County. I did not. One of the disadvantages of a brain injury from breathing before I got out of the canal is a tremor and some loss of muscle control that my parents decided I might ruin my career as a scholar if my body got more screwed up.

Since I was 11 they offered me Scout Camp instead. And when my troop could not come up with a patrol, they let me spend an extra four weeks at my Aunt’s place in Wyoming. Scout camp was not really an acceptable option because I knew from my Uncle’s cowboys what kind of groupies they had at the rodeo and I was 11. But going to the ranch meant that I would get a decent pair of boots to wear for school.

We moved to a small town in Nebraska and then to the west coast. I went on to college and law school and a few jobs before my career as an investigator and administrator—a career being a job you stay at too long. Working retail after retirement I ran into Joaquin. He was involved in stock procurement for a rodeo circuit—having his MBA. His first reaction was to ask if my square toed boots were Tonys or Noconas.

Noconas—Mexican.” I replied.

Why?”

Can’t afford Lucheses.” After we both stopped laughing, he told me about Manuel Almanza, a custom builder in Fort Worth. He gave me a card and told to look the shop up.

As things were going I had been doing some security consulting for a small manufacturer near the airport so the next trip down I took a rental into Fort Worth—I remembered the Almanza brand etched into my Uncle’s square toes—it had taken fifty years to realize why he liked them. I had even practiced a little Spanish just in case. It was a little out of the way place and I went in. The guy who came out of the back said, “Buenos dias, Y’all. I’m Manny.”

Joaquin sent me.”

Yeah, he told me about you and I used to read your posts on the forum—you’re Lobo.”

A pair of black boots covered with dust caught my eye. “Something like those.”

My daddy made those for a Wyoming rancher back in the 70s. He died before picking them up.”

Probably my uncle. We called them old guy boots.”

Let me guess—you liked pointed toes.”

Casey Tibbs wore pointed toes.”

So he measured my feet with the Brannock device and made a tracing. A couple months later—after getting an email that the boots were ready—I went back down to Fort Worth to discuss my report and pick up the boots. I had more time because I was no longer working retail so I hopped in my little Tacoma and drove. I did not need to worry because the Life NRA sticker in my window was sufficient to mitigate the Kansas tag. The little wheelchair on the tag helped in parking.

I went in. As I looked at the counter there was a pair in my style, but they were too short. “Don’t worry Amigo,” Manny said. “I have yours in back. These boots were made for Joaquin.”

As a writer of fiction—I used to write budget justifications for state positions and equipment—I use stories for illustration. Characters may be fictitious, but they are composites of people I met. If Almanza Boot Company exists, let me know—I’ve got a pair wearing thin on top.

Boots are important to people from the part of the world I inhabited as a child. Mostly I got boots from my aunt and uncle—my mother kept me in orthopedic shoes. When I got away to the University of Denver I walked into JC Penney’s, went downstairs and found a pair of H&H oiled leather Wellingtons. It was rebellion. During my career in government service I wore Frye, Hyer, Acme, Dan Post, Tony Lama, Nocona and H&H. I also wore Chippewa, Danner and H&H hiking and military boots.

But today we are discussing western boots like the ones on my feet as I write this. If I hit the PowerBall, I will buy two pair of Lucheses, black and oxblood with square toes. My favorite footwear is the forbidden fruit of my high school years when I wore Dr Scholl’s and some Italian made suede shoes that were oh so comfortable and oh so bad for my feet.

Pointed toes were what the rodeo cowboys of the fifties were wearing—square toes were what “old men” wore. My uncle must have been at least 55. In the beginning Charlie Hyer built a round toed boot at Olathe, Kansas. There were probably dozens of bootmakers in the west but Charlie was close to Kansas City and had a knack for publicity. I do know that the riding heel was at times referred to as the Spanish heel—much like what we call a western saddle is referred to in some circles as a Mexican saddle.

As things go, in 1974 I drove into Olathe to buy some boots at the bankruptcy sale for Hyer boot company—I think I was four or five when my grandfather got me a pair of Hyers for Christmas. But this was a bankruptcy sale and for $150 I bought two pair of boots and a 3X Stetson hat. Amazingly they fit. I have on a couple occasions bought boots that do not—and have paid dearly.

It was about 1976 when I fell in love with a woman 50 years my senior named Enid Justin. Miss Enid wrote a statement I have remembered since about fit. She said that boots which do not fit when you first try them on will never fit—countering my grandmother’s statement about breaking in time. I violated that once and I regretted it. Miss Enid, when her father died and her brothers decided to move the business from Nocona to Fort Worth, opened the Nocona Boot Company with existing employees. There was a reason that Justins and Noconas felt similar. By the way, Nocona is a Comanche word and was the name of Chief Quanah’s father.

So much for history. Olathe boot company opened in the old Hyer factory and builds boots that are used by a lot of cowboy action shooters because they have a 19th Century look. The company was, the last time I checked, located in Mercedes (pronounced Mer-sid-ez’) Texas.

Miss Enid’s company merged with Justin Industries in 1981. In 1991, following her death, all operations were moved to Fort Worth. Tony Lama, also a Justin Company, occupies the same factory but has a slightly different process. There is a low end Nocona built in Mexico. It does not differ much from a similar Lama Boot. Like I said, I cannot afford Lucheses. Justin is now owned by Berkshire Hathaway.

Some hints:

Make sure of your fit and make sure the boot will handle any orthotic device you use. This is a lot more important when you hit 60 than when you are 18 and immortal. (Note: by the time I was 21 I had been clinically dead three times. The last was when I was 20 so I’m only 48, right?)

Do not assume that all boots with the same brand name have the same last.  This especially applies to boots made in China.

Decide if you can wear a Spanish heel or you need a walking heel. Some of us interchange.

The pointed toe is for controlling a horse. It originated in Mexico and became popular with the rodeo circuit. I became aware of it in 1953-54. If you plan to do a lot of walking, get a round or square toe.

Realize that they are not really “cowboy” boots until they have had excrement cleaned off of them.

We had a couple of politicians decide to go native and dress in jeans and boots to meet with ranchers. The latter showed up in suit and tie. Note: I was more comfortable wearing boots in Washington than a friend of mine from the east was wearing boots out here.

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