Sunday, February 12, 2012

Bill's Bing Bang Leather Gang

One of the items I wanted to learn how to make was sandals. I had all the machinery from the old shoe repair shop and it just so happened that an older leather bender was crafting the type of sandal I wanted to make. He was in Madison and anyone who attended school there at that time will remember his shop. His name was Cecil and his shop was named after him. I traveled to Madison on number of occasions and he was kind enough to give me some pointers. Fortunetely I was a quick learner and my drive back and forth was made in this 1951 Ford Pickup Truck with an early logo of mine and Mr. Natural emblazoned on the side. Driving this truck with the window down and letting my freak flag fly was always a highlight and Madison was such a hip and trendy destination. Here's the only picture I have of that truck:

1951 Ford Pickup Truck with Early Leather Shop Logo - 1969

Through some trial and error I was able to fashion some well thought out and nicely crafted leather sandals. I really enjoyed the process of tracing someones foot on a piece of leather and then making the style they chose. I had to cut oblong holes in the top piece (upper sole) of leather for the straps and then trim this piece down to be slightly larger then their traced foot. Grooves were cut in the underside of this leather so the straps would not be felt by the person wearing them. I would dye each top piece with leather dye and attached the already colored straps. A bottom sole would be glued to the upper and then my trusty straight needle stitcher would combined them together. I marveled at how this stitcher had a awl that first made the hole and then the needle followed it up and finished the stitch. This stitcher also had a small knife that cut a small channel that the bottom thread pulled up into. This allowed the leather to heal over the thread and the thread would not be walked on and worn away too soon. A heel was attached, the sides were sanded smooth and black edge coat would be applied to the side. Here's a picture of some of the samples my customer could choose from:

A Display of My Handmade Sandals - 1970

I was very busy with sandal making during the summer months. To maximize my sales, I would advertise in the local hippy newspapers. Here is an advertisement that was drawn by one of my employees, Martha Bell. She was very skilled at line drawing!

A Drawing of My Sandals - 1970

I Made These Sandals in 1990 for My Lovely Daughter Ann Marie

I also used other ads that were less conventional and somewhat modeled after R. Crumbs "Furry Freak Brothers". My long dark curly hair and sometimes grumpy demeanor was mistaken by some as my true character. Instead of resisting that label, I decided to embrace it and use it in a cartoon fashion. My good friend, Les Leffingwell was commissioned to draw several cartoons for me which could be used in the local rags. We must have smoked a bowl or two discussing the ad and finally came up with "Eat Leather Fork Face", The Adventures of Will-M-Hell Odd Bird. Here's several ads I ran:

Funky Cartoons Drawn by Louie Lomoco - 1969

Beside doing my own advertising, I was able to attract some attention from the local media. Brady Street was fast becoming a hip and trendy street and The Milwaukee Journal did a piece on use new merchants. The article ran in the Sunday paper and this nice color picture of me was used. They misspelled my name, referenced that I was making moccasins when I was obviously dying the edge of a sandal and had the wrong street address. They did get one thing right, I was casual and unhurried.

Casual and Unhurried in My Leather Shop - 1970

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