MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — There’s a farm in Cass County where the Old West meets the Midwest.
Craig “Buster” Bartels is a cowboy at heart. It started at the age of 14 when he began working on a neighbor’s ranch and continued after he graduated.
“I started cowboying. I hit every state west of the Mississippi,” he said.
Buster was good with his hands — not just with ranch work, but with leather too. It was something he realized when a friend wanted a new saddle.
“I figured, what the heck, let’s give it a try. So I built him a saddle and, by golly, that didn’t go too bad,” Buster said.
It wasn’t long before saddles turned to boots. He learned that trade from a Texan named Jack Reed. Afterward, Buster’s Minnesota business spread like a Texas wildfire — with many of his customers coming from the Lone Star State.
“When you think of cowboy boots, don’t you think of Texas? But here I am in Minnesota, building boots for people in Texas,” Buster said.
Closer to home, Rick Van Buren has bought five pairs from Buster and gives him a glowing review the only way a true cowboy can.
“He’ll drive you nuts. It’s got to be exact. With my job, we are in the mud and the water and the cow manure and his boots hold up,” Rick said.
Being a boot maker means being a problem solver. Buster takes measurements first.
“They go from a size 3 up to about a 15, and they’ll be all shapes and sizes,” Buster said.
There’s a boot-book where clients can choose patterns, panels and bottoms, but it’s really all about the leather.
“He’ll get leather shipped in here, and if he don’t like he’ll send it back to them,” Rick said.
He has worked with kangaroo, alligator, crocodile — even shark.
An artist has his canvas. Buster has his boots.
Only about 20 percent of his clientele are real cowboys and cowgirls. The rest are salesmen, professors, doctors, nurses, lawyers even people from across the ocean.
“Japan,” Buster said. “Oh yeah, they’re big fans.”
Walk a mile in Buster’s boots and you’ll see why he does what he does. Now he wants to ride off into the sunset doing what he loves.
“The cowboy way of life is something near and dear to how I — to my heart. There’s no other way to do things. That’s just the way it is,” he said.
Depending on what’s involved, it can take Buster a couple of weeks to finish a pair of boots. The average price of his boots is about $1,000. You can learn more about Buster, and how to order your own pair, via his Facebook page.