Thursday, April 2, 2015

The Visalia

Yep, it's another saddle post. I apologize for those of you that miss the pretty reenactment clothing and stuff, but this blog is about stuff I make and do, and I have a variety of interests. The saddle one just happens to be in the spotlight of my brain right now. Who knows what might be next?

Great Western Saddlery Co, pieced together for a quick pic, but not finished.

So I've been working away at the Great Western saddle and after two weeks or rubbing in potions and unguents, the leather feels amazingly supple. It still looks rough in spots, because cracks and pebbling don't go away, but overall the condition is much better. The neatsfoot oil darkened it a bit more than I would have liked. The original color was a regular dark brown, and now it's a bit of a deep black cherry which is very pretty in my opinion. Collectors prefer the golds and browns because it's easier to see the details. It's still in pieces in my shop, waiting to be re-fleeced and reassembled, but I put it on temporary hold because a new saddle needed immediate work.

Yep, another one. I was looking on Craigslist for a new pair of spurs and instead I saw a once-in-a-lifetime ad:   Antique Western Saddle $85.

If you know me at all, you know my ears went right up at that price. Then I looked at the listing itself which offered an antique Visalia stock saddle with a blanket and a custom stand made from old barn wood, "perfect for display" for less than a hundred dollars. The ad was only two hours old. I called immediately. The guy lived an hour and a half to the north of me, and I told him I'd be there in two hours.

Visalia Stock Saddle Co has been in business since 1870, and it's still around. The saddles they make have a reputation for quality and the vintage/antique ones are very collectible. In good condition and properly restored, they can sell for thousands. Finding one for $85? That's madness! The picture in the ad looked pretty good, but I wondered what I'd find once I saw it in person.

The Visalia. That stripey blanket looks great on my horse, by the way.

Well, here she is. The guy was really nice, an old buckaroo who had collection of old western gear he was selling down. He had some beautiful woolly chaps and jingly spurs that I would have loved to buy as well, but I had only brought enough cash for the saddle because I didn't want to get myself in trouble. (Hooray for tax returns, but let's not go crazy!) We talked for a bit and the guy liked me. He felt bad because I had to drive all that way and said "How about we call it $75 since you made such a trip?" And I said okay because my mama didn't raise no fools. He even carried it to my car.

You guys, every piece on that saddle is there. Nothing is missing except the horn covering, and that's not unusual and it's easy to replace. And it's all original. Even the latigo keeper -- that little pear-shaped jobber up at the front-- is tooled to match. Those usually wore out or got torn off pretty early in a saddle's life. The seat jockeys are lined-- which I haven't seen in a saddle this old before, but then I've never had one of this quality before-- and they need to be restitched. A pretty easy job. There was a patch repair done to the stirrup strap on one side, and I'll take it apart, clean it, and put it back together. The repair was done with original pieces and I want to keep as much of it as I can.

I've spent the last three days cleaning off the dirt and stripping the finish. Here's a pic so you can see the difference.

Those black spots on the clean leather -- I can't do much about those. Some I can go back and take out with a little more scrubbing (and I do) but others are caused by metal corroding the leather, and nothing will reverse that. Some things you just have to call character, and accept as part of the saddle's history. 

The piece you see in the top of the picture is the last bit I have to scrub. Once that's done, I begin the long slow conditioning process. I can't wait. It's gonna look so good when I'm done! 

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