In Search of Precious Metal | The Mesabi Iron Ranger

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In the late 1800s, America was in the midst of a gold rush. Prospectors crisscrossed the continent, from the Yukon to Wyoming digging and panning for the precious metal. The wilderness of northern Minnesota, with its dense forests atop Precambrian rock, held promise and men scoured the land looking for gold. Near the turn of the century though, something else was discovered that would change the region forever and shape the land and the lives of those who lived there. In their quest for gold, miners stumbled upon streaks of the blood-red mineral, hematite, unwittingly scraping the surface of the world’s largest underground cache of iron ore on what would be henceforth be called the Mesabi Iron Range.

Mesabi_smallThe early history of mining on the Mesabi Range is intertwined with that of Red Wing Shoe Company. The miners needed tough but comfortable boots that could stand up to the long days and tough conditions a northern Minnesota mine pit presented. Red Wing responded with the now iconic Iron Ranger, a boot made of thick leather with an oil resisting outer sole, speed lacing hooks, and a comfortable cork midsole. The defining characteristic of these boots though, was their double layered toe, capped to protect the miner’s feet from injury as they labored with hand tools and heavy machinery. That boot is still made today, the fittingly named Iron Ranger, and it represents not only Red Wing’s commitment to making boots for working men and women but also its Minnesota origins. Read more »

New Blacksmith Styles – Added Traction

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The Blacksmith can truly be considered the classic American work shoe. In the early 1900s, when Red Wing Shoe Company first began to service rural America, this style of shoe became vastly popular across the country. Versatile and reliable, it was used in farm fields and blacksmith workshops during the day before being cleaned and shined up for a night out on the town. It was the all-purpose shoe for many
years in many industries.

With the positive momentum around the sole used on Blacksmith no. 2955 and Iron Ranger no. 8119, we updated the complete Blacksmith range featuring the 430 Mini Lug outsole. Reintroducing as the Blacksmith no. 3340, 3341, 3342, and 3343. The Mini Lug sole has been designed to showcase a smooth and refined side profile of the Blacksmith while adding traction and durability. In addition to the sole update, all Blacksmith styles now come with the classic bronze eyelets and speed hooks.

Style no. 3341 Charcoal Rough & Tough Leather
Style no. 3341 Charcoal Rough & Tough Leather

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Breathing New Life — Red Wing’s Repair Department

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In a far corner of Plant 2, row upon row of tired boots are lined up, faded and derelict, as if waiting to receive their last rites. Flapping soles hint at untold stories of hard use. These boots look ready to be put out to pasture, left by the door for dog walking duty or trips to the mailbox. But this is the Repair department at Red Wing Shoe Company and instead of a sorry tale, it is one of renewal rather than retirement.  RD2-5_sm       Red Wing Shoes is unique among most shoe brands in that we repair our own boots and we’re proud of this distinction. Typically, repair is an independent cobbler’s job, not the factory’s from which the footwear came. But how better to fix boots than by the same hands that built them in the first place and with original equipment? Like prodigal children, thousands of battered boots come back to the banks of the Mississippi, some making the round trip more than once.

Red Wing repair orders come in, each pair of boots tagged with essential information about the owners and their requests. Some are simple fixes—a new set of soles and laces, a bit of leather treatment—while others can be more complicated. One owner has a leg length discrepancy and needs his right boot sole built up to balance out the left. Another owner would prefer lug soles be fitted in places of the original crepe, perhaps for a new look or just for a little more traction. Our Repair department aims for a turnaround time of less than a week for a pair of boots and bins are labeled for the day of the week each pair arrives. It’s a “first in, first out” system, and the small crew manages to renew an impressive average of 150 pairs per day.RD2-14_sm

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No matter what the request is, the process starts the same way—soles are pried off and discarded, stitching examined and a new cork layer smeared on to the footbed like peanut butter.Then the boots go under the heat lamps for curing before new soles are attached and trimmed and heels nailed in place if needed. The boots get a generous helping of leather oil to restore their suppleness and color and a fresh set of laces. Finally they’re sealed in a box for shipment back to their owners, ready for loyal service once again. It’s a process that’s repeated on hundreds of boots every week. Every pair that passes through the Red Wing repair department has a story, one only known to its owner, and a story that will continue when he receives his boots back. RD2-10_smRD2-16_smRD2-20_sm

Ready to send in your boots? Find directions here.

Anecdotes | Grown up in Red Wing boots

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Michael Williams A Continuous Lean Red Wings 1905

“My love of Red Wing began early one Saturday morning when I was thirteen years old. My father woke me up and drove me to the Red Wing store in my hometown of Wickliffe, Ohio, on the East Side of Cleveland to get my first pair of work boots. The excitement of the gift of work boots from my dad quickly faded when I realized that I was then being conscripted into weekends and summers of manual labor. What I learned about working for my dad was sort of surprising to me; I loved working outside and I loved manual labor. When the job was done, you are done. Each day held huge feelings of accomplishment. It was through this experience that my life long appreciation and connection to the Red Wing Shoe Company was forged.

I bought these boots in 2005, the year of Red Wing’s centennial. They are a special edition boot with the style number 1905, an homage to the year of the company’s founding and came with the 100 year lace badges. I have worn them religiously ever since and recently had them re-crafted in Minnesota to make them almost better than new.

These boots are just like my first pair that my dad bought for me and every time I put them on I think about how in one Saturday morning my father taught me about quality, hard work, loyalty and so much more about life.”

Michael Williams, New York

Michael Williams Red Wing 1905

In 2007, Michael Williams founded men’s style site A Continuous Lean, which looks at the world through the lens of craftsmanship, quality and provenance. www.acontinuouslean.com

Red Wing Moc Toe 8882

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Blue! Built with Indigo Portage leather, we welcome style no.8882 to the family. This unique indigo color pays respect to the blue collar worker who initially adopted the iconic 875 work boot in their daily lifes and made Red Wing Shoe Company flourish in the 1950’s.
First introduced in 1953, Red Wing’s moc toe styles are built with the same attention to detail as the boots built long ago. The 8882 is built with premium leather tanned at Red Wing Shoes’ Minnesota tannery and made in the plant located just down the road. The boot is available now at selected retailers.

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Faces of Red Wing | Colin Spoelman

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KC_6 Colin Spoelman runs the oldest distillery in New York City, Kings County Distillery. While that description may sound a bit grand for a five-year-old distillery, Spoelman is very much steeped in old whiskey culture. He grew up in Kentucky, America’s whiskey heartland, and with a healthy DIY attitude launched his Brooklyn-based whiskey brand right as the thirst for craft distilling began to take hold in the U.S., putting him, and his distillery, at the forefront of the craft spirit movement. Spoelman spends most of his time at the Brooklyn Navy Yard in a 115-year-old brick building that serves as the headquarters for King County Distillery. On a recent muggy August day the distillery was filled with the sweet smell of whiskey-soaked barrels, and it was there we caught up with Spoelman to discuss his passion for distilling and craft whiskey.

Tell us about your path into distilling, growing up in Kentucky and what that meant.
Interestingly enough my parents didn’t drink. it was a dry county, so there were no bars or liquor stores. Very different culture of alcohol. I grew up going to a bootlegger who was just a guy, not necessarily making moonshine, but he would go into Virginia and buy commercial alcohol and sell it to high school kids and alcoholics.
I moved to New York and would periodically go back and visit the bootleggers, and some of them did sell moonshine. And knowing that people in New York were kind of curious about that, I’d bring it back and share it with people. And that got me interested in this culture I had left, which is really a culture of a lot of homemade stuff.

Did you learn from anyone?
No, because there’s really nobody who really knows how to do it anymore. There are some old-timers in Kentucky but they don’t really like to talk about it.

It’s secretive…
Yeah, but that being said, there are books that are out there. It’s basically home-brewing and then going one step further. The science is pretty straightforward. My experience as a startup hobby distiller was: Wow this is surprisingly easy, and surprisingly easy to make stuff that is comparable or better than commercial whiskeys that are out there.
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Read more »

Tales from behind the counter | Red Wing Shoe Store Berlin

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Mick_blogA new pair of Red Wing boots is like a blank sheet of paper. But the longer you wear your shoes, the more this sheet becomes a chronicle of past events. Scratches, spots, and stains tell of manifold experiences and, as time moves on, a simple pair of shoes will come to tell the story of your life. At Red Wing Shoe Store Berlin, we are the proud owners of the largest vintage Red Wing collection in Europe. 300 pairs from the 1930s up to the 2000s. Aviator boots from the 30’s, hunting boots from the 50’s, gentleman’s boots from the 60’s. These boots have walked through countless countries. They have been to the tops of mountains, the shores of oceans, and the major cities in the world. Weathered and beaten, all of them have acquired a unique character, and if they could talk, each pair would have one hell of a story to tell.

Even though there is a very active trade in worn-in boots, we don’t sell any of them, but challenge our customers to start wearing in their own boot, which will have a story of its own to tell soon enough. After all, those pairs will be the most precious in the end.

I remember an Italian biker who came in one Saturday wearing his 35-year old pair of Engineer boots. The black leather had turned grey and marks on the boot hinted at numerous motorbike adventures. The outsoles were in poor condition though and he asked desperately whether we could fix them. He had had them resoled elsewhere, and the job had been done poorly. Unfortunately, that had rung in the final round in their 35 years of companionship. Feeling sorry for him, Mick offered to give his boots a place in the collection in exchange for a free pair. The biker smiled: “Even if I can’t wear my boots anymore, there’s too many memories tied to them. One can’t leave such a thing behind…”

Our most special pieces are probably the ‘Skytrooper’ Jump Boots. These myth-enshrouded, very rare shoes were produced by Red Wing Shoe Company from the early 40’s to 50’s and served as footgear for American Paratroopers during WWII. Soldiers wearing these boots were dropped from the sky and had to work their way through any kind of terrain or situation. It is impossible to track single story lines some 70 years later, but it is safe to say that both, wearers and shoes, went through experiences we cannot even imagine today. These pairs are no longer blank sheets, but completed books. They tell more than an individual story; these boots have become part of history.

Written by Mick Adler.
www.redwingberlin.com

How to take care of your Red Wing Roughout leather boots

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Red Wing Roughout leather is created using a reverse-suede technique. While most tanneries split, thin and weaken the hide to create the rough suede surface, we simply use the other side of the hide. By doing so, we avoid splitting or thinning our full-grain hides. This makes our Roughout leather just as strong and durable as our other leathers. Or visit our shoecare instructions page here.

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Red Wing Anniversary Boot – The Huntsman

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2015_1Introduced in 1936, Red Wing Shoes’ popular no. 668 was marketed as “The Bird Shooter’s Boot.” The 668 debuted as one of the company’s first hunting boots and quickly became a boot of choice for long days outdoors. Over time, the 668 would eventually evolve into Red Wing’s iconic style no. 877. Red Wing Heritage is re-imaging the 668 for our company’s 110-year anniversary with the introduction of ‘the Huntsman’. Inspired by our early hunt boot designs, the Huntsman is an 8-inch lace-up leather boot built with Black Klondike leather and the same Gro-Cord sole material as the original 668. This rubber sole was an innovation at a time in which leather soles were commonplace. The Gro-Cord sole allowed sportsmen to move silently in the field. Featuring gunmetal eyelets, rawhide leather laces and the 668’s signature sole, The Huntsman pays high respects to Red Wing Shoe Company’s sportsman heritage.2015_blog

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The skill of leather cutting

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Just because we’ve been making shoes and boots since 1905 doesn’t mean we can’t change our ways every now and then. After all, you don’t last as long as we have if you don’t improve. One area in which we’ve made some changes is in our leather cutting department. For most of our history, the individual pieces of Red Wing leather that make up a boot are cut out using metal templates and a pressure stamping machine. A worker eyes up a leather hide and figures out the most efficient way to get the most pieces out of it with minimal waste, while avoiding the blemished and imperfect sections. It’s a method that’s worked well since the beginnings. While  many steps in our process of boot-making can’t be done by machines, at Red Wing Shoe Company we also try to embrace technology when contributing to the quality of the process or footwear.

LeatherCutting-1bThe Comelz machine is a computer-guided leather cutting machine that we use for some of our types of boots. With a template of all the pieces needed for a particular size and type of boot, the machine helps a worker line up the optimum arrangement of cuts that will maximize the hide and minimize waste. Lighted shapes dance on the leather surface as the worker moves them around, locking in his choices with the click of a button. When the hide has been digitally marked, it slides into the cutter and two precision heads descend and cut out the pieces needed, leaving only a thin web of scrap leather. This process takes advantage of technology while still relying on the human element that has been our trademark for over a century. Using the Comelz leather cutting machine has resulted in less waste and faster production, which goes to show that sometimes to make a process better, cutting corners can be a good thing.  LeatherCutting-3b LeatherCutting-4b