Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Plastic saddles

This is what most people think of when they hear the words "plastic saddle."  
Western saddle historians, however, are likely to picture something entirely different, and that other type of plastic saddlery is the topic of today's post.  
Between the years 1946 and 1949, the All Western Plastic Company built sixty five plastic Western saddles at their factories in Lusk, Wyoming and (later) Scottsbluff, Nebraska.  These saddles were built on a traditional bull hide covered wood tree and featured leather ground seats.  All the remaining saddle pieces were cut from 1/4" sheets of plastic called Geon. 
In addition to saddles, the All Western Plastic Company also produced other tack items including bridles,
martingales, 
and colored aluminum bits. 
Legendary cowboy, Roy Rogers, was a spokesperson for the saddle company and made many public appearances riding in his flashy saddles.  Unfortunately, that wasn't enough to sway public opinion.  The plastic saddles never  really caught on, and production ceased in 1949.  
Wyoming rancher, Tom Harrower, is the premier authority on plastic Western saddles.  I had the good fortune to meet him and view his booth at 2012 edition of Brian Lebel's Old West Show & Auction in Denver, Colorado.  
The photos accompanying today's post were taken during that visit.
It's worth mentioning that this was not my first brush with full scale plastic saddles.  My boss at Brighton Feed and Saddlery had a most impressive saddle collection which included two made by the All Western Plastics Company.  If memory serves correctly, the saddle in this picture used to sit right behind my desk.
Tom is working on a book about the history of the All Western Plastics Company and plastic saddlery.  Anyone with information about these saddles is asked to get in touch with him.  
More information about the All Western Plastics Company can be found on the Niabrara County Library website.  Be sure to check out the link section for more pictures of these unique saddles!

22 comments:

  1. Reflectingstars StablesFebruary 19, 2013 at 12:44 PM

    WoW- So cool, I wonder what materials you would use to make one of these down to scale. Such an interesting article!

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  2. Interesting, but i can imagine slippery when wet, and brittle when cold, and hot in the summer?

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  3. Surely they'd be a bit awkward to sit in when it's cold or rainy? You'd be slipping about all over the place!

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  4. I think I'm going to stick with my leather saddle.(although I do like the colors) maybe this will lead to a BCS plastic saddle?

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  5. Being in Arizona, all I can think of is- hot! Maybe even melty O.o

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  6. Thanks for sharing this Jenn! Plastic Saddles, who knew?

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  7. One of the reasons that Roy Rogers had these saddles and he had several, was that he got tire of his leather saddles getting wet. I just made a replica of the yellow roses saddle for a customer using red roses. It was a fun experiment and if I ever get asked to do it again, I know what NOT to do now!

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  8. That is so cool I never would have thought that plastic saddles were made for real horses, kinda the reverse on the miniature leather saddle for model horse is plastic saddles for real horses hahahaha

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  9. Being a big fan of leather I don't imagine I would ever go looking for a plastic saddle if I ever get a chance to have a need for a real saddle. They do sound sqeeky and slippery, or hot, too cold. I wonder how they were to ride in. The book should be pretty interesting if it ever comes out.

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  10. Wow, I'd never heard of plastic saddles for real horses like that! I'd have some concerns about the plastic deteriorating over time and exposure to sunlight/temperature swings...but a really cool piece of history.

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  11. I've never heard of them. Thank you so much for sharing this interesting information! I definately wouldn't want to ride in one, but they are cool looking!

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  12. I think they're gorgeous (they definitely appeal to the magpie in me) but . . . I just can't get over the fear of (1) being WAY too hot in the sun, (2) falling off in any sort of rain, and (3) saddle burn even through jeans. The part of my that studied physics wants to know how they accounted for the plastic's expansion and contraction in heat and cold - that could cause some real problems!

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  13. I would think those would chaffe pretty badly, especially here in Phoenix...

    Emily Dunnan

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  14. Ugh, plastic?? I can't see how it would hold up under use or be comfortable for horse or rider. Plus, where would be that wonderful leather smell??? I can see why the concept didn't take off.

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  15. *sorry, chafe. :)

    Emily

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  16. The first thing I thought about those was 'They'd be so slippy to sit on!'. I never knew about those full-sized plastic saddles, I can't decide if they're brilliant or absolutely terrible!

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  17. I love the beautiful colors and designs, but would also be concerned about slipping right out! I have an image of a rider sitting on a Dycem pad in the saddle in order to stay put!

    Vicky, I'd love to see photos of the saddle you created!

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  18. According to Tom Harrower in some of the linked materials, the saddles were stiff in winter and a bit sticky and stretchy in summer. Because plastic does degrade in UV light, a lot of them now have broken strings. I also seem to recall that they were quite heavy.

    It's worth noting, that these plastic saddles were made shortly after the end of WWII when the United States was experiencing a leather shortage. It was a noble experiment, despite its lack of long success. I hope Tom is able to finish his book. If he does, I'll be first in line to buy a copy!

    :)

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  19. I don't really see the point to a plastic saddle. Plus I love the smell of leather.

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  20. Probably not something I'd actually use out of choice but that's pretty neat all the same

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  21. Those are very unique! Like others have said, it'd probably be really slippery, but it looks well made!

    Sarah
    CuttingHorse

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