NORTH PLATTE, Neb. (AP) - It’s an education to glance around the workshop where Loncey Johnson spends many of his hours when he’s not working cattle or at his home just a few yards away. Tools and hardware line hooks on the walls, shelves are filled with oils and lotions.
Johnson creates custom saddles, chaps and does repairs on any and all cowboy gear. He and his brother, Wiley, are experimenting with custom boots and sole repairs. His wife, Jessie Jo, does rawhide braiding. Together, they are growing and expanding the business that Johnson first started as a junior in high school.
“You’ve just nibbled and nibbled at it,” Wiley told his brother.
Johnson said he first started working with his family’s broken and beat-up tack as a child, out of boredom. One day, he knew he needed a new pair of spur straps, the North Platte Telegraph (https://bit.ly/1I0OMlp ) reports.
“Well, this looks pretty easy,” he said he thought at the time. “And it just went from there.”
He’s self-taught, from taking apart and repairing gear, and little by little creating his own saddles from the tree up. Each one is custom - no two will have the exact same details based on the preference of his clients, and his own preference. He said he never uses the same pattern twice, and hand draws them each time before setting into the leather. He doesn’t use stamps for any of his designs.
Although Johnson said it was easier than he expected to get started, because he also works his own and neighboring cattle and trains horses, it can be difficult to make the time necessary to fill his orders. A pair of chaps, for example, could take a day to a day and a half depending on the tooling. A full custom saddle could take far longer.
“I keep getting orders and can’t seem to get caught up,” he said.
That’s one of the challenges he’s discovered with the job - how to work several jobs but make customers happy with turn-around time. He is still teaching himself new skills and hopes eventually to create a one-stop-shop for tack needs. He’s started learning about silversmithing, to create ornamental pieces to go with Jessie Jo’s braiding, and hopes to learn to make his own saddle trees. Johnson said his goal is also to create the best product each time.
His business isn’t slowing, either. Since he went to college in Wyoming, Johnson said he gets a lot of requests from the neighbor state, as well as local clients, which make up the bulk of his work. He’s shipped items across the states before, though, like a beer koozie to Pennsylvania or a saddle to Montana.
“I’m a craftsman, so I like building whatever I can,” Johnson said.
He’s gotten the equipment as he’s gone along, figuring out what tools he needs. The shop, in a wooden outbuilding first constructed in the 1970s, has been fitted with new shelves and counters, electricity and a big wood burning stove for the winter. There are four different sewing machines, some that Johnson has refurbished. A shelf in the back room holds rolls of tanned hides.
“You pretty much put a full cow into a saddle,” Johnson said.
Johnson said a lot of his marketing is done through attending events, like the Cowboy Christmas in North Platte. He took a pair of chaps to Elko, Nevada, for the Cowboy Poetry Festival this year.
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