Wolverine Boots: A Great Pair of Boots
We received the below story from Rich Covely, a longtime customer, and thought we would share!
With winter just around the corner, I’ve been thinking lately about a new pair of boots. An ad in the local paper caught my attention: “Wolverine Boots $15 off.” It wasn’t the $15 off; it was the Wolverine boots. I poured another cup of coffee and read the details as I strolled down memory lane.
It was the last week of September in 1973. I had just started a new job with the Oregon Highway Department in Hood River, Oregon. The maintenance yard was a few miles south of Hood River on the highway to Mt. Hood. An early winter snow had already begun to fall on the mountain.
The work with the department was hard—building guardrails, cleaning culverts, and stocking the sand sheds with sand and chemicals used on the highway during the coming winter. Good clothing was important, especially good boots.
It would be one month before payday. So with rent, food, utilities and a 2-year-old son to care for, we had to make each dollar stretch. The old boots that I wore had to hold together until then.
The day after my first paycheck was a Saturday. I’d already checked out Wilson’s Outdoor Clothing. It was only a few blocks from home in what was called “uptown Hood River.” That morning, my wife, son, and I piled into our 1965 green and white Chevy pick-up with a snow tire on the left rear wheel and a pile of sand in the bed for some traction and headed for Wilson’s.
It was small and dingy inside, and very warm from the oil burner in the corner. It was stuffed with clothing—pants, shirts, socks and lots of gear for loggers, hunters, and construction workers. Except for big, black loggers’ boots, they only carried two other styles: Irish Setter and Wolverine 8-inch work boots. I tried on both brands and decided on the Wolverines; besides, my son liked the “kitty” on the box.
I still had them on as Mr. Wilson walked up to me and said $39.95 cash and you can wear them home. I stepped up to the counter and put down the money. “My first pair of Wolverines,” I said as we walked out the door to a snow-covered truck. I can still remember how much closer the brake and gas pedal felt with those thick rubber soles. I think I slept in them that night.
The following Monday was a training day for me. Everyone was required to be able to operate every piece of equipment. It was my turn to drive the sanding truck, a big ten-wheel monster that carried tons of sand.
It was a cold snowy morning when the boss came into the crew room and called me out. “Time for you to get acquainted with Big Bertha,” he said. As we trudged through the knee-deep snow to the line of vehicles, Bertha stood out above them all.
“First thing I want you to do,” he said, “is to climb up on top of the hopper and check for frozen sand. If it ain’t clear, we can’t load ’er up. I hustled up the cold steel ladder to the top of the hopper, a huge steel box covered with a heavy grate. “Be careful up there,” he yelled. “Could be slippery.”
I peered over the edge, and with a grin said, “Don’t worry, Boss. I’m wearing my new Wolverines.”
“Wolverines, huh? You sound like a TV commercial or somethin’.”
We loaded the truck with several yards of sand using the scoopmobile, a three-wheeled contraption with a bucket on the front and one wheel on the rear for steering. “Jump in,” he said. “We’re goin’ up the mountain.”
We got in the cab, the boss behind the wheel, and away we went. As we slowly ground our way up the highway toward Mt. Hood Lodge, I was wondering what the plan was but didn’t ask. However, I was about to find out. We finally pulled into the lodge parking area and came to a stop. The boss opened his door, and with one leg already out said, “OK. She’s all yours. Keep it in second gear, stay under 5 miles per hour, and don’t touch the brake or you’ll spin like a top.”
“But . . .” I said. Too late. He was gone, heading for the warmth of the lodge.
I made it safely down the mountain and back to the maintenance yard, but it took me so long my co-workers were thinking about forming a search party.
After a week or so of plowing snow, I was assigned to work in the shop doing maintenance on our trucks. Our equipment was used long and hard, and it needed to be kept ready to go. Everyone else was out on the road that particular day except me and the boss. He was seldom seen on those cold days, staying close to his office with the big electric wall heater just behind his chair. I was just finishing servicing a truck when he came through the door. He stood about five-feet four-inches and was maybe 200 pounds. He was built like a bulldog, and his name was Wilbur Strong, but he had the disposition of a kitten and was the nicest guy to work for. An unlit stub of a cigar was always in his mouth.
Wilbur shouted a few words to me about going into Hood River for something and wanted me to man the phone and radio in his office. I wiped my hands and headed for the door. By then he was climbing into his green Chevy pick-up with the State of Oregon decal on the door and headed for the gate in a flurry of snow kicked up by the tire chains on the rear wheels.
“Wow, it’s really hot in here,” I thought, as I settled into the cushion on his chair that hadn’t quite re-inflated itself after just being relieved of 200 pounds. The heater was set on high. “Too warm,” I thought. I bent over to lower it and realized that my pants were wet from the knees down from working on the truck, which was still packed with snow. I needed to get dry, so I put my feet up on the wall above the heater. My new Wolverines with the soft rubber soles clung to the rough cinder-block wall like glue. “This is great,” I thought. “I’ll be dry in no time.”
The radio was quiet, and the phone never rang. I closed my eyes for just a minute or so, and I was out like a light—sound asleep. It wasn’t long before I felt intense heat on my right foot and smelled burning rubber. I leaped from the chair with white smoke pouring from my right boot. I dashed for the door and the ever-present puddle of melted snow just outside. I jumped in with both feet and there was instant sizzle and pop, like water hitting a skillet full of hot oil.
A few moments later I realized that my sock was wet. I pulled my leg up and twisted my foot for a look. A quarter-sized hole clean through. I had to make a patch. I remembered seeing a can of Henry’s Asphalt Adhesive on a shelf in the shop. I headed for it. Prying off the lid with a putty knife, then working a big glob into the hole, I used a piece of inner tube on the inside and outside of my boot, securing the asphalt adhesive patch with black electrical tape (the old cloth type; where was duct tape when I needed it?).
I had just made it back to the office to clean the burnt rubber from the front of the heater when the door flew open, and there he stood, a giant cigar protruding from his large, round face, a cloud of smoke circling around his head not knowing which way to go.
He looked at me and said, “What’s burning?”
I said, “It’s your cigar, Boss.”
He pulled the stogie from his mouth, turned it around a few times, and said, “I’ll never buy these again. Tastes like burnt rubber.”
♦ ♦ ♦
Forty years pass, and a few pairs of Wolverine boots pass with them. But as they say, although some things change, some things remain the same, and I’m still a loyal and devoted buyer of Wolverine boots. So when September comes again and winter is just around the corner, I check out the ad for $15 off Wolverines. But the advertiser doesn’t have my size. A friend suggests I try Cabela’s.
I call Cabela’s and ask for the footware department. A friendly voice says, “We not only have your size but I think every style as well.” She says if I know exactly what I’m looking for, she’ll have them waiting for me when I come in.
And so it goes. One more pair of Wolverines. Is this it? Who knows.
Thanks for the memories.