- Apr 24, 2003
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I realize that some of you are not particularly enamored of cowboy boots, but some of you are and might find this interesting. I have a soft spot in my heart for cowboy boots, and ever since I saw a picture of custom-made elephant boots made by Dave Little in San Antonio in The Cowboy Boot Book by Tyler Beard and Jim Arndt several years ago, I knew that I would eventually have to have a pair. (A word about elephant skin: elephant hides currently available in the United States are taken from animals culled in African game preserves to ensure that the herds in those preserves don't grow to unsustainable numbers. Babar was not shot by poachers to make my boots.) This past January, I decided that the time had come to have them made. Living in Texas, I'm blessed by a close proximity to a number of well-reputed custom bootmakers, but in the end, I decided to go with Wheeler Boot Company in Houston, TX. Wheeler Boot Company was started in 1960 by Paul Wheeler. Paul is now deceased, but his son Dave is the principal bootmaker, while Dave's wife Janis and his mother Dorothy handle the business side of the operation. Wheeler is one of the most well-respected custom bootmaking companies in the US, and its proximity to me ensured that the entire process would be relatively painless. Dave is known for the flamboyant designs that he creates for his boot shafts. Here are some examples:That's not exactly what I had in mind, but he can do something relatively plain, as well. The Wheeler shop is fairly small, sandwiched between an industrial area and a residential area off the South Loop in Houston. There are several sample boots as you come in, as well as a wall full of hides and binder with sample pictures in case you need some help coming up with what you want. As with most custom bootmakers in the US, Dave starts with stock lasts and alters them based on the customer's measurements via the addition method. He has about six different last styles that he and his father have developed over 44 years incorporating most of the features that people might look for in a boot last. Ordering is very much an a la carte experience. You choose your last shape (most of the differences between the different lasts are in the toe shape), you choose your heel (heel height in addition to how underslung it is), you choose the skin for the vamp (and when I say that you choose your skin, I mean that you choose the actual hide that will be used), you choose the height of the shaft of the boot, and you choose the characteristics of the shaft. I ended up with a square-toe last, 1.75" walking heel, dark brown elephant vamp, and a plain dark brown calf 12" shaft. They don't take credit cards, so I had to come back the next day with a check for the 50% deposit. While I was there, I decided to add a wave stitch pattern to the shaft, in addition to elephant trim around the top of the shaft. That was it for about 7 months: Dave doesn't measure your feet until he's ready to start making the boots so that he'll remember your foot better. Toward the end of July, I got a call to come in for my measurement, which consisted of three different circumference measurements at different points of each foot, a length measurement for each foot, a circumference measurement of each calf, and a tracing of each foot. My boots were finished at the end of August, and after a couple of minor fit adjustments, I took delivery of them about two weeks ago. Here are some pictures:I'm extremely happy with the way that they turned out. The fit is excellent, and the look is just what I wanted. The quality of the make is better than any of the RTW boots that I've seen (and that includes Lucchese and JB Hill). Highly recommended. I'm currently giving some thought to something with a more elaborate shaft design.