VIDEO: Ben Wheeler custom bootmaker offers one-of-a-kind shoes

Published on Monday, 11 November 2013 09:26 - Written by

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FAITH HARPER,fharper@tylerpaper.com

Debby Farr had no experience making boots when she took over the Mercedes Boot Co. 24 years ago, but she caught on quickly.

Mrs. Farr said the name Mercedes alone implies quality, but the boot operation actually got the name from its roots in Mercedes in Hildago County. When Mrs. Farr took over the operation, it was moved to Fort Worth, and earlier this year, it made the move to Ben Wheeler.

“Every time I try to teach somebody something I say, ‘Don’t worry about mistakes. I’ve made every one you’ve made and then some,’” she said.

Mrs. Farr wore her fair share of boots and knew how to sew but that didn’t keep her from learning the bookmaking business the hard way. She was working in advertising at a horse publication when she made her career change.

“I’d take boots apart with an X-Acto knife and a pick so I could see how they went together,” Mrs. Farr said. “There was an old gentleman in Oklahoma that used to teach at a bootmaking and saddle school up there. ... I talked to him on the phone for years before I ever met him in person, and I only met him once but I talked to him (often).”

Mrs. Farr’s background in design and advertising was a big help in learning the trade.

“I just went from print to leather, and it was amazing how many similarities and how many tricks of the trade that I learned in advertising that work in designing boot tops, but I had a real strong art background, too, so that also helped ...” she said. “They get something that’s going to be very special and unique, and they want it custom. … That’s where I just kind of flourish because I had so much design background that it all fell into place.”

A pair of Mercedes Boots starts at $900, and Mrs. Farr said she’s never seen the price ceiling. It is a matter of how many bells, whistles and custom designs the customer wants to add.

The boots can be made of out of any legal skin, including but not limited to buffalo, alligator, kangaroo, hippo, American bison, crocodile, giraffe and ostrich. Mrs. Farr said she also has made boots out of animal skins the new owner caught or killed.

“The most bizarre sounding … is carpincho,” Mrs. Farr said. “The nickname is ‘Brazilian rat.’ It’s actually in the nutria family, but it’s enormous. … And it looks almost pig-skinish, but it’s as soft as velvet. It’s really interesting.”

Mercedes Boots can make anything from work to dress boots. Mrs. Farr said they also get a lot of wedding boot business, with new brides wearing designs incorporating their new initials on the big day.

The company also specializes in making special boots for people with foot problems or injuries. The tops of these boots are held together by Velcro to make it easier for the customer to put on.

“A lot of people that want boots can’t wear a straight size, either their foot is too long and narrow, they have hammer-toes, bad bunions … or they have an injury or whatever ...” she said. “Some of my older customers that had polio have two different sized feet, and they need two different sized boots, so if they buy off the shelf they have to buy two pairs, but they don’t here.”

There are 250 steps to make a pair of boots, but it all starts with taking the proper measurements.

The customer’s ball, waist, instep, heel and calf of each foot are measured. They are then traced on a legal-sized folder, which will be filed back so the customer will not redo the process on a following order.

Using the measurements, a specialized craftsman works on the base of the boot while Mrs. Farr and another helper start on the tops of the boots.

Leather pieces are used to layer a base to for a perfect fit on the bottom of the foot. The base is also filed away for future orders.

The construction of the boots start at its top, Mrs. Farr said. Inlay and design work is done first, and then the four pieces that construct the boot are sewn together. The assembly includes the leather seen on the outside plus a softer leather lining and a hard leather that makes the backing for the heel.

How long the process takes depends on the intricacy of the boots ordered, Mrs. Farr said. After she talks about the design concepts, there are various stages of approval for the designs to ensure the boots are going to be exactly what the customer wants.

There is a separate approval process for college logo approval, which varies by institution, she said. How many orders the company is working on also is a factor in the construction time.

The end result is a hand-crafted and one-of-a-kind pair of boots that will last.

“I love it ...” Mrs. Farr said. “People come here because they want to. It’s not like they are coming in here to buy insurance, you know, they come because they are going to have a good time. They are either going to treat themselves or they are treating (others).”