While knocking around on the Skinnie Winnie blog, I mentioned that we would be in Alpine, Texas for this year’s Texas Cowboy Poetry Gathering. A fellow Skinnie Winnie owner, in Houston for a rodeo, strongly suggested that I look up Jim Spradley of Spradley Hats in Alpine, Texas and get him to build me a custom fit cowboy hat. As someone that does not wear a hat well I opted to look up Jim for a photo op of his art and craft: the building of Stetson-style cowboy hats.
The cowboy hat has had a relatively short history, yet has become an instantly recognizable iconic piece of functional headgear.
Well before sunrise on a windy morning in the midst of the calving season in the ranch lands of the Chihuahuan desert of west Texas, I met Jim at his workshop-office just outside of Alpine. A welcoming and engaging individual, it did not take long to strike up a budding friendship. He did his work and I did my photography; asking questions when need be. The building of a hat is an involved mutli-step process. Jim’s work area was divided in half with a nicely appointed office and fitting area in between what seemed to be the cutting, pressing, blocking and ironing room and a finish/detail room. Jim had some 36 or so dark (brown or black) beaver felt cowboy hats going. He works in color lots: darks and lights. Each hat is built from a single piece of beaver felt. Today the hat brims were measured (twice) and cut according to customer specs found on meticulously kept order forms and records. The brim edges were sanded and the brims’ upper and undersides were sanded as well.
As would be expected of the tradesman/craftsman Jim’s tools are a mix of handcrafted wooden tools, art forms in and of themselves. Singer sewing machines, relics according to the independent manuals, of various styles, purpose and vintage, some on the original frame and legs, others on modern updated steel work bench supports were found throughout. Heating, blocking, stretching and ironing tools large and small abounded. The images represent only a couple of steps in the ‘hat building’ process. It was obvious from the variety of tools and work stations in the separate work areas that this is a process that involves lots of separate and distinct skills that when merged produce a timeless western hat.
Breakfast at Magoo’s allowed for the sharing of philosophies on faith, family, young people, work and when not to work.
We will return to Alpine and look Jim Spradley up come next year’s travels.
Thank you Jim.
Similar But Different ‘Folks At Their Work‘ Visual Essays Can Be Found At the Following Links
Alpine, Brewster County, Texas
Early On Event Images ~ Marshall Auditorium ~ Sul Ross State University
Allan Chapman ~ Ably Accompanied by the Ever-Present Rodeo Kate
Poet, Storyteller, MC and Heritage Award Winner ~ Doris Daley
This Threesome Backing Band Seemed to be Every Where during the Gathering, Individually or Collectively
Poet-Storyteller Ken Cook
Great Event ~ Talented Folk ~ Nice Facilities ~ Pleasant Town
Chuck Wagon Breakfast
Early Mornin’ Smiles
Scramblin’ the Eggs
Good Food & Good Company on a Crisp West Texas Winter Morning
The Coffee Was So Stiff It Made Itself Known All Morning
Tendin’ the Biscuits
Second year in a row.
This Time Around : Texas Cowboy Poetry Gathering Weekend
Street Art & Murals Abound
Original Brewster County Court House
Apparently the ‘oli patch’ in West Texas is booming : Odessa-Midland to Monahans to Pecos.
No housing available. People living and working out of RVs cars and pick up trucks and tents.
Monahans is a gritty oil-field town that the highway betrayed by becoming I-20 and moving to the other side of town.
Like most small towns the nicest properties are the high school and the established churches.
A bit of quirkiness east of town on Business 20: The Million Barrel Museum.
The remains of Shell Oil’s mid-1920’s attempt to build an oil holding reservoir prior to the arrival of the pipeline to this region forms the centerpiece of the Million Barrel Museum. Oil in this vast quantity weighed more than the seamed sections of concrete covering the 52o’ by 420′ roughly circular 35′ deep reservoir could hold. Over time the oil leached away as well as evaporated even though the reservoir was covered over with a redwood dome supported by creosoted timbers. Designed to hold 5 million barrels the reservoir was only filled to the 1 million barrel point before the leakage issue was discovered. At a later 1950s date a local Monahan’s entrepreneur attempted to bring water sports to the west Texas desert in the form of a million barrel lake. The water sports recreation area opened and closed the same date, professional water skiers notwithstanding. Water being twice as heavy as crude oil (imagine that) the reservoir held water even less efficiently than it did crude oil. After drilling six wells to fill it with water the reservoir would not hold water.
We were encoraged to ride our bikes inside the Million Barrel Reservoir. The graffiti is encouraged: students in the graduating class of Monahan’s High School are allowed to write their names on the walls.
Five miles further east of town off I-20 and the frontage road is more west Texas uniqueness : Monahans Sand Hills State Park.
Some stabilized but many dynamic sand dunes abide. The stabilized hills are the product of shin oak and other desert plants. The dynamic hills are a product of the wind. During the week the park seems to be nothing more than an I-20 RV overnight camping spot. The weekend sees some day use in the form of kids and families sand surfing the dunes and hills.
One of my favorite singer-songwriters was born and spent his early years in Monahans. I spent part of this President’s weekend trying to track down Guy Clark‘s birth home, the home he grew up in, the Green Frog Cafe as well as his one-legged grandmother’s hotel/boarding house. Due to it’s being a weekend and a holiday weekend to boot the Monhans Libray was closed as was the County Archives. No one seemed to know, at least no one that I talked with. The front desk lady at Fermin’s Restaurant who did not know me from a hole in the wall spent a bunch of time with me trying to figure out who on a mid-Saturday afternoon might provide me some answers. Thank you for your time. You made me feel welcomed!
No one (that I spoke with) in Monahans, Texas knew of Guy Clark.
For as often as Monahans is referenced in his songs, either specifically or contextually, or in his concerts the Town of Monahans is missing the boat by not honoring and acknowledging this, what should be, a ‘favorite son’.
Women on Fast Horses!!
We have been here for all of the slack rodeo. Well organized and well run!
Barrel Racing was good fun, still presenting with the challenging lighting and tough backgrounds.
On the road tomorrow after a week at the San Angelo Stock Show and Rodeo.
Our first Texas swine show. Our first swine show, period.
Took a needed break from the rodeo folks and ventured out amongst the farmers, their kids and their prized breeding livestock.
Very open and friendly folks. Asked a lot of questions and got a lot of information and answers in return.
Never knew that a gilt was a sow that had yet to be bred; a virgin pig if you will.
Who knew? Now I know!
The judge of this event did a nice job having worked a long day. He communicated well with both the kids and the crowd. He took the job of judging seriously and had the knowledge and experience to back up his opinions.
Breeds and Classes within breeds. A Breed Champion and Reserve Champion will emerge.
The judges does an initial cut then takes a closer look at the animals that are left in the ring.
After making his decision he communicates his thinking and reasoning to the crowd.
The Hampshire Breed of swine was colorful and had a parochial connection for us New Hampsherites.
The following two animals were the Hampshire Breed Gilt Texas Champs.
BJ’s RV Park !!!
From Hwy 118 in Study Butte, West on Hwy 170, 5 miles, on left.
One mile East of Terlingua Ghost Town.
Took a little while to get this one posted.
Check out BJ’s RV Park in Terlingua, Texas. Stay here once and you will not feel the need to go any where else.
BJ’s is like home but in the desert.
Friendly people, friendly on-site management, and friendly owners.
Always an active group of campers and residents.
Betty our next door neighbor. Wayne : big man, big smile, big laugh!
Bud and Irene Van Deusen – Owners
Evening gathering: sometimes before the dinner hour sometimes after.
Good place. Good people.
Steer Roping ( ‘steer tripping’ in the vernacular) is a rodeo event of some discussion and dissension.
In deference to those who afforded me the opportunity to shoot this event I am choosing to focus the images in this post on the artistic team of horse, rope and cowboy.
In sorting and processing the day’s images I was amazed at the linear visual poetry that was the rope in (or out of) the cowboy’s hands.
The rope has a life of its own, a presence of its own.
Hearing this, the cowboys out there are no doubt guffawing … but they must feel like artists with the rope?
The horses I have witnessed this week are well bred and finely kept, well trained and well exercised.
They are athletes in their own right.
This rodeoing is a huge investment in what some have frankly referred to as a hobby, for some a paying hobby, but still a hobby.
Much the same as the photography passion.
Black Hats ~ White Hat Sequence
Sleight of Hand
Right At Ya!
Thank you to my hosts, Tom Thompson and Linda Rhodes of the San Angelo Stock Show and Rodeo.
A special thank you to a new friend and fellow photographer, Dudley Barker.
Horse, Rope and Rider ~ Visual Poetry
Apparently the images of this event that I enjoy and those that are considered the iconic calf ropin’ image are different.
Oh well, won’t be the first or last time. It is nice to be shooting for my own eye and not for a ‘market’.
This event was another tough one to shoot: tough lighting and hard to fill the frame with all the animals and all the action.
A day behind myself as far as posts go here at the San Angelo (TX) Stock Show and Rodeo.
Bull Dawggin’ images but today’s visual experience was calf roping.
Once again a challenging shoot: lighting, what to feature, go wide or long and focus on a single element. Never answered the question and felt challenged all day.
Am going to shoot people, cowboys and their stuff and behavior in their immediate environment tomorrow.
The action photography can wait for the women’s barrel runs on the weekend.
Having said that here are some action photography sequences from the final round, round two of the bull dawggin’ event.
Not an activity for the older guy with the bad back; no wonder he does the photography.
It must be all about losing the hat.
Too much good shootin’ not enough time to process and post.
The kind of problem I wish on myself, now that we are done with the grind of makin’ a buck at this, or at anything.
Two days in, Slack Rodeo: team roping and bull doggin’. It has been a worthwhile education and great shooting thanks, in part, to Dudley Barker, rodeo shooter emeritus!!
Linda Rhodes, executive secretary of the parent organization for the San Angelo Stock Show and Rodeo, worked with us to make this an enjoyable and worthwhile photo opportunity.
Team roping was a huge challenge; lots happening and way far apart.
Bull Doggin’ on the other hand was compact, for the most part, and coming right at you, if that’s what you chose.
Sat around and watched half the first morning, got the ‘lay of the land’ so to speak. Challenging lighting and backgrounds, great sequences and ‘My Oh My!!’ action.
Slack Rodeo at the San Angelo Rodeo, about a week in length, is free, other than the gettin’ here and putting yourself up. Eighty degree weather with a gentle breeze. Excellent shootin’ to boot. What’s not to keep you.
Tough Lighting ~ Good Music
Terlingua Farmer’s Market & Community Garden
In recognition of the setting and the music being played (old-timey favorites from their album Go Lightning) Jon Hogan doffed his signature suit coat for a pair of bib overalls but not without the dress shirt and tie. Maria Moss quickly shed her dark long sleeved sweater.
A number of local musicians showed up to lend their voices and instruments to the cause.
Not only are these folks good musicians but they are great entertainers as well.
We rode the recumbents back the Fulcher Road past Rio Aviation at the Fulcher Air Field, down to the first ‘Y’ in the road, Joe Moss Road to the right. Joe Moss road paralleled Terlingua Creek on our left. According to the local ‘chatter’ Terlingua Creek was/is a cross border commerce and trade corridor from back in the day that gets some updated use as well. Joe Moss Road began to narrow down some and displayed ‘tongue in cheek’, we hoped, no trespassing signs the further we rode. It remained ride-able for fat tire bikes including our recumbents right out to the last house. The multiple barking dogs turned us around right quick. At some point we left Fulcher Ranch and were on other property. It would seem that everybody out the Fulcher Road and the Joe Moss Road lives off the grid: An admirable undertaking and accomplishment!
Sun on our faces and well exercised with a story to tell: what could be better?
Meghan and Wyatt in Austin