September 9, 1995 in Nation/World

Leather Shop Crafting Dreams Country To Kinky, Leather Still Popular

By The Spokesman-Review
 

The stools are made of leather and horseshoes, welded together in different shapes. There’s a nearly empty bottle of Jack Daniel’s whiskey on the counter, inches from a bottle of Tums and a troll doll in a cowboy hat. Country music plays in the background.

It could be a western bar, with the customers streaming through the doors. It’s really a leather shop - nothing kinky, mind you, except for the occasional whips or bondage rings. Here, the two workers craft chaps, harnesses, cellular telephone covers, saddles and almost anything else.

It’s not a job. It’s a venture in leather.

“Bring out the Black Velvet,” said Pat McGowan, 50, the senior leather worker. “Let’s have a drink.”

He’s joking. McGowan and co-worker Darrin Stockman, 26, joke around a lot as they pound leather in the back room of the Indiana Harness and Saddlery Co., 3030 E. Sprague.

They don’t own the store, but they’re a big draw. They’ve made Indiana Harness one of the few places in town that makes chaps and saddles to order.

“We do anything,” McGowan said. “If there’s a dollar in it, we’ll do it.”

Even if there isn’t, they’ll do it. They’ve opened cars for customers who’ve locked keys inside. They’ve even fixed a water pump on a car that broke down outside the store.

Leatherwise, it’s not all country and western.

McGowan and Stockman made the 56 leather straps for the horses on the carrousel at Riverfront Park. They’ve made bags for Washington Water Power Co. workers and Spokane police. They make covers - for boats, swimming pools, trampolines and a 16-foot-tall eagle sculpture.

They repair anything made of leather. They craft belts, dog collars, dog antlers, duck decoy bags, spiked collars for people, gun holsters and book covers. They sell harness rings as bondage rings, or sex toys, to skateboarding kids with spiked hair.

McGowan and Stockman even created five leather pairs of breasts for a woman who gives them away as gag gifts. They’ve still got the prototype.

One morning this week, McGowan pounded out a belt proclaiming “The Country Prune” and another etched with “Rory.” Stockman stitched together a pair of bone, black and blue chaps, complete with fringe.

“I like things the old-fashioned way,” McGowan said. Stockman “likes things the modern way. Old-fashioned is simple and basic. The modern combination - everything is flash and fancy.”

Things have changed since McGowan came to Indiana Harness 29 years ago. Then, people waited two or three weeks or more. Now, they want it yesterday.

Then, a handmade saddle cost $300. Now, it runs $1,500. The shop used to turn out three saddles every 14 days. Now, it’s lucky if it sends out a dozen saddles in a year.

“There aren’t as many ranchers,” McGowan said. “They’re all gone.”

Still, McGowan and Stockman do a brisk business in chaps, making 300 to 400 pairs a year. They sell a couple hundred belts a year.

It takes a lot of leather. At any one time, leather from about 150 cows is stacked in the room.

McGowan and Stockman wear their own creations. They’re both cowboys, as much as people with city jobs can be, and they own horses. They both used to ride in rodeos, and now they break colts.

McGowan’s the elder statesman, in cowboy boots, a handcrafted belt and a silver and bronze buckle that says “crash and burn.” The buckle was a gift after a year when he almost died twice at the hooves of horses.

He’s a metal detector’s nightmare, filled with dozens of screws and four or five plates after countless riding accidents.

“He taught me to rope,” said customer Roy Rose, who comes by the shop at least once a week. “Shoot, I still got a belt he made for me years ago. Still wear it, too.”

To pass the time on the job, the workers bet on anything. McGowan lost a roping bet with Stockman, so Stockman had to make McGowan a pair of chaps. But McGowan has to wear them. They’re multicolored swirls striped with pink, purple and yellow fringe. They say “Hippy” in big letters.

McGowan’s no hippie, although his graying hair curls to his shoulders. He grew his hair long for a bet. He won $500.

Stockman and McGowan bet on the habits of some habitual customers, on whether they’ll demand the same services, say the same phrases or forget to wash their horse blankets again.

“It’s not really a job,” Stockman said. “It’s a nice feeling to get up in the morning and want to go to work. You see so many different people - from the old broken down cowboy to the motorcycle guy.”

The shop’s been paid with cakes and pies and tipped with a bottle of Crown Royal. It’s a hangout for farmers on a rainy day and for anyone with a tall story or a tall order.

“That’s what we do every day,” Stockman said. “We build stuff. We create people’s dreams. It seems like we’re kind of people’s last resort.”

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color Photo


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