Building on Tradition

 


 

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 Whether supervising operations, braiding rawhide, engraving silver or building saddles, the owners, managers and craftsmen at Hamely & Co. share a common vision: to maintain the quality craftsmanship and commitment to working working cowboys and buckaroos that the store was founded on more than a century ago.

Step off Main Street in Pendleton, Oregon, into Hamley & Co. and you’ll be treated to an all-encompassing Western experience.

On one side of the store you’ll find well-appointed displays of distinctive, hat-to-boot Western wear and accessories for the fashion-forward fanatic or the practical-minded cowboy or buckaroo. The other side of the store houses everything a horseman could want, from a new latigo to a custom-made saddle. Plus, you can peer into the windows of the saddle shop, where top craftsmen are busy building both the tack seen on the showroom floor and custom orders.

On the second level is a gallery featuring some of the best representations of Western life by local and national artists. Climb another flight of stairs and you reach the Cattle Barons meeting room and the Slick Fork Saloon, a restored banquet room and concert hall that overlooks downtown Pendleton. Anchored by an oak bar that harkens back to the 1890s and decorated with images of the past, the room radiates Old West nostalgia and wild stories only the walls could tell. Top Western singers, such as Ian Tyson, have performed at this state-of-the art venue.

Adjacent to the store is another banquet room, and the recently opened coffee house and a world-class steakhouse that features acclaimed chefs and an extensive list of international wines.

Hamley’s wasn’t always the Northwest destination it is today, but it’s always been highly regarded by working cowboys and buckaroos, and, for some, it was a place where saddlemaking careers were launched and where memories were made.

Founded in 1883 by brothers Henry and J. J. Hamley, the business has a deep history rooted in Wisconsin, South Dakota and Idaho. It 1905, several years after Henry’s death, J. J. moved the store to its present location. The business was instrumental in the establishment of the Pendleton Roundup and development of the Wade saddle tree.

Through the years, however, Hamley’s has endured a rough-and-tumble history that’s been documented in magazines worldwide, including a devastating fire, multiple changes in ownership and even near demise. But present owners Parley Pearce and Blair Woodfield have breathed new life into the Northwest landmark, amplified its presence and appeal, and hired the best craftsmen in the West to carry on the legacy and prestige of Hamley traditions.

Parley Pearce and Blair Woodfield, Owners
Walla Walla, Washington

Business partners Parley Pearce and Blair Woodfield met in veterinary school and opened a large- and small-animal practice together after graduation.

Savvy entrepreneurs, the men also invested in commercial real estate and other ventures. Both grew up on ranches in the Northwest and value the Western lifestyle, so taking over Hamley’s was a perfect fit.

“I have fond memories of Hamley’s,” says Parley. “My dad used to bring me to Hamley’s when he roped at the Pendleton Roundup. It was an intriguing place to me and had the best cowboy gear.”

The partners acquired the building and then the brand in the spring of 2005. Within six months, they had completely renovated the building, assembled a team of talented employees and craftsmen, and were ready to open in time for the Pendleton Roundup and the 100th anniversary of the store’s being in its present location.

Innovators like the original Hamley’s owners, Parley and Blair spent hours at the drawing table, discussing ways to expand the Hamley brand and make it a destination for horsemen. Their ideas culminated in a coffee and wine shop, and a five-star steakhouse located adjacent to the store. Each business entity reflects the quality and perfection upon which the Hamleys founded the original company.

In addition to increasing the store’s reputation as a source for quality cowboy gear, the men’s next goal is to revive the Hamley catalog as an adjunct to the store and Web site.

“We’re taking it one step at a time, allowing things to develop honestly,” Blair says. “We hope 100 years from now that people look back on us with the same respect as the Hamley rainmakers who preceded us. Being one of the stewards of the Hamley brand, on the same level as J. J. and Lester, would be an honor.”

Pat Beard, Saddle Shop Manager
Walla Walla, Washington

Pat Beard manages Hamley’s saddle shop, but he readily admits that he isn’t a saddlemaker—never has been and never will be. However, growing up in his family’s rodeo stock-contracting business and competing in roping and ranch-horse competition, Pat considers himself a “son of the West” and an ardent student of saddles and horse equipment.

“Throughout my life, I’ve been fortunate enough to have ridden many great saddles,” he says. “I recognize quality, fit and comfort.”

According to Blair and Parley, Pat’s eye for quality craftsmanship has been a key element in the saddle shop’s resurgence.

“His discerning eye for quality, his involvement with horses and ranching, and his detailed knowledge of saddles, bits, spurs and other tack are assets to the business,” Blair says.

Pat began his career at Hamley’s in the 1980s. He and his business partner, world champion team roper Mike Beers, sold their rope company to Loren and Margaret Wood, then owners of Hamley’s, and Pat hired on with the shop making ropes. He’s felt a deep connection with the company since the first time he stepped into the historic store.

“When I first started at Hamley’s, I worked on the third floor, which is now the Slick Fork Saloon,” he recalls. “At the time, the place was in disrepair, but I still sensed something magic about it. I’d think about what it’d be like if somebody came along and helped the business reach its full potential. Blair and Parley have made that happen, and it’s really exciting and gratifying to have watched the store evolve into the destination it’s become.”

While it’s a new era at Hamley’s, Pat still reflects on the mantra of one of the store’s original founders.

“Lester Hamley always said he couldn’t afford the extravagance of cheap things,” Pat says. “I don’t ever want our shop to sacrifice quality craftsmanship. Hamley’s has built saddles for 125 years, and I want to see that the store continues to do that for another 125.”

Alan Dewey, Saddlemaker
Ethel, Washington

Alan Dewey signed on as a Hamley saddlemaker in 2005, but has built saddles on his own for more than 30 years. He built his first saddle in 1973, while attending Washington State University, where he majored in animal nutrition.

“I used instructions from a book,” Alan recalls. “The saddle was so bad that I ended up tearing it apart.”

After graduation, Alan sought to learn more about saddlemaking and had a little money left on his GI Bill, so he attended a saddlemaking school taught by Bill Long from Spokane, Washington.

“Bill was very meticulous about the basics of a saddle, and he worried that someone might take one of his apart and find some flaw that wasn’t apparent on the surface,” Alan says. “He instilled a lot of that in me.”

Alan’s scrupulous skills and painstaking attention to detail have earned him notoriety as a craftsman. An invited guest at several prestigious Western trappings shows, Alan takes pride in his craftsmanship and carving artistry.

“It sounds a little esoteric, but the key to quality carving begins with a pattern drawn on paper,” he explains. “The average person might not understand the intricacy of a pattern; it’s something the carver has to take pride in producing. When you tool or stamp leather, it burnishes with compression. If the leather isn’t the right moisture content, then the burnishing never shows up.”

Alan is most proud of the saddle he created for the winner of the 2006 Big 4 Rodeo Circuit, which consists of four Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association-sanctioned events held in Ellensburg, Washington; Lewiston, Idaho; Pendleton, Oregon; and Walla Walla, Washington. Trevor Brazile won the slick-fork saddle, which was adorned with 100 carefully carved flowers.

Although Alan is a renowned carver, he believes there’s more to a saddle than fancy embellishments.

“It’s nice to have a pretty saddle, but it also has to have quality construction and rideability,” he says. “That’s what Hamley’s saddlemaking tradition is all about—producing functional tack for working cowboys.”

Timothy George, Rawhide Braider
Pendleton, Oregon

With his keen, artistic eye, and adroit dexterity despite losing his right ring finger, Timothy George embodies the spirit of a traditional cowboy craftsman. Inspired by Luis Ortega’s opuses, Timothy strives to bring art and tradition back into rawhide braiding.

The primarily self-taught craftsman processes, cuts and tints his own rawhide in a 9-by-9-foot building outside his home.

“My pieces are about as traditional as you can get,” Timothy says. “Everything is rawhide, even the adjustment pieces on a bridle. There’s no metal on the tack I create.”

The braider’s mind is perpetually active. When he’s not braiding, he’s studying knot-tying and braiding technique, working with his hands or devising new patterns. In fact, he says he gets so lost in his creativity and refining his craft that he often can’t sleep.

“There are several braiders out there, but we’ve lost the artistic style that was apparent during Ortega’s days,” he says. “I want to incorporate colors, patterns and designs into my braiding.”

For more than 30 years, Timothy’s extraordinary craftsmanship went relatively unnoticed until he came on board at Hamley’s in April 2006. Now he’s gone from being an unknown craftsman to being considered a master braider. Last summer, he was awarded first-, second- and third places, as well as best of show for his work at the Rocky Mountain Leather Trade Show held in Sheridan, Wyoming. Working horsemen and collectors alike seek his finely braided, functional tack.

“I’m not doing anything new,” the humble braider states. “I’m just hoping to take my craft to a new level.”

Dennis Hensley, Saddlemaker
Westfall, Oregon

Dennis Hensley has made saddles for more than 30 years and enjoys every minute he spends in the quaint shop he shares with fellow Hamley’s craftsman Ernie Marsh.

“I’d build saddles seven days a week if my wife would let me,” he says. “You have to love this profession—you can’t force yourself to do this every day.”

In addition to operating his business, Westfall Saddle Shop, Dennis has made saddles for Hamley’s for about a year. Although the horseman spent his younger days riding swell-fork saddles on Colorado ranches, he’s made a name for himself building slick forks. (See “The Quest for the Lightweight Wade,” November 2007 Western Horseman.)

“Saddle styles go in spurts,” Dennis points out. “In the 1950s, the trend was toward building roping saddles with narrow cantles, padded seats and D-ring riggings. After The Horse Whisperer came out [in theaters in 1998], the Wade became popular. It’s a comfortable saddle, and the large horn is popular with dally ropers because you can slide your rope easily.”

Beyond personal preference, saddle design has evolved due to changes in horse conformation, Dennis points out.

“Horses have become stouter and wider than they used to be,” the saddlemaker says. “As a result, we’re building saddles with wider gullets and longer, flatter-pitched bars.”

Dennis got his start in saddlemaking at Monte Beckman’s saddle shop in Dolores, Colorado. In 2001, he moved to Oregon and started his own saddlemaking business. He takes pride in being a part of the Hamley’s tradition of producing functional, high-quality saddles for working cowboys and buckaroos.

“The biggest sense of accomplishment for me is having a great cowboy or buckaroo brag on the fit and quality of a saddle I built,” says the craftsman.

Ernie Marsh, Silversmith
Westfall, Oregon

Tucked in a remote part of Oregon’s high-desert country is an old school house that Ernie Marsh converted into his shop. The silversmith has made silver bits and spurs for serious bridle horsemen and collectors since 1990. Trained at the Miller Bit and Spur School in Nampa, Idaho, he went on to work under the Hamley name, as well as Marsh Bros. Oregon Silver.

Ernie’s background in firearms engraving contributes to the precision in his work, and his wife, Teresa, often helps with the finishing process. Ernie’s work was listed among that of the top 10 spur makers by the Academy of Western Artists from 1997–2000 and named best of show in 2003 at the Trappings of Texas Show.

A founding member of the Traditional Cowboy Arts Association, Ernie is a proponent of promoting traditional cowboy arts and crafts, and encouraging the next generation of craftsmen through educational workshops. 

Jan MacGregor, Store Manager
Pendleton, Oregon

When Blair Woodfield and Parley Pearce were restructuring the store and gathering their team of employees and craftsmen, they hired longtime Pendleton resident Jan MacGregor to manage the bookkeeping.

With a background in accounting, Jan wasn’t well-versed in the horse industry, but over the past two years she’s become a seasoned hand and has worked her way into a management role at the store.

“She’s a really detail-oriented person who has a passion for doing things right,” says Blair. “She’s also highly organized, which is a good thing around cowboys and saddlemakers.”

Blair points out that strong leadership is at the heart of a profitable business, and Jan provides that to the employees.

“She’s a shining ray of light with her unwavering interest and dedication to the Hamley brand, business and everything the name represents.”

Woodrow Star, General Leatherman
Pendleton, Oregon

Hanging on the brick wall above Woodrow Star’s workbench in the Hamley saddle shop is a framed copy of the first paycheck he earned at the shop. Though meager wages compared to those he earned before retiring from the tribal police, that check is more than a monetary note—it’s a reminder of his younger days as a Cayuse-Nez Perce cowboy and horseman living on reservations in North Dakota and Washington.

Woodrow recalls making the trek from the Yakima Valley in Washington to Pendleton each year for the Roundup. While in town, his family purchased necessary supplies, including clothing and tack from Hamley’s.

“The owners were good to my grandmother; they gave her a line of credit that she paid off when she received her ‘wheat money’,” Woodrow says. “I used to joke that I’d one day like to work for Hamley’s.”

Little did he know that dream would become a reality.

While working in law enforcement, Woodrow continued to dabble in leather craft. Upon retiring, he sought something fulfilling to occupy his time, so he inquired about any job openings in the saddle shop. All positions were filled, but Woodrow was patient until a part-time repair position became available. The opportunity has been a quite a learning experience for the former rodeo cowboy and horseman.

“I learn by watching the great saddlemakers in the shop; they all have their signatures in saddlemaking,” he says. “The real education comes when I disassemble an old Hamley saddle that comes in for repair. Each craftsman did something different, which makes each Hamley saddle unique.”

While he’s grateful for the knowledge he’s gained at Hamley’s, Woodrow says that the best part of the job is peace of mind.

“After 31 years in law enforcement, I saw the worst side of humanity,” he says. “Now, I get to return to my roots and work with my hands.”

Jim “Stoney” Stone, Saddlemaker
Pendleton, Oregon

Nothing speaks more about a cowboy than the type of saddle he rides. Nobody knows that better than Jim Stone, who’s more commonly known as “Stoney” in saddlemaking circles.

Stoney was raised riding horses on Washington’s Coleville Reservation, but learned his trade working at saddle shops throughout the country, from Florida to Oregon. After operating his own saddle shop in the Northwest and building saddles in Weatherford, Texas, the horseman took time off to serve a short stint as an insurance adjuster. In October 2005, he decided to return to his craft as Hamley’s head saddlemaker.

The profession goes hand-in-hand with his pastime. Stoney not only makes saddles, but he also rides and ropes in them regularly.

“I still believe the best saddlemakers stay in touch with their sport,” he says. “They just don’t build saddles, they also study and ride the saddles in which they specialize.”

Concentrating on cutting, barrel racing and roping saddles, Stoney, along with Pat Beard and the rest of Hamley’s saddlemakers, is dedicated to developing contemporary styles and innovations that meet the needs of today’s top riders and equine athletes, while reviving some of the saddlery’s original models.

“Hamley’s has a reputation for being innovative with its saddle designs and not cutting corners on its craftsmanship,” Stoney explains. “Joining this company has enabled me to be a part of a tradition nobody wants to see disappear. I take pride coming in here each day and knowing that we’re all working to get this shop back to the way it used to be.”

Zan Traughber, Silversmith
Pendleton, Oregon

Zan Traughber and his wife of 25 years, Patience, have worked side by side for more than 17 years, creating lustrous, intricately engraved silver accents for Hamley’s and their own business, ZPT Silver & Gold. The pair work together from start to finish on each project, and their skills complement each other nicely. Patience specializes in designing and laying out patterns, as well as hand-cutting letters. A self-taught silversmith, Zan handles much of the mechanical processes, engraving and finishing work.

“Zan’s gift is the ability to make a piece look beautiful,” Patience says.

Before silversmithing became her fulltime job, Patience was a real-estate broker. Although she was raised in Texas, she wasn’t exposed to horses and silversmithing until she met her husband and moved to the Pacific Northwest, where the couple has raised three sons.     

Growing up on a ranch in John Day, Oregon, Zan rode Hamley saddles as a child. But he never dreamed he’d one day be part of the company.

“Quality workmanship is a trademark of Hamley’s silver,” Zan says. “Nothing is mass-produced — everything we make is a one-of-a-kind keepsake.”   

The talented couple has made spurs and buckles for two U.S. presidents, and created several pieces, including a buckle, Spanish-style spurs and money clip, to commemorate Hamley’s 100th anniversary in 2006.

“It’s nice to make items you know will be collectible one day, and making pieces that hold sentimental value to people and will be passed down through the generations,” Patience says. “I hope everyone sees the quality and love we put into every piece we make. Making people happy and seeing their smiles of satisfaction is what this is all about.”


Jennifer Denison is a senior editor at Western Horseman. Send comments on this story to edit@westernhorseman.com. For more information on Hamley’s, visit hamley.com.