A visit with an Idaho custom boot maker
By Mark Bedor
In the garage of a home on a windswept cattle ranch outside Mackay, Idaho, in the shadow of the towering, snow capped, Lost River Mountain Range, you’ll find the unique custom cowboy boot shop of Seth Teichert.
“I’m not in it really for the money,” says this full time working cowboy. “It’s a fun hobby for me. I love it… I love when the finished product turns out right.”
It’s not like he needs a hobby. Just being a married father of four young children gives he and his wife Natalie plenty to do. Seth manages the working cattle ranch his family lives on outside the small town of Mackay, spends hours volunteering at his church, enjoys hunting and reloading his own ammo. And yet somehow he finds the time to build custom cowboy boots.
“I can’t sit around and do nothin’,” he says, as if pleading for understanding of this labor of love.
“Sitting down, watching TV, bores me. I can’t sit around. I have to be doing something!”
When he has a spare moment, which isn’t too often, he heads to the garage of his ranch house, to build boots. He does it the old-school way; hand-made and stitched together with vintage equipment. The shop could almost be mistaken for an antique cobbler museum. Except, everything runs and gets plenty of use.
The collection includes three classic Singer sewing machines, including a 1929 model 31-15. “Stitches like it’s brand new,” Seth says with pride.
Then there’s the 800-pound beast from the 1940’s that Seth calls, “The boss of the shop” – the sole stitcher.
“Big heavy machine,” he says with respect. “It’ll stitch through the sole and the welt of the boot. Difficult to run. You gotta be nice to it, or else it doesn’t want to stitch very good. But when it’s working well, it does a good job. And it beats the heck out of hand stitching.”
How does a guy living in relatively remote Idaho cowboy country wind up using classic equipment to make state-of-the-art custom cowboy boots? By accident.
“I liked playing with leather,” he remembers. “And I was searching for a leather sewing machine.”
He went looking for one the old-fashioned way…in a newspaper want ad section…and wound up finding a lot more.
“I call the guy…he says he’s actually a boot repair shop. Long story short, I ended up buying the shop.”
Seth had long been investing in his own pair of custom cowboy boots, made by Steve and Bev Gilger, at their shop in Dubois Idaho. He was such a regular, they’d become friends.
“So I told them I bought a boot repair shop. And they said, ‘Well, what are you gonna do with the machines?’ I said that’s a great question…”
The Gilgers had the answer. They offered Seth a paid apprenticeship at their shop. Seth and his new bride Natalie moved into the apartment above Dubois Leather, where Seth spent the next seven months learning the craft of boot making.
“Great experience,” Seth shares, “ learned a lot. We’re still good friends today. We still talk. They still coach me.”
Fast forward a couple years, and Seth is running the ranch in Mackay, but still working on boots, taking seminars and classes when he can, and studying videos. But his real teacher was lots of practice, trial and error, and patient customers. “Had some good friends who let me practice on them and their feet. That’s kind of how I got my start, just here at the ranch, in the evening as I had time, I’d go fiddle with boots. And I got to where I was pretty comfortable with it and started taking some orders. And the orders have kind of taken off.”
Building a pair of hand made custom cowboy boots is quite a process. It starts with what’s known as a “last,” wooden models of a customer’s feet that serves as the foundation for the boot. Then you have to cut the custom designed leather pattern, for the upper part of the boot, adding whatever decorative pattern the client may want. It can get pretty intricate. The day I visited, Seth was building a pair of black boots emblazoned on the sides with a large, gray cross, which would be sewn on with red stitching. “And so it’s gonna be a black, gray and red pair of boots,” the craftsman tells me, adding that his customer is, “Very particular on what he wants.”
When the tops and bottoms are designed, finished and stitched together, the boot gets hammered on to the last. But not with nails. Seth uses lemon wood pegs. “Your boots are gonna get wet. That’s just the long and the short of it,” he states. “Lemon wood pegs will swell and tighten the boot. A nail will rust, cause a little bit bigger hole, and over time they start to let go and you start getting dirt and water leaking in.”
Next comes the welt, that stiff piece of leather the sole is attached to, all firmly secured in place by that 800-pound stitching machine we saw earlier. Seth calls good quality material the key to a well built boot. And a good thick leather insole is a must. “A lot of boots are still made with these,” as he shows me a leather insole. “And you look for that. Really helps the longevity of a boot.”
But with Seth’s expertise, quality materials, and the time it takes to build them, you wind up with beautiful hand crafted custom boots that fit and last. The cowboy bootmaker does all kinds of designs, colors and insignias. But they’re not cheap. They typically cost $1200 to $2000 a pair. A price many people find shocking. “They hear $650, their jaw hits the floor,” says Seth of some would-be buyers.
Working cowboys are Teichert’s primary clientele, and Seth gets to see first-hand how his products are put to work. “I love it. I go to a branding and there’s six or eight pair of my boots running around. It’s neat to see that. And they’re holding up… and nobody’s cussin’ at me too bad because they hurt their feet.”
Seth sometimes gives his boots away – to each of his children – when they turn three. “And that’s their own. We don’t pass ‘em down to the next kid. That’s their boot that I hope they keep for the rest of their lives, and go, ’That was my first pair from Dad…”
When you figure it takes at least 40 hours to build a basic pair of custom boots, plus the cost of materials, Seth is not getting rich, even at $1,000 a pair. That is, unless you measure the satisfaction he gets from his work. “I love it!,” he exclaims. “I love the finished product when it turns out right.”
Teichert’s boots have earned him a golden reputation in Idaho cowboy country. In fact, his boots are in such demand the waiting list is four-and-a-half years long. Seth’s quit taking orders, at least for now. But for those lucky enough to snag a pair, they’re worth their wait. “It takes a long time,” he admits. “But if you take your time and do each step right … and I think that would apply to about anything in life… If you do each step correctly, you’re gonna end up with a product you like.”