Wyoming shop restores saddles damaged in Colorado floods
October 24, 2013
Chris Compton scrubs and scrubs, but the mud keeps streaming.
She lifts a stirrup, revealing white mold growing in folds beneath leather fenders.
On stands behind her sit several saddles in various stages of disrepair.
About $8,000 worth of saddles were brought last week to The Boardwalk Inc., a Laramie, Wyo., custom leather and repair shop.
A rancher found the five saddles submerged in four feet of mud and water at his property in La Salle, Colo. — an area hit hard by catastrophic flooding that recently swept through 17 Colorado counties.
Boardwalk owner Rob Vogel estimates one saddle, handmade by Oregon-based Hamley & Company, is worth as much as $3,000.
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"There are no more like that one from that company," Vogel said. "The company's still in business, but that saddle's from the old bunch."
To an extent, however, the price of the saddles is beside the point, he said.
"They're all family saddles," Vogel said. "At least three of those saddles were with his family for quite some time. The gentleman's probably in his 60s, and his son rides, and his family all rides together, and these are things that have been brought up through their lives."
Among ranchers and riders, saddles often become heirlooms, passed from generations down, fitted and fixed and well taken care of, Compton said.
"If these saddles could talk, who knows the stories they'd tell," she said. "They've been out on the range in any kind of weather, dragged inside out of the winter and then kicked back outside to work just as hard as everybody else. These are definitely working saddles, very much so."
Vogel said the saddles came to his shop from a friend of a friend, and he didn't know the rancher who owns them.
However, that the man thought to have his saddles repaired amid the destruction, which included lost livestock and a flood-damaged home, speaks volumes to the his esteeming them as keepsakes, he said.
"If they were left the way they are, they'd be totally wrecked," he said. "The leather turns black and brittle. Rawhide and wood and leather and all of that distorts when it's been really wet, so they'd probably be totally ruined. And, you know, stuff like that is just part of the shame of the flood and what people have had to go through."
Once discovered, the saddles were hosed off, loaded into a truck and brought to Laramie.
Boardwalk leatherworkers have taken them apart, piece by piece, nail by nail, and scrubbed them with water and saddle soap, working the flexibility back into the leather and rawhide, Compton said.
"I think they're all salvageable," she said. "They're going to make it." ❖
Chilton Tippin is a writer for the Laramie, Wyo., Boomerang.