- Associated Press - Saturday, October 4, 2014

BOISE, Idaho (AP) - You never have to be lonely again.

World War II veteran, bull rider, horse tamer and rodent exterminator Bus Hudson has a solution for you: a lifesize Old West mannequin to keep you company, to sit near your fireplace, to ride around with you in your car or to pose on your front porch.

Bus and Louise Hudson and their extended family make the lifelike mannequins on the family compound, Dry Creek Ranch along Idaho 55. There, you can take your pick: cowboys, Indians, a grandmotherly pioneer lady, a pirate, a native woman with a tattooed chin, or anything else, even mannequins modeled on specific people. John Wayne and Sitting Bull are popular models.

“One family thought the face of our Yellow Horse mannequin looked just like their dad who had died,” said Hudson’s daughter, Amy Johnson. “They bought one and took it home. They told us it was just like having dad sitting in the living room.”

Bus (it’s short for Buster) was born 91 years ago in West Texas. In his red Western shirt, kerchief and hat, he creates a cowboy picture that’s almost too perfect.

But Bus is the real deal. He speaks with a classic twang. He’s missing a thumb, lost in his 70s in a bull-riding accident; the fingers on his right hand are bent from a lifetime of holding a rope. He left Texas after his discharge from the war, where he fought in Patton’s Third Army.

World War II played havoc with Bus’ knees, and the Germans’ “big guns” wrecked his hearing. But he spent decades training horses. He founded a rodent-killing business, DVDD LLC, (an acronym for “Dead Varmints Don’t Dig”). Since the mid-1980s, he’s made eerily lifelike mannequins with shiny, soulful eyes that look right through you.

DEVOTED CUSTOMERS

In the 1970s, Bus and Louise moved to the Eagle area, where they raised their three daughters. All three still live nearby.

Initially, the Hudsons went into business with a local mannequin-maker. Bus was the salesman, taking the mannequins on the road, selling 35 or 40 a week to antique shops, Western wear shops and plenty of people who just liked the mannequins.

“We have men who buy an Indian for their wives for Christmas, or women who buy a cowboy for their husbands,” said Bus. “We sell to a lot of people you think would be the last ones on earth to own a cowboy or an Indian.”

Sales peaked about 15 years ago when they sold 25 mannequins in one day at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif.

Bus eventually bought his partner out. The deal included molds for 30 or 40 different heads and a variety of hands.

Steve Goff works at the Snake River Yamaha store in Meridian. He bought a Sitting Bull mannequin after Bus brought a selection of mannequins to the shop and caused a buzz in the parking lot as people crowded around Bus’ truck to get a look at the figures.

Goff is sending the mannequin he bought to his stepmother in Texas. She recently moved into assisted living.

“When she opens up the box with Sitting Bull inside, it’s really going to be something,” said Goff.

He’s grown so attached to the figure, he plans to buy one for himself. “I can’t go without one,” said Goff.

LIFE AMONG THE LIFELIKE

The mannequin business has led to some interesting encounters, said Louise, who equates her adventurous life with Bus as “riding a Brahma bull without a handhold.”

Once, she and Bus were on a sales trip with four mannequins riding along, sitting upright in the cab of their truck. They stopped for the night. The next morning at the hotel coffee shop, the waitress scolded the Hudsons for “leaving those poor guys out in the cold all night.” She’d mistaken the mannequins for real men.

At age 91, Bus acknowledges he’s old enough to retire, but a life of leisure is not his thing. It puts him off, hearing people say they plan to retire and “not do a damned thing.”

“I was brought up on a working ranch. My dad taught us to work,” said Bus.

The Hudsons have a large outbuilding on their 5-acre spread devoted to mannequin production and display.

The first sight you see when you walk past tables of tools are about 30 mannequin men and women staring back at you. The mannequins sit in rows on risers, shoulder to shoulder like a seated choir.

A small workroom holds scores of heads in various stages of completion. The heads surround the table where Amy Johnson airbrushes skin, lips and eyes. On one shelf, heads fresh from their molds sit white and plastery.

“When it’s all the white heads, it’s really scary for the children,” she said.

ART THAT’S ALL IN THE FAMILY

Amy’s son, Sam Johnson, designs the mannequins’ costumes. He styles their hair, bought online, along with eyelashes and what Bus calls “mustache material” from Wig America.

Sam has a 5-year-old daughter, Alyvia. “So I’m good at braiding hair.”

The Hudsons are always on the lookout for clothes suitable for a mannequin’s frame. They fashioned a World War I sailor after Sam happened across an old blue, woolen uniform.

The workroom holds racks of shirts, coats and other found garments, a cornucopia of textiles.

“We get the clothes from Neiman Marcus,” said Bus, then waiting a beat.

“I’m lying about that. We get them at thrift stores.”

Building bodies and making two-by-fours, two-by-twos, plywood and insulation look like legs and shoulders is not easy. And at $395 each, and extra for war bonnets and other special garments, the mannequins are not cheap.

But they are easy to be around.

“They don’t belong to the union,” Bus said, “and they don’t complain.”

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