Mark Collins Leather

Published by Rachel Fogerty on Dec 20th 2016

Featured Tippmann Customer

Mark S. Collins

Festus Missouri


What does your company do with leather?

Actually I do not own a company based in the leather industry. I own and operate a web site dedicated to the leather industry and driven by my love of the old west, leather craft and family history. In today's world with a large amount of imports including old west cheap replicas in the market place; the number of American craftsman producing hand made leather goods dwindle every year. My goal is to promote the spirit of the old west and the pride of hand made American leather goods.

My belief is based on a very rich family history in hand made leather goods. This started with a talented and adventurous great uncle that came from very simple means in Southeast Missouri. Walter Lee Newell started Newell's Saddle Shop and Cowboy Store in 1935. In 1950 the world started changing and he was forced to close his shop, but his story continues today with reclaimed saddles and his life's history. My web site is dedicated to Uncle Walter and anyone who is still trying to produce hand made leather goods.
How did you first get started in leather crafting?

My dad got me started with a Tandy kit when I was very young. He also had plenty of stories from my great uncles saddle shop.

What inspired you to create your website?

After finding my first Newell Saddle on eBay I started asking my dad (our family historian) a lot of questions about my great uncle and his saddle shop. Maybe it was fate or luck but dad and I found more saddles along with some original catalogs and magazine ads
At that point it was obvious that the story of Walter Lee Newell and his saddle shop had to be told. Family stories were told for years how Uncle Walter sold saddles to the stars of the silver screen. These stories were exciting but could not be published until we found proof. That proof came in the two catalogs that had the actual information in them.

In those catalogs there were pictures of Uncle Walter with Roy Rogers, Gabby Hayes, Sons of the Pioneers and many others. The 1944-1945 catalog has a picture on the back of it with Roy Rogers and Trigger endorsing the Newell Saddle. Here is that picture:

Below is another picture we have with Uncle Walter and Roy Rogers in front of the Newell shop:

You may notice in this picture that Uncle Walter also owned a music shop. Actually he was a man of many talents. Besides the western store and music shop he was also an avid photographer. At some point Uncle Walter did a weekly live music show on a local radio station in St. Louis called KMOX. That radio station is still on the air today.

I have deviated from the original story. Below is a picture with Gabby Hayes in the shop:

Picture 10 is Gabby Hayes, picture 8 is a picture of the Son's of the Pioneers and picture 7 is Roy Rogers.

With this much proof it was time to turn up the web site and tell the world about Walter Lee Newell. So at that point was born.

Do you sell anything on your website?

The only item you may find for sale is an original Newell Saddle that is for sale by owner. Everything else on the site is informational only with links to current craftsman and leather related products.

Your uncle's story is a whole interview in itself, but please explain how your family first got started in the leather crafting and saddle business, dating back to when you uncle first started his business.

Walter Lee Newell was born Nov. 8, 1904 in Bollinger County Missouri which is located in the Southeast part of the state and died July 2, 1993 in Los Angles CA. He was born in a community know as Sank Missouri which had a general store and a post office in the store. Walter was the first of seven children of Doc and Nora Wycoff-Newell. The Sank store was the typical store that catered to the community's everyday needs. Next door to the store on the south side was a blacksmith shop operated by Francis Newell. John Newell operated a gristmill just north of the store and Doc owned and operated a saw mill near the store. Francis and John were both uncles of Walter. The Sank store was built in 1909 by Jasper Cooper who was married to Sarah Newell-Cooper sister of Francis, John and Doc. However time and conditions caused all of the Newell operations to close by 1930. Doc and Nora then purchased a general store in the community of Schlatitz Missouri after the Owner of the store passed away and the store was put up for sale. Schlatitz was also a small farming community located about two miles east of the Sank store.

With the closing of the Newell operations Walter moved to the St. Louis Missouri and opened a Music store and Photography Studios at 1627 South Broadway and a Cowboy store at 1629 South Broadway. Walter was also an experienced musician and did a weekly music show on KXOX radio in St. Louis.

In the Cowboy store Walter carried a full line of western boots made by Justin and Nocona, Dobbs "Ten Gallon" western hats and cowboy Levi's. In addition to human wear he carried a full line of horse furnishings. In the early 1930's he expanded his operation into making and repairing western saddles and opened a factory at 1906 South 7th Street in St. Louis. In a 1942 ad he claimed to be "The only exclusive cowboy store in St. Louis" In Walter's 1944/45 catalog he states he made saddles for such well known people such as Roy Rogers and Gabby Hayes. Col Jim Eskew world famous Rodeo producer of Royer Rogers Rodeo says "It is my business to know saddles as well as horseflesh. I am a Newell saddle booster because Newell saddles can really "take" it". When the United States entered WWII Walter's shop flourished making many different item for support of our military. Leather was more widely used in that time where plastic is now used. The saddle factory was set up well to produce such things helmet liners, belts, straps and other military needs. After the war ended the call for working saddles fell way off and he turned to making trail ride saddle, parade and show saddles. In his 1948/49 catalog he still was making and keeping in stock working saddles but he had turn his attention to high end parade saddle and show saddles such as his Silver Dollar Saddle with one hundred real silver dollars decorating the saddle. This saddle was hand tooled in western floral design with Sterling silver Conchos. This saddle was custom made to order and started at $795.00 complete with Bridle, Martingale and a fancy Corona Blanket. However you could still purchase the all plain Roper saddle with top grade leather, full border embossed for $125.00. After the war Walter made an aluminum tree saddle with a one hundred year guarantee. Due to the changing trends in America Walter closed the saddle shop in late 1950 and moved to Manitou Springs CO. where he opened a western store selling western wear, new and used guns, and items for the tourist business.

Because of the construction of the Newell saddle many are still in use today as working saddles and trail ride saddles. Several of his custom ordered saddles and parade saddle are being restored to their former beauty and are prized by their owners.

The below statement is from a Newell catalog.

"We employ well trained skilled workman that have had years of experience in the saddle making business, and do our best at all times to put the best workmanship possible in all saddles. We use only the best grade of saddle skirting leather throughout. Our trees are all hand made by skilled workman. Our men are paid by the hour. We have no piece work in our shop assuring you better quality of workman."

Walter L. Newell

What led you to the Tippmann Boss for your leather crafting equipment needs?

I purchased a Newell saddle that was in great need of repair (basket case). After evaluating the saddle I decided it could be salvaged but the undertaking would be more than I could handle with just hand tools. It was obvious that the saddle was originally sewed with a machine.

After spending a significant amount of time researching leather sewing machines on the Internet I kept coming back to the Tippmann. The machine had great reviews at an affordable price and was small enough to fit in my crafting room.

Even with all this great information I was still hesitant to make the purchase because I had never used a leather sewing machine. While out and about on a weekend I stopped at a saddle shop in Farmington Missouri. The owner (Mike) and I struck up a conversation about saddles. He was familiar with Newell saddles and had repaired a couple for customers.

I told Mike my dilemma of making a decision on a sewing machine to finish my restoration project. Mike offered to help me out and took me into the repair shop to show me his setup and sewing machine. There on his bench sat a Tippmann Boss. After seeing some of the items Mike had recently repaired and seeing the machine in action I went home and ordered a Boss. I have not regretted that decision since.

How long have you had your Boss?

I have had my Tippmann for over a year now.

What type of machine were you using before the Tippmann?

The Tippmann was in fact my first leather sewing machine.

Do you have any tips or tricks for using the Tippmann Boss?

Something I like to do on many of my projects is to make a stitched item look like it was hand stitched. I will sew it with my Boss but at the beginning and end I will leave enough thread to do a standard saddle stitch. This gives the project a hand sewn look but was accomplished on a machine.

Please tell us about the Newell Saddle that you restored.

When I decided to restore a Newell saddle I had no idea what I was doing. In the end I put more money into the saddle than it will ever be worth, but that was not the point. We live in a world were people are used to going to a store and purchasing an item. That item no matter what it may be is normally a throw away product. We no longer live in a world were products are made to last a lifetime. Or were in a world where people are required to learn how to fix something that their very survival depends on it.

I believe it is important to not forget were we come from and how to do basic tasks to fix broken equipment. That is one reason why I took on the saddle restore. I had no idea what I was doing but quickly found out that it was not rocket since. In fact the saddle was simplistic in its design and construction.

Here are a couple of pics of the saddle disassembled:

I did not know exactly what the saddle looked like new, but I had all the basics. It was obvious where the spots were and the size of the spots. I also had a rusted up concho so I had an idea of what that looked like. I also had a good idea from research that Newell Saddles were sometimes one off show saddles. So with this knowledge and my Boss I went to work. Below is the finished saddle:

It is obvious from the picture that most of the stitching on the saddle is new. All of the stitching was accomplished with my Boss. The stitch length adjustment came in very handy allowing me to hit the original holes in the leather.

This was an incredible experience that I will certainly repeat again. Without my Boss this project would have been impossible.

Since then I have used my Boss on other projects and always enjoy using it. Below is a holster I made for my favorite six-shooter: