I paused while walking along the old main street in Cody Wyoming, and looked up a long flight of old, short wooden steps. I could hear them creaking before I made my first step. What drew me in? The smell of leather and the sign of the Saddle shop. I’m a western romantic; an urban cowboy.
The saddle maker could hear me coming for about 27 steps and I ,of course, looked like a typical tourist- not in my cowboy garb but a beach shirt and shorts. What a cool looking shop; and he was the only one in it. He is Keith Seidel, owner and journeyman.
He gave me permission to ask a few questions as he was carefully dying some leather. Here is a man who exemplified what I call the formula for success:
1. Get up early
2. Work Hard
3. Get all the education you can
4. Find what you are passionate about
5. Make your mark
6. Give back
He started working in a cobbler shop at age 11. Soon he was apprenticing in a local saddle shop, and by age 18 he was traveling to other cities to work in saddle shops and gain all he could. It wasn’t too many years before he hung his own shingle, and is now one of the top ten saddle makers in the world. He has a four year back log of work.
The average saddle he makes takes about 300 hours. For that he charges about $25,000 per saddle. He has made a great life of this, loves what he does, but his craft is a dying breed.
I looked around and found him to be the only one there. Do you have any employees or apprentices? I ask. And this is where the real lessons started to come out.
He said he can’t find good help. The youth of today he said don’t want to work hard, they want a big pay check NOW, and they won’t put in the time to develop a skill or learn a trade. They can’t stop using their thumbs enough to also use their fingers, and texting and saddle making don’t go together at the same time.
So he gives a class now and then, charges for any apprenticing that might come along, and continues to make some of the finest saddles in the world.
I thought how sad this was that such a fine man and saddle maker didn’t have a couple of apprentices working alongside; that when he stops, the shop stops, that when he turns out his last saddle, that’s it.
Think about any profession, and see if these lessons don’t apply. You have to work hard. You have to take the time to become expert at what you do. You must continually educate yourself, practice what you learn, and teach what you learn to others. No one will go through the process of apprentice to journeyman watching from the sidelines. To our younger generation especially I want to emphasize the value of time. Take the time to develop your skills, and one day you too will metaphorically be selling twenty five thousand dollar saddles. But to do this, to reach a pinnacle where you can make your mark and make a difference requires a fortitude that is uncommon.
To my young friends: stay in the saddle!