JARDINE: Saddlemaker’s passing means another craftsman lost

09/10/2013 12:00 AM

09/10/2013 12:04 AM

From the emails and voicemails:

INTO THE SUNSET — When A.J. Meyers of Riverbank died at 84 last Friday, a wealth of knowledge about saddle designing and making, cobblery and silversmithing went with him.

Saddlery isn’t necessarily one of those crafts that is fading, said Bruce Johnson of Oakdale, who makes custom saddles and also sells vintage leatherworking equipment. In fact, there are more custom saddlemakers in the country than ever before, most working in small shops out of public view.

But shops like the multi-purpose the one Meyers opened in downtown Riverbank in 1952 are extremely rare today.

“He was a jack-of-all-trades and pretty good at all of it,” Johnson said.

Meyer began his store as a shoe repair place and got into saddlemaking by happenstance.

“This fellow brought me a saddle that needed stirrups,” Meyers told The Bee in a 2008 story. “I said I’d never done it before, but I’d give it a try. I did, and the guy told everyone to bring their saddles to Riverbank. Pretty soon, I’d done everything on a saddle, so I started building them.”

Meyers liked the variety his shop offered rather than specializing only in saddles. He built his last saddle in 1969, opting instead to design them and send the plans off to a custom saddlemaker in Alabama to do the work. Meyers’ designs filled about one-third of his shop, with the shoe/boot repair and workbenches taking up the remainder.

“Meyers and his next-door neighbor, the late Sam Huey, were the last of the older generation,” Johnson said. “Fifty years ago, (saddlemaking) was a secretive profession. You did an appreticeship. You paid your dues.”

Now, Johnson said, they can learn through short-term courses and books. Some moonlight making saddles, and the vast majority sold in the United States are made here, though less-expensive saddles from Mexico and India have been available for many years.

Oakdale’s Ryan Cope, who learned his craft under master saddlemaker Forrest Shoup (now deceased), said he enjoyed visiting Meyers’ shop and Meyers in particular.

“I always loved,” he said. “He was a good guy -- always respectful. He was a guy who put in his time.”

What will happen to the shop? That remains to be seen over the long-term. His daughter, Kathy Appling, her children Jason and Josi, and grandson Rick Meyers all have been involved in the business, including after Meyers had open-heart surgery in January. He recovered and returned to work, grandson Jason Appling said, but then fell and broke his neck. That required another surgery, and his health declined from there.

The family will host a remembrance and get-together for friends and customers at the shop on Thursday afternoon.

“Come in, have a Pepsi and share stories about him,” Jason said.

BOOKS BY THE TRUCKLOAD — In April 2012, I wrote about Earl Gobel, a truck driver from Riverbank who found a great way to pass his mandatory downtime while on the road. He bought a laptop, fashioned a clamp-on tray for his steering wheel and began writing novels.

He’s finished 13 of them including a Civil War novel titled “Hearts of Gray,” a murder mystery series titled “The Dugan Chronicles,” a science fiction novel called “Brimstone,” and his latest, 917-page “Superstition.” The latter tells the story of 10 college students who take a summer trip into Arizona’s Superstition Mountains only to encounter bad experiences.

Six of Gobel’s books, self-published on CreateSpace, are available on Amazon.com, with seven more due to hit the e-shelves soon. Riverbank High students studying film are involved in developing a movie project from one of his books, he said. Search Earl E. Gobel on the Web.

STILL GOING — 100 years ago this month, a group of Oakdale women formed the Cultus Club. Members read books and then met twice monthly to discuss them, dressing up for the events, which included tea served from silver pots.

The group continues to meet, uninterrupted, for the past century, although the gatherings are now once a month. They have a dozen members, which is more than the original roster.

“And it’s much less formal,” member Ardythe Looper said.

The title of the first book they read so long ago? We’ll never know.

“The minutes were left with people who didn’t understand how precious they were, and tossed them,” Looper said.

No matter. The club’s history is on display in an exhibit at the Oakdale Library through the end of the month and perhaps longer, she said.

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