Amarillo—Up in Amarillo there is a saddle shop that does things the old fashioned, all while passing along their family traditions.
Early every morning Richard Oliver is busying hammering out his latest saddle.
“Quality and maintaining what we stand for,” said Richard.
It takes about a week for Richard to create a basic saddle and he’s got years of experience.
“Our customers take pride in owning something that’s made here,” he said.
For Richard, making saddles is more than a job, it is a family legacy. It all started in Vernon, Texas when his grandfather C.W. Oliver opened the family’s first saddle shop in 1917. Richard’s father, Bill, followed in those footsteps and today Richard is carrying along the rich tradition of tack.
“A lot of these old tools that I still use are some that my dad and granddad had,” he said.
Bill brought the business to Amarillo in 1960 and Richard joined in after college in 1970.
“Every one of our saddles is done by hand, it’s all drawn off. This fellow, being from New Mexico, he said, ‘Can you put something on there a little bit different?’ I put a yucca and some prickly pear on there for him. It’s fun to dress these things up and customize them for somebody,” Richard said.
The craftsmanship and quality of Oliver Saddle Shop keeps his customers coming back.
“So many of our customers are third and fourth generation customers. I’ve built saddles for grandkids of guys that I built their saddles. I’ve built three generations saddles before, some instances, even four,” he said.
That goes for the Oliver Saddle Shop as well. Richard’s two sons, Bryan and Zeb, make up the 4th generation of saddle makers in their family.
“There’s something about the shop that draws us in, and we enjoy, part of our lives, part of the DNA, I guess,” said Richard.
“I actually grew up in this room,” confessed Bryan.
“From an early age, dad would bring me down here. Grandma would babysit Bryan and I. We’d take naps down here, play down here, play with the leather, do it all,” recalled Zeb.
“It’s just a wonderful feeling to see the boys this close and being there for them too,” said Richard.
The Olivers are always hard at work, making sure the family name keeps its reputation among the cowboys and cowgirls of cattle country.
“Most working cowboys want something that’s a little more durable than a factory-made saddle, and that’s where we come into play,” explained Bryan.
“The Western heritage is still alive in Texas. That’s our roots, that’s our base. Cowboys are still out there working just as hard as they ever did. Proud to be a part of it, proud to be a Texan, proud that we’re still in Texas,” expressed Richard.
There is even another generation getting lessons on what it takes to sit tall in the saddle. Richard’s grandson, Andrew, is one of those potential keepers of the flame.
“Having both of them here and my grandkids able to come down in this shop, and work in the shop just as I did and grow up and start understanding small business…the values that a small business can give family, the work ethic and the values and everything, very important,” said Richard.
“Watching him develop and showing an interest in certain aspects of it, it’s a great joy… it’s just so great and knowing my dad’s values that he’s passing down to my son is just phenomenal,” said Zeb.
“If my kids want the opportunity to work in here, then I want them to know that it was handed down. This is how we did this, this is how we do this,” explained Bryan.
For now, the family focuses on the day to day task of saddling up as many ropers, riders, and ranch hands as possible with the hope that Oliver made saddles with be sitting on steeds for some time.
“I can’t even imagine down the road, how many years this shop will be in business, and if he went into it, another 40 or 50 years at least…. We’re unusual to have made it a hundred years. For him to go into it, that’d be wonderful. My granddad and dad would be amazed and thrilled, I think, to know that it’s still going, what they started,” said Richard.
“There is some preservation to the craftsmanship that I feel obligated to. I’m doing the same things that my great-grandfather did, there’s something to that,” said Bryan.
Richard knows that he can’t stay in the saddle forever, but he doesn’t plan on giving up the reigns any time soon. These times together is what this ride is all about because his field and his family are too important.
“I enjoy my customers, I still enjoy making saddles. I still enjoy my work. I still enjoy the comradery of the shop…I’m still productive, and I just don’t want to retire. I still haven’t made my best saddle yet,” said Richard.