Southern Pines, NC
As he inspects his work one last time James pulls a cigar out - he doesn't light it, instead he keeps it wedged in the corner of his mouth, savoring the flavour. He's working on a 15 year old custom Der Dau dressage boot which he tells me are quite an investment. He puts it away, and switches the cigar to the opposite corner. "I've been doing this since high school, when I started as an apprentice. It's been 42 years now - when I started out my boss told me that if I learned this trade I would never need to worry about work a day in my life and he was right." I ask if he is training an apprentice. James glances up and sighs sadly, "No..." his voice trails, "the young people aren't interested in learning this kind of work." It's a shame, looking at the backlog at his workshop, there's enough work here for two maybe three apprentices.
He walks over to a shelf and pulls out a pair of holsters and hands them to me. "A couple guys from Bragg, had these made - they are picking them up tomorrow." They are surprisingly light for how rugged they look - you can see the reinforced stitching and extra padding in just the right places. The guys he speaks of are US Special Forces, a.k.a. Delta Force; apparently James does custom work for them all the time. Right after 9/11 many of them were deployed in Afghanistan and used horses to get around the country. James modified saddles and slings to hold their various kit and weapons. These days the Delta guys aren't playing cowboy as much, but they still need holsters and slings for their custom pistols and rifles - James is their guy.
I unfasten the strap from my camera and hand it to James. "Oh yeah, I can make you something, I just need to pick the right piece of leather." He rumages through his collection of leather pieces that seem to be hanging from every beam of his shop. "This one will do nicely." He pulls down a dark brown piece to my eye looks like a torn scrap. James can sense my skepticism, and laughs "Don't worry ill make sure it looks good". I smile and ask, "So what do you know about watch straps?"