I Loved My Red Wing Boots

I made semi-annual pilgrimages to this building displaying a boot for at least 20 years.

The Missourian announced on Jan. 27, 1985, that Bob’s Shoe Service at 515 Broadway was expanding. Owner Bob Fuller bought the building on the right from C.W. Bauerle, doubling his space from 1,500 square feet to 3,000.

The story said that Fuller had “been in the shoe repair business for 32 years, and in addition to this engaged for a time in making saddles, and at the present produces leather belts and other items. Fuller is assisted in his business by his sons, Wade and Scott.”

I’m not sure exactly when I bought my first pair of Red Wing boots, but it was sometime between The Athens Messenger and The Gastonia Gazette in the late 60s – early 70s.

Shoes through the ages

[Note the reflection in the bottom left of the photo. Click on it to make it larger. The Walther’s sign hadn’t been changed to Discovery Playhouse yet. These pictures were taken Oct. 24, 2009.]

I was no stranger to manly, blue collar shoes. Even back in grade school I wore a modified high lace-up combat-style boot. When I worked for Dad one summer, I had some low-cut work shoes that were sturdy and serviceable.

I think I wore loafers in high school. Not penny loafers, I’m positive. No tassels, either.

When I went away to college, I recall going through a Hush Puppy suede shoe stage. At some point, I bought some fur-lined slip-on boots in Ohio that were nice and warm when it got cold and nasty. I wore them until they became, shall we say, odoriferous, and I passed them on to Brother David, who wore them many more years. He lived in Oklahoma, where standards were lower.

Red Wing boots: perfect photographer shoes

Something lured me into Bob’s, where I discovered the Red Wing work boot, which I thought was the perfect footwear for a newspaper photographer.

  • They were quick to slip into.
  • If you polished them, they’d take a shine like an expensive dress shoe.
  • If you put mink oil on them, they’d get soft and repel water.
  • They were high enough that you didn’t have to worry about wading through water, sand or mud. (And, it didn’t matter if your socks matched. You couldn’t see them.)
  • You could climb rock cliffs, walk through construction sites without worrying about stepping on nails and be reasonably certain that you were safe from snakebite as long as you were around lazy snakes.

No BS uniform

Every once in awhile I’d want to go onto a construction site to shoot pictures, but some foreman would say, “Well, I’D give you permission, but you have to have a hard hat and the right kind of shoes. Safety regulations, you know. Sorry.”

I’d walk back to my car and dig out my safety-approved white hard hat. On the front of it was a drawing of a bull squatting down making a deposit, surrounded by the international symbol for “No.” I’d return to the foreman, don my “No BS” hard hat, hike up my pants leg to display my Red Wing boots and say, “OK now?”

Rarely did the foreman come up with another hoop for me to jump through.

Boots cost more than a suit

The only drawback was that the boots cost $75 in the days when you could buy a SUIT for $25. OK, let me amend that. I could buy a suit for $25.

Despite the high cost – more than half a week’s pay – I usually had at least three pair of the boots in wearing sequence.

  • A new pair for when I needed to be presentable – that set was polished.
  • The ones I wore for work – mink oiled and waterproofed.
  • A beat-up pair kept in the trunk for truly grody situations.

It just dawned on me that I haven’t seen a pair of Red Wing boots in the closet since Son Matt got big enough to wear my shoes.

7 Replies to “I Loved My Red Wing Boots”

  1. Poor David – not only did he wear your “nasty” hand me down foot wear he had to live in Oklahoma. I enjoy your humor – it started my day with a good belly laugh.

  2. There is a legend told that Bob made, as a gimmick, a pair of size 18 boots, put in the front window with a sign that read; “if you can wear these you can have them”. Charley Ayers, who I believe still works for the paper, was a very large man and had the big
    gest foot I’ve ever seen. Charley also, in his day, spent a little time as a pro wrestler, I think his stage name was “Thunder Foot”. Charley walked in the store, tried them on, and walked out wearing a brand new pair of boots.

  3. Am I mistaken, or was Wissman’s barber shop in this location prior to Bob’s Shoe Service (or perhaps it was in a storefront that went away for the adjacent parking lot)? My Dad’s Parisian Cleaners was across the street at 510 Broadway. Many a time I looked across the street and saw the old timer plying his craft (I went to him a few times, but he was a bit ‘old school’ in the cutting for me). He was there for a very long time…an aunt said he had several children and was able to educate them all (a little more understandable in those days, what with my first semester’s tuition at SEMO being $80 in 1966).

    1. Larry,

      You prompted me to do the research I should have done last night.

      I’ll try to answer your question in tomorrow’s post. The business at 515 Broadway has had an interesting past.

  4. Wissman’s barber shop was where the vacant lot is next to the PPG Glass on the cornner. He cut my hair a few times. He knew my parents when they lived in Jackson. I think that was where he lived.

  5. Ken, great story on great boots!!!I stil wear my 1964 era insulated hunting boots by Red Wing….they’ve been redone with Vibrams…soaked up a lot of cave stream water in my SEMO Grotto days…and have only had mink oil and newspaper dry-out routines, plus a few(????)sets of laces in the years of use, the “Vibrating soles and heels” were put on at this shop after I unsuccessfully tried to break my neck on a mud slide in a Perry Co. cave in ’66!!!! Great story on the “shoe shop”, molater, kkr

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