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Well-worn shoes

TOWNER, N.D. -- Being a cowboy, I always remember Dad as a cowboy hat and cowboy boots kind of a guy. But being a North Dakotan, I remember him wearing a corduroy winter cap with ear flaps as often as his cowboy hat, and whether for comfort or pr...

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Taylor, who ranches near Towner, N.D., is an Agweek columnist.

TOWNER, N.D. -- Being a cowboy, I always remember Dad as a cowboy hat and cowboy boots kind of a guy. But being a North Dakotan, I remember him wearing a corduroy winter cap with ear flaps as often as his cowboy hat, and whether for comfort or practicality, he also wore lace-up leather work boots as often as his pull-on cowboy boots.

I remember the laces because one of my jobs as a little fella was to unlace his boots, loosen them up and pull them off after a long day. I find myself asking my kids to do the same thing. For some reason, little kids like to do it and us Dads get a kick out of watching them tug at those shoes until they pop off.

Dad didn't wear those lace-up boots for fashion; he wore them for working. He'd wear them out and get another pair, and another. In our family, working hard enough to wear out your work boots was a source of pride. No plaques on the wall for a "hardest worker award," just a collection of worn out boots.

Like most things, I took after Dad, and have worn through plenty of work boots. I do try to find lace-up work boots that have a little bit of heel on them and not too blunt of a toe, so they can get into a saddle stirrup and stay in the stirrup when I'm riding.

When cattle prices started getting better a few years ago, I decided I was going to upgrade my choice in work boots and see if there was a difference. I'd heard about the Hathorn and White's boots made in Spokane, Wash., and I found a store selling Hathorns here in North Dakota. They're tough boots tested by Northwest loggers, farmers, ranchers and railroaders from a company with pre-Civil War roots.

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I've always bought whatever standard size was on the shelf and seemed to fit, usually an 11D, 11 1/2D, or a 12D, depending on the shoe. The store with the Hathorns measured my foot every which way and told me I was a 12AAA. Who knew?

They put me in a pair of solid leather, no synthetics, 12AAA Hathorn lace-up ranch packer boots. I wore them every day, they felt good and they lasted. Of course, nothing lasts forever, and eventually they started to show some severe wear.

One of the selling points when I bought the boots was that they were all leather, and thus rebuildable. I sent them off to Spokane for a rebuild.

The shop called me up and said I'd done such a good job of wearing them out that there wasn't much to save. They could save the very tops, but that was about it. I asked if that was much less than a whole new pair of boots? It was less, not a lot, but just enough for me to give them the go ahead on the rebuild.

It was kind of like some of the cars we've taken to the shop and by the time the mechanic got done replacing everything that needed replacing, I said, "Maybe it'd be simpler if I just unscrewed the gas cap and had you drive a new car underneath it to screw it on to."

Similarly, they lifted the tops off my old boots and drove a new pair of boots underneath them. They still fit just right, they came from Spokane instead of the other side of the globe, and they're made from the hides of the cattle we raise. Most likely not the actual hides from the very same cattle who walked our ranch, but you know what I mean. They're real.

And our work is real. So it's a good match. I'm looking forward to the years of comfort and wear ahead.

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