At a time in which scores of items are mass-produced in places far outside of the United States, Drew Clark’s work stands tall.
Clark, 54, is a custom saddlemaker in Colcord, Oklahoma, and crafts each creation by hand in his own shop.
A fourth-generation cowboy and saddlemaker, he owns Drew Clark Saddles at Veach Saddlery. His great-grandfather was the famous saddlemaker Monroe Veach, while his grandfather, Charley Beals, was also a noted saddlemaker, as Clark told Fox News Digital in a phone interview.
Monroe Veach began selling saddles in 1919 in Trenton, Missouri, said Clark. 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 built saddles and my grandmother made clothes,” Clark said. “And they sold clothes there at the store.”
When the Beals retired in 1985, they sold the store and moved to a ranch in Colcord, a small town in northeastern Oklahoma, said Clark.
In the late 1980s, Clark, along with his parents, built what is now the existing saddle shop on the Colcord ranch.
“We have my mom and dad — they have a ranch here. They run cattle and horses,” he said. Clark and his wife, Darbi, have been married for 29 years.
It was important to Clark to highlight his heritage in his new company.
Skill across the generations
“Veach Saddlery, which is what the original company was called, is now ‘Drew Clark Saddles at Veach Saddlery,’” he said. “We liked to keep the name in the business,” he said.
With over 100 years under their belts, Clark said his family’s business is “one of the longest running family-owned saddleries still in operation in the U.S.”
Clark initially worked in construction as a young adult, he said, but it was not long before he was lured into working in the family trade.
“It’s just hard not to do it,” he said. “You’ve got everything there, and all the tools and machinery. And I guess it took me until I was in my mid-20s to figure out that’s what I needed to do.”
“I learned a lot from my grandfather as a kid, just being in and out, running around my shop.”
Clark said that because he had been around saddles his whole life, he more or less learned the trade from his grandfather and father.
“I learned a lot from my grandfather as a kid, just being in and out, running around my shop. And my dad helped me a lot when I started,” he said.
“My grandpa passed away in ’94,” said Clark. “My dad, when he and Mom were first married — he worked for them in the western store there, and helped Grandpa make saddles that he knew a lot about, too.”
He added, “So if I got a question, he’s the guy to go to.”
All custom orders
The process of making saddles is different for each customer, as each order is custom, Clark said.
“The first thing I do is call and order a tree, which is what you start on to make a saddle. It’s wood covered with rawhide,” said Clark, adding that he uses a “place out in Utah” that makes them.
The “tree” has to fit both the rider and the horse, said Clark. He will specially measure the horse and determine how the saddle needs to fit.
“And when I order trees, I get those measurements and specifications. That’s a good thing about custom,” he added. “They fit both you and the horse.”
Each saddle has a unique carving, “like metalwork,” specific to what the buyer requests.
That process takes about two to three months, he said — but once the tree arrives, the custom leather work begins.
“It’s hard to explain the exact process. There’s a lot to it, but yeah, you just keep putting leather on there where you want it,” said Clark with a laugh.
Each saddle has a unique carving, “like metalwork,” specific to what the buyer requests, said Clark.
Typically, he carves “flowers and stems and leaves all intertwining.”
“Everything has flow, you know — the leaves and everything in the same direction,” he said.
“You can do it so many ways and [create] different designs with that, but it’s usually the basics like leaves and vines and flowers.”
As for the next generation of saddlemakers, Clark said that he has two sons.
His eldest, Tyler, is a football coach, while his youngest, Drake, may be the one who takes up the family reins. Drake “helps me out quite a bit,” he said.
Aside from the custom nature of his products, Clark believes that the leather he uses is better than that of 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, each one’s different. Of course, doing it by hand, you’re never going to have the exact same thing every time.”
Clark said he cannot imagine a life other than the one he’s living at his ranch.
“I can’t imagine living in a city with people all around me all the time,” he said.
“Out here, you can be by yourself if you want. I enjoy the work. And yeah, I like being around the cattle and the horses all day.”