When auto and heavy equipment engines got too sophisticated, Barney Billue became a boot maker.
“I was raised on a ranch in Godley,” said Billue, 53, a former mechanic. “I worked with leather a lot. Boots always fascinated me.”
After learning the basics in 1994 from the D.W. Frommer Encyclopedia of Boot Making, Billue got into the art earnestly. For the last 15 years he’s been custom fitting boots for Ramblin Trails Custom Boots in Cleburne. He and fellow boot makers have worked in a booth in the southeast corner of Brown Lupton Exhibits Hall South since the Fort Worth Stock Show opened, helping customers get started on a path toward the best-feeling boots they’ve ever worn.
“A custom boot is made to match a design the customer brings in,” Billue said. “Custom fitting takes it to the next level: a guaranteed fit. We aren’t happy until the customer is happy."
That makes the boots created by Billue and fellow artisans worth the $700 to $5,000 price tag, he said.
“It takes 35 to 40 working hours over a three- to four-week period for wet and dry times,” Billue said. “At least four steps in the process we get the boots wet, mold them, then let them dry.”
Customers don’t have to be around for the molding steps. Before starting on the boots, the maker creates a pair of lasts based on tracings and extensive measurements of the customer’s feet, Billue said. He starts with a resin blank and adds pieces of leather that he sculpts to match the shapes of his customer’s feet.
“Every foot is different,” he said. “Just like every piece of leather is different. I learn something every day.”
Learning about boots lured Billue into his art, so it’s understandable that it keeps him going.
“This is a low-stress job,” he said. “I’m happy doing it. I’m happy with who I am.” — Terry Evans
Barney Billue works on a pair of custom made boots at the Fort Worth Stock Show and Rodeo. Photo by Greg Ellman