My Saddle Makers
- Other kids had tree houses and forts. My favorite childhood hangout was my grandfather’s saddle shop: Ray Holes Saddle Company in Grangeville, Idaho.
Surrounded by the pungent aroma of leather and the rhythmic “Tap, tap-tap, tap” of Grandpa’s leather carving tools; I got my first lessons in customer service and appreciation.
Our customers liked to hang out at Grandpa’s workbench too. These ranch families and cowboys were always welcome in the saddle shop. Poised at my grandfather’s shoulder, I soaked up conversations about the pressure and uncertainty of the cattle business. Farmers and ranchers are used to hard times. Unpredictable weather, high feed costs and low cattle prices—are the cowboys’ three constant companions.
When the customers left, my grandfather would say to me “We’re so lucky, Jeri Mae.” He’d remind me what good, hardworking people our customers were. “Tap, tap-tap, tap” How little they made for their labor. “Tap, tap-tap, tap” And, what a privilege it was to serve them. “We’re so lucky.”
“Bad luck” got my grandfather into the saddle making business. As a child, his legs had been partially paralyzed by polio. His disability prevented him from being a farmer or rancher like the other men in his family. So, after school he worked for the local shoe maker learning to stitch leather by hand.
One day a customer brought him a saddle to “fix.” It required taking the old saddle apart and laying out the pieces on new leather. Essentially, he “built” his first saddle. After high school, he apprenticed with saddle makers in the western United States and Canada before starting his own saddle making company in 1934.
More “bad luck.” 1934 was the middle of the Great Depression and a truly tough time to start a business. And times just got tougher.
My grandfather’s business survived the Great Depression. Actually, he did better than survive. From his startup in the hard times of 1934, Ray Holes went on to become a world-famous saddle maker and pass his craftsmanship on to his son, my dad, Gerald Ray Holes. Together they created custom saddles cherished by generations of customers all over the globe.
Please watch for my father’s legendary leather tooling throughout this website; and in the handouts and program promotions, I create for you. I love to share his legacy in leather artistry with others.
Laugh and learn,