In the steps of my pops

My old man was an electrician by trade. But he hated the work and above all he loved horses, westerns and country music and defined himself by the cult western Monty Walsh. So one year after the Velvet revolution, he brought home a big bag full of cowhide, needles, thread, roe-deer antlers and sheets of bee wax. He put that all down in the corner of our living room, which naturally made my mum very happy. But it wouldn’t be fair to leave out the other parts of our tiny block of flats apartment, so in the kitchen he started to melt the bee wax and mould it into balls and a frame for a western saddle soon appeared in the bedroom.

A typical western saddle (example photo, not a product of my dad, even though it looked pretty much like this one)

It goes without saying that my dad had no horse, but he made himself available to people that had horses and everyone who has ever been around horses knows that there’s a lot of work to be done. More work than riding actually, so full hearted people devoted to the cause, like my dad, are always welcome.

Finally he threw away a multimeter and went to the other side of Bohemia to the Krkonose mountains to be with horses on a small farm with about 30 Hucul horses. We saw him only for few days once in couple of months, but I could spend two or three whole summer and winter holidays at the farm in the midst of those beautiful forests. Whenever there was a free horse during the rides for the paying clients one of us kids could take a ride with the group. Those calm mares always took a good care of us.

But then my dad hurt his back when he fell from a horseback and that was the end of his work at the farm. By then he made two or three western saddles and repaired many more so it was only natural that he would start his own saddler shop.

He was no businessman. He was working with too big a heart and besides, most of his clients were people that were doing some lovable jobs, like tending to horses, or had dreamer’s hobbies like country music, scouting or tramping. But you don’t need to make a lot of money if you do what you love. And he was doing exactly that till the end.

Before I grew up into an ignorant teenager, I had a chance to learn a bit of the trade and it came in handy. We were preparing to make a dodger for Janna so we visited a local canvas guy from whom we wanted to buy some material like Sunbrella, Dacron thread, and such. I knew that he must be using cowhide so I asked him about it. He said that indeed he used to use it, but now they tend to use synthetic material instead. When he asked if we wanted some of his old cowhide stored back in his shop, I didn’t waste a second.

I put that big bag full of cowhide into the corner of our cockpit and took out my inheritance: couple of awls, saddler’s needles and hole cutters.

Soon I realized that I kind of didn’t manage to inherit dad’s craftsman’s patience and eye for detail. But my goal wasn’t to create works of art like my dad, just something that will work and hopefully won’t hurt the eyes and aesthetic feelings of fellow human beings.

Pieces of cowhide and waxed thread were soon laying all around the boat and my hands hurt from piercing the thick hide and pulling the needle through, even though I used a sailor’s palm to push it in and pliers to pull it out.

Working with cowhide is really enjoyable. When you soak it in water you can actually mould it quite well and to a certain extent it will hold the form. That’s what the roe-deer antler is for. A round one for moulding and shaping, a sharp one for embossing patterns. But I didn’t venture that far. My esthetical goals were very simple, something in the lines of preventing regular people of being offended by my sloppiness. Craftsmen please shed a blind eye.

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