Cowboy Cobbler preserves a dying art

By: 
Abe Winter
Star Staff Writer

His vocation may be considered a dying art, but the Cowboy Cobbler of Miles City isn’t going anywhere soon.

That would be Kevin Carda, the owner of Cowboy Cobbler Boot, Shoe & Tack Repair at 800 Main St. And, yes, he used to be a cowboy.

Carda, who grew up north of Lambert, about 40 miles northwest of Sidney, worked for 15 years on ranches, including six at the Diamond Ring Ranch just east of Miles City.

For three months, every Monday — his day off — he was an apprentice with local boot maker Kevin Eisele, now in Billings. Carda even had a couple pairs of boots made by Eisele.

“We talked to (former owner) Zane Kettleman and Kevin about it, to see if there was enough business to make a living here,” Carda said.

The “we” includes his wife, Michelle, a home economics teacher at Custer County District High School. They made the decision to purchase the store nine years ago. He’s not certain how long it’s been in Miles City.

“It’s been here for numerous years,” Carda said, “but it’s economics, a dying breed. Eight shops have closed in eastern Montana since I’ve been in business. It’s a dying industry, a tough industry in this part of the country because of the population.

“There used to be a boot shop in a lot of the small towns — either saddles or boots, a lot of times together.”

His shop, though, is loaded with boots to be repaired. Heck, he even sells used boots and takes consignments. But most of his work involves resoling, heels, stitching and patching for many people in two states.

“It’s kind of a hub for eastern Montana and western North Dakota,” Carda said of Miles City.

And he enjoys being in the heart of the city, repairing boots valued at $50 to $1,500.

“A lot of it is economics, a lot of people like to get them repaired, and I’m just strictly repair,” Carda said.

He repairs boots and a variety of shoes from sandals to hiking boots to tennis shoes and more with a variety of apparatus — six sewing machines, a 5-in-1, an outside stitcher, a finisher (polisher) and more.

“This, to me, is a shoe store. It’s not just boots, but the word seems to be getting out,” he said. “You get just as many town boots as working boots. You walk on sidewalks, that eats ‘em up.”

Because of the volume of business in his small shop, Carda said he no longer does saddles and tarps. Still, it might be two to three weeks before your repair is done.

One thing that might be surprising: Let’s let Mr. Carda tell it.

“I’ve had people who’ve lived here all their lives and they’d never been in here.”

Maybe they’ll meet him, as long as he stays healthy, avoiding arthritis in his hands.

“As long as my hands can hold on,” Carda said. “It’s kind of taxing on the handwork. But it’s enjoyable, to me anyway. I enjoy doing this. I get to meet a lot of people.”

He added, “The summers are too busy with boots and one guy goes on vacation and brings his boots. One pair I’ve resoled 11 times.”

He also recently stitched up a small travel bag that came from Germany. He also has repaired a lot of old boots that people prefer to keep fixing rather buying new ones. 

But he’s also an outdoorsman who enjoys hunting and fishing.

“As soon as it cools off, they need to call (406-234-5163) to see if I’m here,” Carda said. “But I try not to be gone too much on Mondays to Fridays.”

(Contact Abe Winter at starcity@midrivers.com or 406-234-0450.)

(EDITOR'S NOTE: Please see the the photo gallery Cowboy Cobbler for more photos)

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