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Bootmaker’s work requested worldwide

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Posted: Monday, March 28, 2011 12:00 pm

By Rose L. Thayer

Killeen Daily Herald

It doesn't look like much from the outside. There are bars on the cracked and broken windows, the screens on the sagging front doors are ripped, and the sign is old and faded. But within this tiny building on Avenue G in Lampasas, Pablo Jass is making beautiful, one-of-a-kind boots.

Hanging from the walls of the shop are pieces of boots, and on the shelves and tabletops, more boots, all in various stages of completion. Classic 31-15 Singer sewing machines sit throughout the store and the only trace of modern technology is Jass' iPhone.

The lifelong Lampasas resident started making boots in 1971 as an apprentice for well-known local bootmaker Ray Jones on a whim.

"I just went and asked old Ray for a job," Jass said. It wasn't necessarily because he wanted to learn the art of custom-made boots, but rather after serving as a Marine in Vietnam, he needed a job. When Jones retired in 1983, Jass opened his own shop.

While the actual process only takes about a week's worth of work; to get a pair of boots made by Jass, there is a one-year waiting list. He said before the economy went down, the wait was two and three years.

People come from as far as Japan, Austria and all across Texas to get a pair of Jass's boots. Customers can customize everything, such as leather, stitching and heel height.

He's made boots with everything from the female silhouette to yellow roses to longhorns on them in nearly every color you can dye leather.

Working in a one-man assembly line, Jass said he enjoys every aspect in the process of boot-making, but that his favorite part is attaching the shank to the sole.

"This is what I did at old Rays," Jass said holding up a sole-less boot from a row of many on his work table, all waiting to get shanks.

The most important part of custom-made boots, Jass said, is that they fit. "Every bootmaker has their own style, but if it fits, that's the main thing. Otherwise you do all this work and it doesn't fit."

Jass said a good pair of boots can last around 20 to 30 years if taken care of. Holding up the remains of one very worn pair of boots Jass said, "These, the customer wore the bottoms off of them. He brought back the tops to be sewn into bags."

When he finishes a pair of boots, he doesn't put his own label on them, just the customer's name on the inside. But he said he can always recognize his own boots, pointing out months within a boot calendar displaying his work.

He's not the only Jass Boots in Lampasas, though. His brother has a shop on the highway and his son has gotten into leather-working as well. Jass said he'll come in the shop some afternoons and make wallets and purses.

When he can get away from the store, Jass said he enjoys fishing and camping with his grandchildren on the Colorado River.

Contact Rose L. Thayer at rthayer@kdhnews.com or (254) 501-7463.

Follow her on Twitter at KDHreporter.

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