Author’s notes: The tannery information came from Raymond J. Johnson
Steven Siegel The Leather Factory
The Herman Oaks Leather Company is in St. Louis and has been in existence for over 100 years.
The smuggler and Molly Gibson mentioned in Chapter Two were actual mines that mined silver in Aspen Colorado in 1887.
When the train arrived in St. Louis Dan and Cole were ready to go to the National Hotel and embark on their adventure. They hailed a cab and the porter loaded their traveling bags in the boot. They tipped the man and gave the driver the name and address of their destination. They watched out the windows as the cab wound its way through the narrow and crowded streets. They saw and heard people from all over the world in the dress of their countries and speaking their different languages. It was both exciting and strange. When they reached their hotel a doorman took their bags. Dan paid the driver and tipped him and then followed the man inside where he placed the bags by the check in desk. Dan then tipped the gentleman and waited in line while they checked in among other guests. There were two oriental men speaking Chinese, but then spoke very good English when they reached the clerk. Cole arched an eyebrow at Dan and Dan grinned at him. When it was their turn to be checked in Dan and Cole signed the register. They had their reservations and a bell boy was called and he took their bags and escorted them to their room.
The bell boy indicated the location of the bathing chambers and the water closets and then unlocked their room and brought in their bags. He indicated a pull rope in the room. “If you need anything Sir, just pull the bell and someone will come to your room shortly.”
Dan smiled and said, “Thank you. We’ll keep that in mind.” He tipped the bell boy and the man left, closing the door behind him.
It was early afternoon and the hotel was quiet. Not many guests were around at that time of day. Cole took advantage of the quietude immediately snuggling into Dan, wrapping his arms around him tightly.
Dan smiled down at the younger man and wrapped his arms around him in turn. Even though they had made fantastic love before they left, it had been way too long for them to go without being able to touch and to be touched the way they wanted. Dan gently extricated himself from Cole’s arms. He looked around the room and found there were two washstands with a pitcher of water and soap and fresh towels on each. He said, “Let’s get washed and comfortable.” He took off his suit jacket and tie and went to the nearest washstand to wash up.
Cole went to the other stand and did the same. There were two beds in the room, but they only planned to use one, but would mess up both so no one would be suspect of their relationship. Dan closed the curtains after looking out over the view of the city and the two men quickly stripped and engaged in the age old dance they both had been hungering for, for the last several days.
When they woke, entwined in each other’s arms it was dark. Dan smiled down at Cole, then reached over to the nightstand and lit the lamp. They had placed a do not disturb sign on the outside of the door so no one would come in to turn down the bed or light the lamps. He heard Cole’s stomach growl and laughed. “Seems we should wash and dress and go down to the restaurant and have some supper.”
Cole, his hair tousled and looking younger than his twenty-four years grinned. “Yes, all that exercise made me hungry.” He teased.
Dan gave his bottom a light swat and said, “Then get cleaned up and let’s get dressed for dinner.”
It didn’t take long for them to dress, donning their suit jackets and tying their string ties and placing their stetson’s on their heads. They both were looking extremely good in the Western manner of men who spent a lot of time outdoors or doing hard work, of which they did both.
When they entered the dining room they removed their hats and many a women’s eye peeked at the two very handsome men who just stepped in the door. Of course they didn’t stare or gawk, it was impolite to do so and the patrons of the restaurant were of those of the more wealthy type.
Dan and Cole were seated at a table with a snowy white tablecloth and napkins. The waiter brought them menus and they ordered and ate their meal, enjoying each other’s company and relaxing.
When they finished and returned to their room Dan took off his shoes and straightened the bed. He removed his tie, opened his shirt and made himself comfortable.
Cole followed suit and lay on the bed.
Dan smiled at the inviting figure Cole made, but got up off the bed to sit at the desk and examined the items on it. The hotel had provided stationary, ink, quill pens and other items needed for writing. Dan also noticed another flyer and perused it and smiled. “Cole…it says here there will be a fair while we’re here…would you like to go?”
Cole grinned over at Dan. “Sure, sounds like fun. Will there be horse racin’?”
Dan read the itinerary of events and nodded. “Yes, along with a pie eating contest, a pancake eating contest, a horse auction after the race and animal shows and other interestin’ things.”
Cole smiled. “Sounds like fun. Can we go to the horse auction after the race to see what they have? Maybe we can get my horse there.”
Dan grinned. The fair sounds like a lot of fun and yes, we can go to the auction after the race to see what they have.”
When Cole began to yawn Dan said, “I think it’s time for us to crawl in bed. We’ve had a long train ride and we had an active afternoon.” He gave his young man a knowing smile.
Cole nodded. “All right.” He got undressed, got into the other bed, pulling the covers down and then rolling around in the bed and then tossing the covers aside as if he’d just gotten up.
Dan chuckled as he watched his partner then invited Cole to join him in the other bed where they spooned together and the events of the day quickly put them both to sleep.
The next morning found them at the Herman Oaks Leather Company. They were welcomed by a young man who was the company representative and would be conducting the tour for their good customers. All the people gathered had been given special invitations. Dan and Cole met some other saddlers and they stood around in groups talking about the leather, their crafts, and their methods and exchanging ideas, resources for tools and patterns and techniques. When the representative checked everyone in he proceeded to get the group’s attention. “Attention gentlemen!” He called until all eyes were on him and the level of sound had dropped to total quiet. “Good morning Gentleman. My name is Ron Maxwell and I want to welcome all of you to the Herman Oaks Leather Company. I want to thank all of you for coming. Before we proceed on the tour I want to talk a bit about the history of tanning, then we shall go to each of the tanning processes and I shall explain each one as we go.”
Cole smiled at Dan and listened quietly.
Dan smiled at his partner.
The other gentlemen were also listening attentively.
Mr. Maxwell began, “The process of tanning at one point was considered an occupation held by the lowest of people as a result of the noxious odors that were associated with the tanning process. In the time of early man and even into later times hides were tanned using urine, feces, salts, lime and brains of the animal. It truly was a very odorific process. Plants and vegetables were also used in tanning. We shall go over each of the tanning processes used here at the Herman Oaks Leather Company. Vegetable matter tanning was and is a very long process and one still used here at our tannery. If you gentlemen will follow me…” The young man led them to a room where there were vats of leather soaking. “This is the vegetable tanning room. Vegetable tanning leather is the process in which natural materials are used. It is the most traditional form of tanning leather. The many additives used in the vegetable tanning methods contain derivatives from certain plants such as bark, fruit, leaves or wood. Each natural ingredient leaves a different affect of it’s own on the leather, color, tone and firmness.”
Everyone was nodding as they listened to the explanations. Cole was looking very interested. He hadn’t heard about how the leather material they ordered from the catalog had been processed.
Ron went on with his lecture…”Chestnut extract for example is extensively used in European countries and renders a medium brown tone and a tight grain. Leaves of the Sumac shrub produces leather with a greenish-yellow tone and allows great dyeing properties in a finished leather craft item. It is typically used for bookbinding leather due to its resistance to aging and soft temper.”
Dan nodded. He hadn’t known that, but then book binding wasn’t his specialty. He was glad to know that though in case he ever had to repair a book.
The representative continued. “Catechol can be used for tanning a leather hide because it renders a reddish brown tone and a pebble like grain. It’s only drawback however is it’s susceptibility to shrinkage.”
The gathered assembly nodded, some from personal experience using leather tanned that particular way and others, acknowledging the information.
Ron smiled at the men surrounding him and listening attentively. “Hemlock is used for the production of shoe and boot soles. This fir tree extract renders another reddish-brown tone and is extremely strong and tough.”
Dan and Cole grinned at each other. Now they knew how the soles of shoes were tanned. It wouldn’t be leather or a craft they’d ever really need, but it was good to know about just in case. The cobblers in the group grinned and nodded. They had known that.
The young man went on and said, “Mimosa extract is a product of South Africa from the bark of Mimosa trees. It also produces a leather with a reddish-brown tone and darkens when exposed to direct sunlight. Almost all leather hides will darken when exposed to sunlight.”
The men nodded. Most had experienced that when using hides in their craft.
Ron continued. “Oak Bark has been used since our Founding Fathers and renders a grayish brown tone of the leather hide but is very firm in temper, however very flexible as well. Pine Bark is another European method producing a reddish-brown tone to the end-result tanned leather hide.”
The men all nodded and the representative grinned. “Well that’s it for the vegetable tanning…let’s go on to the next tanning room.” He led the way. As they arrived he said, “The next series of rooms are the mineral tanning processes. Each room will be using a different mineral. I will be explaining each of these to you as we visit each room.” Ron explained. “This first room is the Alum Tanning Leather process. The use of Alum in tanning leather is produced by combining a solution of aluminum and potassium sulfate and placing it on the hides, resulting in a white hide and produces a very strong leather. Alum tanning also affords us to be able to process hides further based on the usage latter with other materials in order to achieve grain affects, coloring or tone.”
Cole whispered to Dan, “Do you think we can try tannin’ some of our own raw hides that way and make all kind of different things?”
Dan smiled. “It sounds like a process only a tannery could be efficient at. I think buying the hides already tanned would be much better for us.”
Cole pouted, but continued to listen.
Other men were speaking quietly to each other as well. Mr. Maxwell led the way to another room that had chemicals in a vat, with hides in it. Ron said, “This is our Chrome soak, called (Chromium Sulfate. This method of tanning leather hides is a widely used method amongst industrialized nations around the world. This process renders a "wet-blue" hide that will also see some type of further tanning method based on the usage of the leather hides. Using Chrome Alum and Potassium Chrome Alum is a specially conducted method used almost exclusively for the tanning of furs. This leaves the leather hide nearly white in color.” Ron explained.
Cole was getting fidgety. All the talk about the chemicals weren’t holding his attention much. He was interested in how hides were tanned and the effects, but the processes were quickly becoming boring.
Dan noticed his partner’s tendency to become bored easily and took him by the elbow to steer him along, trying to talk to him about the processes to gain his interest a bit more.
Ron Maxwell continued onto the next tanning room. “These next rooms are pretty straightforward in regard to their tanning methods. This is the Zirconium Tanning room. Zirconium salts are used as a means of tanning leather hides producing another almost white in color leather hide and as a result renders a firmer body of the hide and with a tighter grain pattern.”
The men acknowledged the explanation and Cole was glad when the representative moved on after the short explanation.
“This next room is our Aldehyde Tanning room. This Is a process method using Formaldehyde, where it is mixed with water to create a chemical solution called formalin. This is used most commonly on deerskins and renders the leather hide white. This process also allows the leather hide to have washable properties and leaves the leather hide with a "crackle" or distressed look and grain. This tanning method or process can be problematic due to the fact hides will yellow with age or being idle.”
The others nodded having been familiar with that problem. Dan smiled at Cole. “Now we know why that happens. We’ve had that happen before.”
Cole nodded. “Yes, it’s why we don’t buy large amounts anymore, just what we need to make the project.”
Dan nodded. “Exactly.”
The young man went on. “Gentlemen, if you’ll follow me we’ll visit the next tanning room. When they entered this room there were several vats with leather soaking in them. “This is the Liritan Tanning Method,” Ron explained. “This is the most commonly used method for tanning in the United States, using Calgon, sodium hexametaphosphate in soaking pits that are a weaker tanning solution in order to expedite the tanning process faster than the traditional method of vegetable tanning of leather hides which we covered earlier. Remember, the vegetable process is a very slow process. The Liritan process is used for mass production of tanning leather hides and the most cost effective. This process is not all about saving money but a means of rendering a very even tannage due to the solution used is increased in strength and potency in each soaking pit during the tanning process. This is why this tanning room has several vats instead of just one like the others I’ve shown you.”
There was a murmuring among the men as the process was explained and there were lots of smiles. Many of the customers had ordered this particular leather and were quite satisfied with the results.
Ron Maxwell smiled. “One more stop gentlemen and the tour will be finished.” He brought them to another room and said, “This is our Oil Tanning Method. Oil tanning hides is another exclusive and dedicated process solely conducted to render chamois-type leather for their excellent water absorbency properties. Typically the hides are from lamb or sheep where they are treated with Cod Liver Oil in an unoxidized form. This leaves tanned hides that can be made for garments, gloves and filtration products.” Ron explained.
Cole asked, “Wasn’t this the leather we used to make that vest for Brett when Jalen wanted somethin’ for him for Christmas?”
Dan smiled. “Yes it was. He gave Cole an affectionate look because he remembered the leather and it’s use.
The men all smiled and one of them said, “So you saved the best for last hmm?”
The young man grinned at the teasing. “Had to keep anyone from leaving in the middle.”
Dan and Cole smiled and chuckled at the banter.
Ron said, “Gentlemen…this concludes our tour. We’ll be happy to take any orders for any of the finished leather products you have seen processed. The customer store is right here with samples of the leather produced by each of the processes you’ve seen.” He led them to the customer leather store and Dan and Cole began to examine the products and make their selections. They took their time examining each piece and discussing what use they could have for it and once they were finished took a look at the decorative silver and other pieces that could be attached to the leather. They purchased some new style stamps as well as cutting tools and patterns and tools they could use to trace the patterns. They also bought leather paint to add color to the designs and other hardware and were satisfied with all they had bought.