There’s a lot beneath their shoes.
STORY BY Max Wastler
PHOTOGRAPHY BY Jesse Lenz and Garrett Cornilison
“Seven years ago, we were living in a log cabin on my family’s ranch, tying fence in the morning, and in the afternoon riding my dirt bike up to an old airplane hangar where I was keeping my equipment.”
It would figure that “Beneath the Shoes,” a tune about a man who falls off his horse while crossing a river, is the most popular song by the band Thrift Store Cowboys. Colt Miller, their one-time guitarist and the son of a rancher, used to trade guitar lessons for bootmaking lessons in his hometown of Lubbock, Texas. In 2010, he would move to Marfa for his muse, a Canadian woman named Logan Caldbeck who was an artist and photographer.
“Seven years ago, we were living in a log cabin on my family’s ranch, tying fence in the morning, and in the afternoon riding my dirt bike up to an old airplane hangar where I was keeping my equipment,” he says, noting that Caldbeck would help out with the tops and vamps of custom cowboy boots he was making. It was through finding her that he also found Cobra Rock Boot Company. “She was a quick learner with great ideas and attention to detail. Logan got a job at the Chinati Foundation, and after living in Marfa for a while, we knew it was the right place to start Cobra Rock with our own line of boots.” And what a founding. Since establishing their South Highland boot—a cross between a lace-up desert boot and a cowboy boot—in 2011, they’ve gained a loyal following that stretches from California to New York. When we spoke with them last, they had accrued a nine month waiting list.
To date, Miller and Caldbeck have focused on a female style, producing boots at a rate of about one pair a week, though they have been developing new designs that will debut later this year. They use materials sourced in the US, including full grain oil-tanned cowhides, leather soles, and metal shanks held in place with lemon-wood pegs. They work with antique tools and equipment, including a Landis K sole stitcher built in 1921, a Singer topstitcher built in 1939, and vintage lasts they found in a couple defunct shoe shops in the Texas panhandle. “It was like a history lesson because I got to see the different lines and shapes that were popular when those lasts were made from about 1939 to 1951,” Miller recalls. “Logan and I really loved this one shape with a great square toe, and that’s what we built our South Highlands on. Later, we were able to have resin lasts made from that shape, with adjustments made so they better fit modern feet and have a lace-up fit, rather than a cowboy slip-on fit.”
Refusing to hand off any element of production to an out - side source “because [they] like to do it all,” Miller and Caldbeck continue to make each pair of boots one at a time, all by hand, and all by themselves. This is all to say: There’s a lot beneath their shoes. — Max Wastler