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Finding the perfect boot
by Tim Delaney
Apr 18, 2013 | 1671 views | 0 0 comments | 12 12 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Austwell bootmaker Bob Garner holds a pair of ostrich boots he made. Garner uses a variety of leathers.
Austwell bootmaker Bob Garner holds a pair of ostrich boots he made. Garner uses a variety of leathers.
slideshow
A leather holster and belt were made by Austwell bootmaker Bob Garner. Garner makes a variety of leather goods as well as repairing saddles.
A leather holster and belt were made by Austwell bootmaker Bob Garner. Garner makes a variety of leather goods as well as repairing saddles.
slideshow
AUSTWELL – “Always do last first,” says Bob Garner, owner of Bob’s Leather Shop in Austwell.

Of course, if you make boots, you’d understand that a last is the solid form – usually made of wood, iron or high-density plastic – that the leather is stretched over.

Garner, 66, says his father was in the shoe and saddle repair business. They had started in 1965 in Hitchcock.

“I’d go down there from high school to help him,” Garner says.

In 1966, Garner joined the U.S. Air Force and served for eight years.

After returning to Texas, he hopped from one job to another but ended up unemployed.

His father had moved to Hearne and had opened up a leather shop there.

“I decided to learn how to build boots. I stayed there quite a few years. A guy told me I ought to build saddles. I looked at it, and there wasn’t much money in it,” Garner says.

However, he does repair saddles.

Garner says he learned the skill and art of making a boot by his mistakes.

“I picked bootmakers’ brains, and I got it almost to a perfect boot,” he says.

Garner wanted to start his own business and says he was looking for a portable building so he could move his travel trailer behind it.

He says about four to five years ago, a lady came in to have her purse fixed. She asked if Garner could fix it while she waited.

“I fixed it in five minutes, and she asked how much,” he says.

Garner told the woman the fee was $3, and she told Garner that was too much for such a quick job.

“I was thinking of retiring. And she pushed me over the edge,” he says.

Hurricane Ike came along and ruined his travel trailer.

His girlfriend Nadine told him to come to Austwell and build a garage for his leather shop, and that is what he did.

About four years ago, he married Nadine.

He retired and continues to make boots and continues to perfect that process.

Garner said somebody wrote a story about legendary bootmaker Charlie Dunn and said there was no such thing as a perfect boot.

“It is definitely a challenge. My goal is a perfect boot,” Garner says.

Garner has been written about all over Texas – in Houston, Angleton, Waco, Hearne, Refugio and Port Lavaca.

“After I got into business for myself, I ventured out,” Garner says.

Now, Garner makes knife scabbards, holsters, phone cases and more.

“I’m having a web page built that will show all my work. I will have a store on there, too.”

Garner was present at Victoria’s “Bootfest” along with other notable bookmakers.

A general description of the bootmaking process begins with measuring the feet in six different places, “including the calf depending on now tall they want them.”

Then comes choosing the type of leather for the tops and bottoms. For the tops, Garner uses a thinner leather, such as kid skin tops and French calf tops. For bottoms, Garner has done alligator, bull hide and Ostrich,

“I have done some with Ostrich all the way up,” he says.

Next comes a discussion of any design the customer might want. Garner says the design must be within reason.

A deposit is made and the order is put in line behind other orders previously received.

Then Garner says he starts cutting the leather for the boot.

He makes different top patterns because every foot is different. He makes vamp (for the toe) patterns and heel patterns.

Also, he said leather, to fit your foot correctly, has to be stretched correctly.

“Then I take the pattern that I cut out and put it on a crimping board.

The leather is dropped into a bucket of water and then taken out to dry.

“That gives it form,” he says.

Sewing follows. And five different kinds of leather is used for a pair of boots: outer leathers are used for vamps and heel; leather for inner sole; creamed cowhide liner; side seam and piping, real soft for vamps; and horsehide liner for the tops.

Garner uses wooden pegs (not nails) to put outer sole on the boot, finishes them out on the edges, shapes sole and heel and polishes them.

Garner says the description above is very general. Much more is done during the process, so it is not an easy task to build a pair of boots.

“It’s not the money. It’s the challenge of getting it to the perfect boot,” Garner says.

“Will keep doing it until they kick dirt in my face.”

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