J & J Saddle Co. and Renae’s Custom Boots train apprentice from Norway | TheFencePost.com

J & J Saddle Co. and Renae’s Custom Boots train apprentice from Norway

Beth Gibbons
Crawford, Neb.

Jack and Renae Jones of Crawford, Neb., enjoy working with Rikard Kaarvaag, their apprentice from Norway.

Jack and Renae Jones at J & J Saddle and Renae’s Custom Boots have an apprentice working with them in their shop in Crawford, Neb. They are enjoying the privilege of teaching Rikard Kaarvaag from Kaarvaag Community on Averoy Island in Norway in their boot and saddle making trades.

Rik said his wife, Kirsti, was an exchange student in Gordon High School in 1993-94 school year. She was looking forward to visiting her host family mother, Sandy Johnson again.

The new friends met Jack and Renae after Rikard’s father, Ove was on a television show. Rik said,” He answered a lot of questions correctly – enough questions to pay for a flight to Minneapolis and to rent a car to drive to Gordon, Neb.” The winnings enabled the families to come to America and see the host family, after visiting relatives in Minneapolis, last summer. Rik said his parents like Nebraska.

While driving toward Fort Robinson, the Kaarvaag family noticed a white saddle in Jack and Renae’s Boot and Saddle Shop window. Rik said, “We had to stop in and see that saddle.” The saddle was an Indian beaded saddle which belonged to a Native American friend of Jacks. Jack said, “We had that loaned one of a kind saddle in the window for about eight months.” Lots of people noticed the saddle and stopped in to visit and look around.

“Jack and Renae showed us around and we were interested in what we saw,” Rik said. “They stopped what they were doing and took time to visit with us.” This made a positive impression.

Rik resolved to return to Nebraska to learn the boot and saddle making business trade. He plans to make saddles and boots to use his skills in his home providence where western items are in great demand. Rik explained, Jack makes his saddles completely from scratch, sometimes even making the hardware. This is unusual in the saddle making business, but greatly admired by Rik.

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“Jack is the best saddle maker in the country. He is a real professional,” Rik exclaimed. He says Jack and Renae are helpful and fun to work with. After he is finished here Rik will be a full-fledged saddle and boot maker. He expects to market his boots and saddles by word of mouth, news items and on the Internet.

Of course, Jack and Renae are learning a lot about Norway from their interesting friend too. The island Averoy has about 5,000 people of whom most are town workers though there are several small dairy farms with 10 to 50 head of dairy cows. Rik’s wife Kirsti is at home in Norway working with their horses.

In Norway when you move on the land you take the land owner’s name, in this case it was the Kaavaag family farm since the 1600s, so Rik took his wife’s last name. This used to be the tradition in Norway.

Land in Norway is measured by the mal. Rik and Kirsti live on 3,000 mal, which Jack thinks is about 60 acres. It is a large ranch by the local island standards. They raise Standard Bred Horses which are used for harness racing. They have six mares and four foals and will be ready to sell at auction in the fall.

When I first met Rik, he had began leather tooling and started working on two saddles. He showed a piece of impressively tooled design leatherwork he created. Jack smiles and explains, “He’s a natural with hand and eye coordination.” Rik says, “Jack and Renae are real fun and helpful and the work is real professional. This is what I love to do.” There is he explains a growing market overseas for western saddles and boots.

Meanwhile, Rik has rented a house in Crawford. He cooks familiar foods ‘similar to home.’ He plans to keep in contact with Jack and Renae and they will be able to support him by answering his questions. Rik says he knows of no saddle makers in Norway.

The friends laughed when Rik said, “There aren’t so many cowboys in Norway.” Jack countered, “There are no Vikings here.” Jack admits he has learned a lot about Norway and how they live, which is similar to here.

Renae told me she is going to send Rik home wearing jeans, boots, a cowboy hat and shirt to look the part of a real Nebraska cowboy. As he begins to create more saddles and boots, Rik plans to develop a website to market his products which are in demand in Norway. Several months ago an artist from Denmark came and took lots of pictures which will be displayed in museums all over Great Briton. Jack laughed, “That’s how we market ourselves.”

In a short time Rik will be taking his boots and saddle and flying home to Norway. The friends said he will miss them and they will surely miss him. He has been learning in Crawford since January 2010. Rik admits he does miss his young wife and their horses.

Rik is pleased that he will be able to keep in contact with Jack and Renae for questions and continued support through the Internet. Rik can be contacted at rikardkarvag@hotmail.com for more information or to order boots and saddles made by Rik. For anyone interested in contacting Jack and Renae, they can be contacted at renaetollman@hotmail.com. or by finding them at 120 McPherson Street in south Crawford, Neb.