My life as a boot maker

Back to my life story.  The last step in my career path that I described was moving back to Santa Fe to return to St. John’s College for my 2nd year.  Recall that I had spent the previous year working as a shoe repairman in Tip Top Shoe Repair and Moccasin Shop in Salt Lake City.  Therefore, it was natural to try to find similar work in Santa Fe to help support my living expenses while at school.

The Square Deal Shoe Shop had all the same machines and smells as Tip Top, but it could not have been more different.  Wayne at Tip Top was orderly and appeared to tend to business in a pretty serious way.  For instance, I got paid regularly, and my guess is that he had workman’s comp insurance for me.  We could always find a person’s shoes or bag quickly at Tip Top, and work was done promptly.  Dave at Square Deal had his own method of organization.  He could find anything and would remember almost everyone, but his “filing system” was a mystery to anyone but him.  It was absolutely useless for me to try to find somebody’s repair if I was in there alone.  Many repairs that in Tip Top took hours to days took weeks to months in Square Deal.  It was also a bit of a mystery about how often or how much I would be paid.  The way it normally worked was that Katherine and I would need to buy some food or pay rent, and we didn’t have any money, so I’d go to Dave to ask if he could pay me.  He’d look in his cash drawer to decide if he could afford it or not.  I’d usually get something, but sometimes it would need to wait…

Dave’s real love was making boots, and although the repair work paid the bills, making the boots was what Square Deal was all about.  Dave was very good, and he had a long waiting list for orders.  He had a special part of the shop where his boots were kept during the long process of making them, and it was very exciting to watch the progress.

After I had been with Dave for a few months and had been doing many of the repairs on the uppers and some heals (he did the soles), Dave asked if I wanted to make a pair of boots!  Imagine the excitement!!  The first pair that I made (shown above on the left) were actually pretty nice and clean, but they didn’t fit.  I could pull them on and even walk around a bit, but my poor toes were crushed.  However, I did really enjoy it.  The next pair was for Katherine, and I got fancy to the point of gaudiness, with fancy rose inlays.  They took a long time and were not bad.  They even fit her, and she wore them a lot for a while.  Now, she’s not a big cowboy boot sort of gal…  My third pair was more of a solo effort and was an attempt to get something that fit me better.  They were pretty big, but over the years they have fit better and better for me.  I use them when I demonstrate leatherwork at Morningside Nature Park now.  But they are really ugly!

Needless to say, this whole bootmaking thing was a pretty big distraction and competition for my attention, and St. John’s lost out again.  I just could not keep my brain on Shakespeare, Galileo, or ancient Greek when I was learning to make boots in Burro Alley.

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