Right before joining the military about 10 years ago, Jesse Dicken started to teach himself how to do leatherwork, making custom belts, wallets, chaps and tack after becoming discouraged with the low-quality craftmanship at the local shops. Tired of buying cheap western wear that fell apart, he wanted durable leather that would withstand heavy use.
Dicken originally planned on using his self-taught skill for his own personal leather work and to help his family and friends, but he launched a business, JD Saddlery, in 2018 after he got out of the military.
“I got tired of using junky stuff that fell apart and stuff gets very heavy, hard use in the Western industry,” Dicken said.
This spring, Dicken and his wife, Tara, set up shop in the former Valley Boot and Saddle on North Meridian Road in Kalispell, which has relocated to Choteau. They also inherited sewing machines and equipment built in the 1940s, which originally were used to repair canvas parachutes used in World War II.
Prior to opening the storefront, Dicken had no experience with boot repair, but Valley Boot and Saddle owner Donnie Thompson passed along his cobbler knowledge and worked with him for three weeks. Now, boot repair is 60% of his business, which he said is partially because there are few cobblers left.
“Leatherwork like custom saddles and belts – lots of people are doing that but as a far as repairing boots and even purses – it’s almost impossible to find someone,” Dicken said.
Using the heavy-duty WWII-era machine that uses multiple needles, Dicken resoles cowboy and work boots, replacing them with a new customized sole.
“It’s a really cool machine, but it’s very hard to deal with,” Dicken said. “It’s hard to work on because they don’t make parts for them anymore.”
Dicken also works with a slew of newer sewing machines, but he said the old machines are desirable in the leather industry because of their durability.
To repair boots that need patchwork done, Tara uses a patch machine that can sew in any direction as opposed to the typical machine that is confined to a forward and backward motion.
Originally from Plains, Dicken grew up doing rodeo events involving sheep and junior steers until he was about 10 years old. He participated in more traditional sports through high school and played college basketball, but his passion for livestock reignited in his early 20s and was reintroduced to horses.
Now, he customizes every piece of leather on his horse, including his belt, chaps, bridal and custom saddle, using a beveler to make decorative impressions and dyeing the leather with a paintbrush.
“It’s cool because when I sit on my horse, I’ve made everything except for the saddle pad,” Dicken said.
Dicken built his first saddle in 2018 and now customizes them regularly at his shop. He said depending on what his customers request, they take an average of 75 hours to build. The process begins with a rawhide-covered saddle tree with a water-resistant protectant covering it and he then shapes the saddle with a piece of metal called a seat strainer. He then stacks Billings-sourced leather on top, which he fits to the buyer.
In addition to traditional western-style leather work, Dicken also repairs zippers, sandals, purses and polishes formal-ware. The shop has also started carrying wild rag silk scarves, Willard Ropes.
On Sept. 30, JD Saddlery will host a grand re-opening at the shop located at 775 North Meridian Road in Kalispell.
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