At a time when dozens of items are being mass-produced in remote locations across the United States, Drew Clark’s work stands tall.
Clark, 54, is a custom saddler in Colcord, Oklahoma, and crafts each creation by hand in his own shop.
A fourth-generation cowboy and saddler, he owns Drew Clark Saddles at Veach Saddlery. His great-grandfather was famed saddler Monroe Veach, while his grandfather, Charley Beals, was also a well-known saddler, as Clark told Fox News Digital in a phone interview.
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Monroe Veach began selling saddles in 1919 in Trenton, Missouri, Clark said. After Veach’s daughter married Charley Beals, the two opened a Western store in Oklahoma.
At the store, the Beals were able to sell the products they each made using their individual talents. “He made saddles and my grandmother made clothes,” Clark said. “And they were selling clothes there at the store.”
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When the Beals retired in 1985, they sold the store and moved to a ranch in Colcord, a small town in northeast Oklahoma, Clark said.
In the late 1980s, Clark and his parents built what is now the existing saddle store on the Colcord Ranch.
“We have my mom and dad – they have a ranch here. They raise cattle and horses,” he said. Clark and his wife, Darbi, have been married for 29 years.
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It was important for Clark to showcase his legacy in his new venture.
“Veach Saddlery, as the original company was called, is now called ‘Drew Clark Saddles at Veach Saddlery,'” he said. “We liked to keep the name in the business,” he said.
With more than 100 years under its belt, Clark said the family business is “one of the oldest family-run tack shops still in operation in the United States.”
Clark first worked in construction as a young adult, he said, but it wasn’t long before he was inspired to work in the family business.
“It’s just hard not to,” he said. “You have everything there, and all the tools and machinery. And I guess it took me until my mid-twenties to figure out that was what I had to do.”
Clark said that because he’s been around saddles all his life, he more or less learned the trade from his grandfather and father.
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“I learned a lot from my grandfather when I was a kid, going in and out, running around my store. And my father helped me a lot when I started,” he said. .
“My grandfather passed away in 1994,” Clark said. “My dad, when he and mom first got married, he worked for them at the western store there and helped grandpa make some saddles that he knew so well.”
He added: “So if I have a question, he’s the one to go to.”
The saddle-making process is different for each customer, as each order is custom, Clark said.
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“The first thing I do is call and order a tree, that’s what you start making a saddle. It’s wood covered in rawhide,” Clark said, adding that he uses a “place in Utah” that makes them.
The “tree” must fit both the rider and the horse, Clark said. He will specially measure the horse and determine how the saddle should be adjusted.
“And when I order shafts, I get those measurements and specs. That’s good for customization,” he added. “They go to both you and the horse.”
This process takes about two to three months, he said, but once the tree arrives, the custom leatherwork begins.
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“It’s hard to explain the exact process. There’s a lot of stuff, but yeah, you keep putting leather where you want it,” Clark said with a laugh.
Each saddle has a unique, “like metal work” carving specific to what the buyer is asking for, Clark said.
As a rule, he carves “flowers and intertwining stems and leaves”.
“Everything flows, you know – the leaves and everything in the same direction,” he said.
“You can do it in so many ways and [create] different designs with that, but it’s usually the basics like leaves, vines, and flowers.”
As for the next generation of saddlers, Clark said he had two sons.
His eldest, Tyler, is a football coach, while his youngest, Drake, may be the one taking over the reins of the family. Drake “helps me quite a bit,” he said.
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Aside from the custom nature of his products, Clark believes the leather he uses is better than the “assembly line” saddles from Mexico and South America that can be purchased for less than his custom work.
“They’re all exactly the same,” he said.
“Mine, everyone is different. Of course, by making it by hand, you’ll never have exactly the same thing every time.”
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Clark said he couldn’t imagine a life other than the one he led on his ranch.
“I can’t imagine living in a city with people around me all the time,” he said.
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“Here you can be alone if you want. I like the work. And yes, I like being with the cattle and the horses all day.”