Prairie Memories by Gary Heintz: Quality Lasts
I was organizing the loft in my garage a few days ago and came across a boot bag that belonged to my dad. Inside was a pair of Blucher custom – made cowboy boots Dad had ordered through the mail in 1952. They are black, have a narrow squared-off toe, twelve-inch rounded tops with a white leather fancy design sewn into the curve of the tops. In looking at the boots I realized how much Dad had worn them. He obviously kept the leather in good condition, it is still soft and pliable, although signs of hard wear are evident in the cuts, scuffs, worn heels and leather patches sewn over the spots worn through from rubbing on stirrups. When he put them in the boot bag to store, he stuffed wadded up newspaper in them to keep the shape. They still look good.
I remember when he ordered them. I was in the first grade, and watched as he carefully traced the outline of his foot on the order form the Blucher Boot Company had sent to him, along with the paper tape measure he used to measure around the ball of his foot, his heel and over his ankle, and around his calf. He spent many evenings thumbing through the little catalogue of boots, some fancy, some plain. It was exciting for me to look at because some of the boots were in color, with the fancy inlays showing up in reds, yellows, whites and even blues. I don’t remember the prices, but I know from looking at old boot catalogues that they weren’t ever more than $50. Even so, that was a lot of money for a pair of boots in 1952.
I ordered a pair of custom-made Paul Bond boots in 1967, going through the same process Dad did fifteen years earlier. My folks helped me out with the cost, agreeing that would be my Christmas present. The boots I ordered were made of sharkskin, dyed a rich burgundy color, with a sharp toe and underslung heels. The tops were fourteen inches tall, made out of black calfskin leather with many rows of fancy stitching in a rainbow of colors. They were going to be beautiful. Christmas time was nearing and my dad was getting concerned that my boots hadn’t shown up yet. I said I didn’t mind if I didn’t have a present under the tree at Christmas time, the boots were worth waiting for. Christmas night everyone gathered around the shiny aluminum tree and opened their gifts. I was perfectly content watching people ooh and ah over their presents. When everyone was done, Dad stepped out onto the porch and when he came back in he handed me a boot box wrapped up and tied with a bow. A big smile covered his face. I didn’t know what to think. Had my boots shown up without me knowing? I unwrapped the old Tony Lama boot box and read the note scrawled across the lid. “What’s wrong with these?” I opened the box to find a worn-out pair of my old boots stuffed into the box. My look of astonishment sent Dad into convulsions, delighted that he had sprung a joke on me. After a moment of realization, I joined in the laughter. Later, Mom said Dad couldn’t stand the idea of me not having a present under the tree, so he dreamed up the old boot joke. My Paul Bonds showed up a few weeks later and yes, they were beautiful.
Having foot problems most of my adult life I have found that the most comfortable thing I can wear is a pair of custom-made cowboy boots. This time I went to boot maker Mark Schumacher who measured my foot just like I had done in 1967 and my dad had done in 1952. I don’t wear my new boots out in a corral or riding like I did my first custom-mades. These are worn to the office and to church. I spent a long time deciding on what I wanted for color, leather and heels, and was just as excited about ordering them and just as impatient waiting for them to be done as I had been with the Paul Bonds. The old saying “you get what you pay for” has never been more true than when you buy a pair of quality boots that really fit. Quality lasts. I was reminded of that when I opened Dad’s old boot bag.