Up in Mead, Will Rogers has finally found his calling.
Born in Arkansas, the 78-year-old Rogers has done a bit of everything, from delivering coal and raising hogs to selling cars and real estate.
After retiring six years ago, Rogers had to do something with his time. He opened his first saddle shop about five years ago and now has decided it’s his perfect job.
Born William Samuel Rogers, he’s the second cousin of American humorist and porch philosopher Will Rogers.
“If anyone called me William Rogers, I wouldn’t know who they were talkin’ about,” said Rogers.
Like his celebrated older cousin, Rogers is a man with a genuine smile and a friendly drawl that makes his stories skip gingerly along.
His Will Rogers Saddle Company is open six days a week, and most of the time, he’s at the desk offering advice to customers or just explaining how to buy the right saddle.
His shop at 13011 N. Freya offers saddles that Rogers orders direct from manufacturers. He doesn’t make saddles or repair them.
He’s developed loyal customers, many of whom know they can probably get slightly better prices elsewhere but prefer Rogers’s style and manner.
“I’ve been accused of giving people a fair deal. So I keep seeing people come back here to buy another saddle.
“Either they like the way I do business or they’re trying to get even with me.”
Selling saddles and tack is essentially a matter of trust, he’s discovered. People come in, see 45 different saddles on display, ranging from $350 to $2,000, and they’re not sure what they want.
Rogers gives them honest advice, finding out what their needs are.
“I can tell a good saddle from a bad one from 60 feet away,” he added.
Like everything else, saddles have gone up in price. Good saddles 40 years ago would cost $600. Now they’re four times that.
“It’s not they’re making ‘em any better. It’s just like cars - the parts and the labor involved are just more expensive.”
Finding his shop has proven a challenge to new customers. “You almost need a search warrant to find me,” he laughs. His advice: Call him first, then get directions to the shop.
He and his more famous namesake were not close. The older Will Rogers, who died in a plane crah in 1934, lived in Oklahoma. The two families visited once in a while but were not close.
“He was also much older, so we hardly got to know each other,” said Will Rogers.
At the age of 16, he remembers hearing a paper boy in Arkansas hawking a special edition. It was the night Will Rogers the humorist had died.
“My sister acted all upset, saying how much she’d miss him. Heck, I knew she hardly knew him at all,” said Rogers.
Rogers expects he’ll just keep selling saddles until he’s too old.
“I’ve been on a horse since I was 4. I realized the people who like horses are the people I like best. They do the things I like to do.”
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