Daytrippin' for Diamonds in the Rough

Saturday I went on a rescue mission. Not in the noble sense, but in the saddle sense. I went to take a look at a couple saddles in need of rescue and rehab, and made a day trip of it.

I have to admit, I have more fun on these day trip saddle excursions than anyone. I get to see new places, explore the countryside and meet people with interesting stories.

To start, I map all my saddle stops out on my phone, get a good playlist loaded, grab some coffee, gas up, and I'm off for adventure. Other than my scheduled stops, I play it by ear.  If I see a neat little roadside restaurant, that's where I eat. If I pass an estate sale that looks interesting, I stop. By the end of the day I've likely made some great memories and discovered some new favorite haunts.

More fun than a barrel of monkeys, it is.

The first saddle on my agenda was an old roper I saw on Facebook Marketplace. Really, not much to look at, but I had the feeling it was a diamond in the rough. Really rough, at that, but still a diamond.

Sometimes listing photos leave a lot to be desired, and a lot to the imagination. It pays to be able to identify what you're looking at despite how they're presented by the seller. For anyone with OCD, you have to accept you don't control the photos the seller takes. The photo you need ain't the photo you'll get. It is what it is. Use your best guess, go with your gut. Roll with it.
To the casual, not-saddle-savvy observer, they might see a dusty old piece of leather not worth bothering with, and certainly not exciting. What did I see from the ad? A darling old roughout roper with the pelican horn I love. Being a roper, likely an adult-size seat and probably a decent gullet width and bar spread that would fit modern day horses. I could make out the saddle had brass hardware and the cantle wasn't warped, so the basics were there. Though not evident by the photos, I could assume the fleece would need replacing $$$, it would need new saddle strings $$, and might need some work on the rigging $$. Definitely worth a look-see.

Why, you ask?

If everything about the saddle checked out, it meant I just found my new, punchy, ranch riding class saddle.

Was it a new Bob's or Jeff Smith or Harris ranch rider? Absolutely not, but that's not what I was looking for. Was it a maker-marked Wade from the shop of some mustaschio'd buckaroo? Again, not on my radar.

No, this was a late 60's Western Horseman readin', amber glass ashtray smokin', cheatin' heart songs on the jukebox, steak night at the roadhouse, whiskey drinkin', pickup truck drivin', round skirt roper. Authentic as hell. Exactly what I was looking for.

If you were born after 1980, you probably have no idea what I'm even talking about, but trust me, it's what I was looking for.

The old roper was in East Olympia, an area I'm unfamiliar. I got there by way of the main drag through Rainier, turned on Minnesota Street N, and headed out on Rainier Road SE to Fir Tree Road (becomes 89th Avenue SE), from 89th Avenue SE to Rich Road, to places I haven't been and things I haven't seen before. Did I mention how much I love these day trips? This is why.

Along the way, I passed award-winning Lattin's Country Cider Mill. Here I was, seemingly in the middle of nowhere, and that place was an obvious hotspot of activity. Granted, it was a beautiful sunny day, but I was still surprised how many people were there. Apparently, they have a fall festival and are open through the winter too. I can't wait to return to the area and visit when I have more time and fewer saddles to rescue.

Lattin's Country Cider Mill. Another gem I found by accident in my saddle travels.
I arrived at "the saddle place" and saw the old roper in the flesh for the first time. Yup, it was just what I thought it would be, right down to needing new fleece. Delighted, "Punchy" became my saddle. Bonus: Punchy came with his own saddle rack, gratis. One more reason I take my Astro van on these day tours. You can always make room for unexpected treasures.

On my way from the old roper saddle stop, I somehow got turned around the wrong way on Rich Road, which southward becomes Old Hiway 99, and passed a sign for Nelson Ranch, which I later learned was one of Washington State's Centennial Farms. This was not just a ranch sign, but a sign for a ranch having a ranch dinner! I was all set to return later that evening and dine on the prairie, but the dinner had been the weekend before. Dang!

From East Olympia I traced my way back to Rainier, and stopped to consider my plans for the rest of the day. I knew I had to travel across the Narrows Bridge to Belfair to look at a saddle for my mom, but I'd passed so many garage sale signs on my way to the first saddle I decided to hit a few before I headed north.

After picking up Punchy, I was really on an estate sale quest to find the perfect amber glass ashtray to commemorate the occasion (as long as it was $1 or less), but after several stops came up empty. Undaunted, I continued my course to cross the Narrows Bridge.

Galloping Gertie herself. I happen to have a bridge crossing phobia, but when on a quest you gotta do what you gotta do.
The saddle in Belfair was another Facebook Marketplace discovery with a terribly vague and unflattering listing photo. What I could see, however, was the saddle was easily identified as a Saddlesmith Bob Loomis Reiner.

This poorly staged critter was simply represented as "vintage" and "all leather." To the trained eye, it's a Saddlesmith Bob Loomis Reiner that has seen much, much better days. Rode hard and put away wet is an understatement.
Truthfully, I've never been any kind of fan of the Saddlesmith Bob Loomis Reiner, but it's apparently my mom's Holy Grail saddle. She's been using my 16" Billy Cook Classic Pro Reiner for awhile now, hates it, says the seat's too big and it's too heavy (it is), she wants the stirrups to be able to go even shorter (they won't), but absolutely loved the little Bob Loomis Reiner of a friend's she rode in. That's what she wanted, and that's what she was getting. Essentially, I would get the saddle I like back, and she would get the saddle I dislike. Sounded like a fair trade to me.

On its best day, a new Saddlesmith Bob Loomis Reiner would look similar to this. Though I never cared for the model, it was quite popular with a lot of ladies, my mom being one of them. Then again, I like how my Billy Cook Classic Pro Reiner looks and rides, and my mom detests nearly everything about it. To each their own... Photo: Google Image Search
I breezed over the scary bridge, hooked a left at Bremerton, and proceeded to Belfair to the second hand store that listed the saddle on Facebook Marketplace. I spied my mom's dream saddle unceremoniously plopped flat on a table between shelves of used cookware and old books.

Probably, for the first time I could recall, the saddle was even worse in person than its blurry listing photo.

I cruised into Belfair expecting another diamond in the rough. Little did I know, how rough.
The saddle was ugly. As in, I never liked that model's looks to begin with, but this saddle was downright scary.

The leather on the second hand Loomis Reiner worse than neglected, dried so hard it would cut glass, so hard it sounded like knocking on a wooden door. It was covered with peculiar coatings and substances, and bore the efforts of a bad dye job. It appeared, sometime long ago, a chocolate shake had spilled and become part of the leather. The braided rawhide horn had been painted black, and poorly. Worst of all, there was a clear mystery coating over the entire saddle, basically like sealing the whole shittin' horror story in Jurassic amber. Underneath, the fleece was matted hard and caked with other substances, likely including soda pop, horse sweat, and various dirts from unknown locations.

It was putrid.

I made an offer.

They accepted.

I immediately had buyer's remorse.

Resigned to my purchase, I christened the saddle Ugly Betty, and in the van she went, next to Punchy. Suddenly, Punchy looked pretty outstanding by comparison. While Ugly Betty The Loomis Reiner was supposedly "vintage" per the seller, Punchy The Roughout Roper actually was vintage, and easily twice the saddle.

Is this not the cutest cantle you've ever seen? It may not be Vancore style shapey, but it's doggone shapey for its era. Punchy promises to be a gem after a little TLC.
Punchy would take a little cash and TLC to rehab. Ugly Betty would take a miracle and her own prayer circle. Ugly Betty might very well prove to be the saddle I lived to regret.

(If my mom is reading this, pretend you didn't see anything about Ugly Betty. I got you your dream saddle. It just needs a little... ummmm... "this-and-that" before you can see it.)

With my van full of the day's catch, I dashed homeward back across the bridge. My outing resulted in another 225-plus miles on the odometer, newly discovered places in mind to revisit, and two filthy saddles to refab. Chalk up another great adventure under my belt.

Life is good.

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