Article by Joyce Ashley, The Vernon Daily Record (1988)
He’s a young man, but his craft is as old as the west itself.
Larry Lancaster of Vernon makes saddles, and each one is original.
“I’ve been working with leather since high school,” Lancaster says. He graduated in 1969 from We Boswell High School in Saginaw, Texas. His father was a pilot, and the family moved around quite a bit, so Lancaster was always “the new kid in town.” He was pretty much of a loner, but he liked to work with his hands, and he enjoyed the feel of the smooth leather as he turned it into a good looking western belt. He found out other people liked what he made, and soon he was able to sell enough belts to pay his entry fees for another interest—rodeoing.
“I got into rodeoing right out of high school,” the tall, lanky Lancaster recalls. “I fought bulls and clowned, but I liked bareback riding best.”
Lancaster rodeoed for about 12 years, 10 of which were on the professional circuit, crisscrossing the United States from California to Florida and from Chicago to Beaumont. During his biggest year, he estimates he traveled over 60000 miles. He didn’t make a lot of money, he says, “just enough most of the time to get to the next rodeo.”
The miles and injuries began to take its toll. Meanwhile, Lancaster never completely gave up working with leather. It was something to do between rodeos, a way to make money, a trade to fall back on. He went to work for a man in Wichita Falls who made boots, with the understanding that he could have the time off to rodeo, and later worked in Henrietta while recuperating from torn tendons suffered while rodeoing in Dallas. While there he met Raymond Hulin, another rodeo cowboy who was paralyzed from the neck down following a fall from a horse in Mesquite. “Hulin’s claim to fame,” says Lancaster, “was building bronc riggings.” Lancaster worked for Hulin for four or five years, learning to build bronc saddles and later stock saddles.
Some six years ago, Lancaster and his wife moved to Vernon where his mother also lives. His dream to operate his own saddle business came true when he was able to open up shop on Main Street. His customers came from all over the world, and the craftsman took pride in each custom-made saddle. Unfortunately, the economy took a downward turn, and Lancaster closed his shop. But his love for working with leather could not be stifled, so his garage became his workshop. The walls are covered with a multitude of paper patterns. The smell of leather fills the air.
Lancaster says it takes some 60 to 80 hours to make a saddle. He orders the tree from Moab, Utah. Made of pine, the form is made to the measurements of each individual customer as to seat size, horn size, and other specifications.
“Each saddle I build is an original,” Lancaster notes. “There are no others just like it. No two saddles go together the same, and no two saddles are going to look exactly the same.” Lancaster also says that a good saddle will last a lifetime if cared for properly. As to the future of his craft, Lancaster says he believes saddle makers will always be needed. Despite the modern technology that allows cowboys to herd cattle with helicopters, a cowboy will always need a horse, he maintains, and as long as there are horses, there will be saddles.
Many of them bearing the Lancaster logo, the craftsman hopes.