“I started working at tanning when I was fifteen years old and I’m 63 now. It’s hot. Like putting your nose right on the grindstone all the time– day in and day out like taxidermy. Deer hides, deer skin products, clothes, bags, coats — we do the whole thing right from the rawhide to the finished garment. Most of it’s deerskin and some cowhide. We don’t manufacture anything from cowhide. Deer hide. Everybody wants deer hide. It’s softer and has a better feel, but they’re hard contemptible things to tan. The enamel in the grain is so easily damaged it’s hard to tan them and get a glaze on the finished product. Much more so than cow. But there’s no leather that can be made to feel like deerskin. That had that soft suppleness that deerskin has.
“[We sell] locally mostly. To tourists and people who come into the store. Oh, we sell some to other craftsmen. Well, I call them hippie clothes that they make. It varies from year to year, but on an average [we process] about a thousand [hides a year]. Equivalent to a thousand deerskin. We have a fleshing machine and we have power drums. The hides are seldom ever touched by hands. The paddle wheel, all that’s necessary to . . . The broiler, hot water. There’s very little handwork to it. Splitting machines that split them to a uniform thickness after they’re tanned. This day and time, handwork don’t count. In this kind of work. There’s too much to be done.
“We just, I used to flesh them by hand, used to air ‘em by hand. I used to do everything by hand. If I counted my time at normal wages, I’d have to have two or three hundred dollars per hide to come out and make wages. I used to flesh cowhides by hand with a sharp knife about two feet long. Handles on each end. Sharpen it up just sharp as a razor and actually shave that flesh, fat and membrane from the hide . . . hide after hide I shaved that way. Now we can put them through the flesh machine that takes about 30 seconds to clean one up and do a better job than I can do it.
“The little man hasn’t much chance now. He can’t operate with the big man. No use to try. Getting worse every day. The little man. They’re going to push him out. We bought dyes from DuPont for 35 years. Until two years ago. We called them in Philadelphia and they wouldn’t sell us a thing.”