While driving in the middle of nowhere (literally – there were fields everywhere), quite a distance from my residence, I saw a small sign on a lean-to on a house : Harness Shop. Because I was not in a hurry and there there was an "open" sign and it felt wonderfully random, I stopped.
Here is where I met Earl, a man in his mid-eighties, with a cowboy hat and a warm smile. His "shop" (which really was a one car garage) smelled like leather, was full of every tool imaginable and had barely enough room for himself, let alone me. The walls were lined at the ceiling with photos of draft horses, some five wide, all in harnesses, all working. Earl showed me his latest creation that he had just finished -heavy, thick leather complete with silver spots, a 'yankee britchen' and breast collar black-as-night harness – it was a work of art. He told me tales of his youth when he would load up his trailer (outfitted with shower, kitchen, tools, etc) and travel through a five state loop, repairing harnesses and filling in as cowboy when needed. He spoke of a ranch in Montana that had over a million acres – where one could ride 40 miles a day and never see a fence.
This wonderful piece of living history seemed to enjoy my attentive listening … I was introduced to his team – 1/2 Belgian / 1/2 quarter horses -Buck & Bess. He showed me his barn, his sleigh, his hay mower – he still mows his own hay! We entered a cold tack room in the way back end of his barn, where another work harness hung – one he made years ago that is now too heavy for him to lift onto his horses. Then I got a tour of his new innovative steps that he built in his horses' stalls so that he can stand on those and place that harness by himself. ("I don't like it when people have to help me harness up my horses!")
Throughout his lifetime, Earl has done many things – carpentry, plumbing, welding. He referred to himself as a 'Jack-of-all-trades' – yet in the twilight of his years, what is he doing? Making high-end (astronomically expensive) harnesses for a lifestyle that he loves. And apparently, people come from all over to purchase them. I asked him how long it takes him to make a harness ? "Oh, lessee, I think I can knock one out in 'bout a week."
Eventually,feeling guilty for taking up so much of this man's time, (though he said, "I have more time than money!") I shook his hand and told him it had been a pleasure meeting him. I came away feeling almost buyant – wondering what I will be investing golden years in?
I hope it makes me as happy as his passion makes him.