Kats Goes Cowboy: We find the elusive $6,000 saddle

Handcrafted saddles by the Dale Chavez Co., some more than $6,000, are displayed during the Cowboy Christmas Gift Show at the Las Vegas Convention Center on Dec. 3, 2010. The show, affiliated with the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo, runs through Dec. 11.
Photo: Steve Marcus

As is common during holiday shopping, at this massive gift store, you come across some pretty cool toys.

Like that coin-operated horse over there. Awesome! Looks like a replica. Sign says it’s a Gene Autry Champion, a style dating to the 1950s.

How cute. What’s this gem cost? Oh, $8,950?

2010 Cowboy Christmas

Custom-made golf shoes ($750) are displayed at the Loveless Custom Boots and Shoes booth during the Cowboy Christmas Gift Show at the Las Vegas Convention Center on Dec. 3, 2010. The show, affiliated with the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo, runs through Dec. 11.

Barbed wire art by Vicki Ferriss is displayed at the Art from the Farm booth during the Cowboy Christmas Gift Show at the Las Vegas Convention Center on Dec. 3, 2010. The show, affiliated with the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo, runs through Dec. 11.

Adam Fitze, right, 18, gives advice to his father Dennis Fitze on how to shape his hat during the Cowboy Christmas Gift Show at the Las Vegas Convention Center on Dec. 3, 2010. The show, affiliated with the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo, runs through Dec. 11.

Dang, that’s a lotta dimes.

That riding horse is no replica. The price would give that away, though its condition does not. It was restored to its original condition -- originally new, it seems -- by Theron Perry of Seattle. He and his wife have turned their big ol’ barn near Seattle into a restoration empire, specializing in the renovation of these mechanical horses that for generations were commonly found outside grocery stores.

They still work, too. Just dump in a dime, and you’re bucking for a good 2 minutes. As the tourists say, that’s the best use of a dime in all of Las Vegas.

Perry and his wife, Wendy, are looking to sell the handful of such antique riding toys they put on display at this year’s National Finals Rodeo Cowboy Christmas at the Las Vegas Convention Center. About 400 vendors from the U.S. and Canada are bearing their wares across the 300,000-square-foot show space. Hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily through the duration of the rodeo, which concludes Dec. 11 (for information, go to the official NFR Web site.

The exhibit hall is nothing short of awe-inspiring, and this comes from someone somewhat jaded in these types of trade shows. Sometimes you walk into these vast retail or even wholesale exhibit halls and think, “I’ll give you $1,200 for everything on the floor!” But here, to put it bluntly, there is an impressive absence of crap. It’s all impressive. I was drawn mostly to the more garishly unique and expensive items, but you can find some pretty affordable stuff. Stick horses equipped with battery-operated voice boxes are $25, for instance.

Example, at the Montana Silversmiths display, you will find what is one of the rarer award accessories in all of sports, the belt buckle presented to all NFR champions. There are dozens of Super Bowl and World Series rings given out -- even members of teams’ front office staffs are given rings -- but in rodeo, there is a single buckle given to champions.

Rightfully referred to as a cowboy’s business card, these championship buckles are displayed, but they are not for sale. However, you can buy a buckle that looks a whole lot like a championship buckle, made of silver and inlaid with gold and rubies, for $775.

It’s a family show, certainly. Dennis Fitze of Hydesville, Calif., (hit Red Bluff on Highway 36 and head 3 hours west) walked the floor with his two sons, Corey and Adam. They all were Fitzed -- er, fitted -- for cowboy hats that went for $85 a shot at the American Hat Co. booth.

They said the key to being fitted was to understand that everyone’s nose is on a different point on his or her face and to line up the hat accordingly. This is the type of advice you get for free with an $85 hat, but the boys looked a might spiffy.

Across the aisle was the Dale Chavez saddle display, where D.C., as we call him, makes some of the more elegant saddles in all of ranchdom. One handcrafted horse seat trimmed in silver cost $6,345. It took about 40 man hours to make, and gazing at it, you have one overriding thought: You better own a nice horse.

There is so much more -- you could spend hours here.

Golf and dress shoes inlaid with swirling western designs crafted by Loveless Custom Boots & Shoes of Oklahoma City run from $650 to $750. These are from the skin of such former living creatures as ostrich, crocodile, even kangaroo. Ostrich would be my golf shoe, as I want something used to languishing in the sand …

Even writing instruments are displayed at Cowboy Christmas, crafted by Rich and Vivian Charleson of Charliwood Art of Carter, Mont. They run from $50 to $100 and are made by hand, of course, from all types of wood. Rich Charleson said the most expensive of these materials is ebony, which runs about $100 a pound. He also makes all types of woodcraft -- cribbage boards, candlesticks, Lazy Susans and the like -- and his ornate wooden bowls are too pretty to fill with any sort of food.

There is barbed wire to be found, but not for its intended purpose. Armed with pliers and wire cutters, Vicki Jo Ferriss turns fencing into art. Most of the designs sold by Art From the Farm, the business owned by Vicki Jo and her husband, Roger, are pretty inexpensive -- $15 to $50, about, which seems a good deal even for barbed wire. One message reads, simply, “Howdy,” and you also can get your name done in cursive. I was going to order that but didn’t want to tie up Vicki Jo with that menacing surname.

The Great Blue Herron Furniture Co. of Brownsboro, Texas, specializes in custom furniture, but their booth’s signature effect is a giant steer named Mearle, whose horn span is 7 feet, 6 inches. Huge. It was explained that Mearle was named as such because “he just looks like a Mearle,” and his onetime head goes for $2,995. Sadly, no other story behind the path Mearle took to be displayed at Cowboy Christmas, but his plight is self-explanatory, nonetheless.

The most expensive exhibit, at least that I could locate, were a pair of National Ropers Supply Twister horse trailer/recreational vehicles. The walls are covered in rich, black leather, and a foldout bed is supplied -- and that’s just the horse’s quarters. The front of the trailer is equipped as lavishly as any RV on the road, with flat-screen TVs, spacious living quarters, fully outfitted kitchens, a couch and a small dining area.

Reigning all-around champ Trevor Brazile is selling one of these rigs he used during his record-setting seventh championship run. When new, it retailed for $190,000 but can be had for $150,000 at the show -- and it’s been used for just 4 months.

Or, you can just walk through the vehicle and do some networking. Show off that new belt buckle, even.

Follow John Katsilometes on Twitter at twitter.com/JohnnyKats.

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