Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Einar Alderin And SnowShoeGear

Cottage-Manufacturer Interviews #37

This week, in tune with the season, we'll switch from packs and tarps to something just as important, footwear. And not any ordinary footwear, but something designed specifically for winter hiking and backpacking.

Our guest this time is Einar Alderin, founder of SnowShoeGear.

Hoofist:  Hello, Einar. Can you tell us how you got the idea for your company, SnowShoeGear?

Einar Alderin:  Oh, sure. I was out to the barn one day when this here big blizzard come along. It took me right by surprise, that one did, and there I was, stranded. I could a froze to death out there you know. It happens around here.

Hoofist:  So you were in your barn in a blizzard? And how did you get from there to SnowShoeGear?

Einar Alderin:  Well, it took a while, that's for sure. I was sitting there in the barn about to freeze most a my tender parts off and who knows what. Because you know, around here, you don't take it too light whenever a blizzard comes along, you know. They got that phrase there, the quick and the dead, and if a blizzard decides to run you down, you find you ain't so quick as you think, and probably you will end up dead to boot. So I took to sitting so I could think through my options once. Does that make sense?

Hoofist:  Sure does. I can relate. And then SnowShoeGear?

Einar Alderin:  Well, that took a while. That was way later. I ain't all that bright, but good enough for farm work. Most days. Slow but steady brings in the wheat. Kinda like that. But that's how you got to be around here. We all are, mostly. No fancy stuff for us. It's the ones with all the fancy ideas that go bust the fastest. I seen some a them come and go, and the ones that are left after all the fuss are the straight shooters that work steady and don't get too big for their britches. Which is why I sat down in the barn and kinda decided to think about things around that time.

Hoofist:  And the barn is your workshop?

Einar Alderin:  Well, it is now, since the wife kicked me out of the kitchen. I used to work in there but the wife she didn't take to that much. Said I got on her nerves. And made too much of a mess and all, so I had to find another place to work. Well, there ain't too many places around here. You can't go out in the fields or nothin', you know, not when it's cold and all, so the barn was about it, so that's where I ended up.

I made a little place there, with a light bulb hanging from a wire, and that works pretty good. I don't need too much. One thing you don't want to do is get a unhappy wife. No telling what a woman might to when she gets in one a her moods, so I had to back off, if you know what I mean.

Hoofist:  So where did the idea of SnowShoeGear come from?

Einar Alderin:  Well that one I don't know, you know. Ideas. What's an idea? They come, they go. That's a tough one, but as I was sitting there in that blizzard waiting to figure something out or freeze dead I had a couple ideas come to me. You know, around here we don't get much rain. Mostly in June and July. Starts in the middle a May, pretty regular, then through June, and then it kinda tapers off through July. And that's about it.

Then again, in the winter, it's snow, which is what you'd expect when the temperature is fifteen, twenty, twenty-five below. Or colder, which happens more often than you'd think if you weren't from around here. But it don't really snow all that much really, just stays all winter and blows around. That's how we get snirt. And then every few years we get a real blizzard where you gotta stay inside for a few days. If you don't it'll just grab you by the collar and take you off somewheres and they don't find the body until sometime in spring, if ever.

In the old days lotta folks got lost just between the house and the barn. You can't see nothin' but you got to go out and check on the livestock, and then you don't come back, and then when spring comes around, maybe they find the body. Happened a lot in the old days. The wind blows so hard and there's all that snow in the air, you can't see a damn thing. Some people took to stringing a rope from the house to the barn so they could be sure where they were going and how to get back, but we don't have enough blizzards for that. Lately anyhow.

Maybe it was different in the old days. Well anyway, I was in the barn and I was busy and all and didn't mind the wind and then I looked out and it was all white out there. So I thought, hey. If you can get lost from the house to the barn, maybe it works the other way too, so I sat down there for a while and had a think. Damn it was cold out there. The barn is pretty drafty, you know. This was way before I had a workshop out there or nothin'. It was just a barn then. Drafty as hell.

Hoofist:  And then you came up with the idea for SnowShoeGear, to get you safely back home?

Einar Alderin:  No, not quite yet. It took a while yet.

Hoofist:  So what happened next?

Einar Alderin:  Well, I sat there a long time.

Hoofist:  But you got back to the house, and you came up with the idea of SnowShoeGear. So how did that happen?

Einar Alderin:  Well, I didn't know what in the hell I was gonna do. Sometimes it gets like that, you know? Cripes, I thought I was about done for. I started walking around the barn to keep warm and looking in boxes and stuff because it was still daylight, and that was about all I had to do, walking around and such. I figured maybe something would come to me so I nosed around in a bunch of old boxes out there. And dang, don't ya know, there was one a them boxes I hadn't never looked in. It was some a my grandfather's stuff.

He didn't have much, you know. He got a jackknife for his fourteenth birthday but before that he didn't have nothin', and that's about the last thing he did get too, so he had to make do with that. Out here on the plains we don't have no wood or nothin', neither, so he wanted to take up carving but didn't have no wood, so he took to horse apples and carved around on them. So that's what I found in the box. He had little soldiers and cowboys and stuff like that, all carved out of horse apples. That's what he played with when he was a kid, and he must a put it all in this box one day for safe keeping and there it was, still in the barn, all forgot about. His name was Stone. Stone Alderin, my grandfather.

He was a tough old guy. All hide and hair. He could work for a week straight and never have to take a rest or nothin'. He was still pitching hay and shoveling manure into his eighties. Well, once I saw his old railroad train set carved out of horse apples, I figured if he could make something out of nothin' then I could too. And that there was about the time I heard my wife.

It was all dark by then and when I looked out the barn door I could just barely see a light from the kitchen. The wife was over there, with her head out the back door and yelling for me to come and eat once or I'd have hell to pay if it got cold. She had dinner all set and there I was, somewhere all hell and gone goofing off again as far as she was concerned and she never took to that, so she had her head out the door, hollering for me, so that was how I got back to the house. It was either get back for dinner or I knew she would come out hunting for me.

Freezing to death in the yard wouldn't a been a way out. You don't get away from her, not that woman, so I made a run for the light. I hear that happens sometimes. They call it a near death experience. If you met my wife you'd get the picture. And then there I was, just like nothin' happened. Back in the world of the living, and supper still warm too.

Hoofist:  So, one thing. What are "horse apples"?

Einar Alderin:  Oh. That would be the part of the horse that comes out the back end. So maybe being from the city and all, maybe you never seen them, but out in the country it's different.

Hoofist:  And your grandfather carved on this?

Einar Alderin:  Sure. He didn't have nothin' else, like I said. It wasn't that bad. They dry out pretty fast in the summer, and in the winter they are all froze solid anyway, and no flies then neither. Better than wood in a way. No slivers, you know. But that was the deal right there. Once I found Granddad's toys I started to do some thinking and began some foolin' around with stuff, and pretty soon I had my prototype footwear.

Hoofist:  And this was the inspiration for SnowShoeGear?

Einar Alderin:  Yep. A course I use snow, not manure. Some people, you know. I have to say it right out, because they don't get it. But if Stone Alderin could make his own toys out of horse droppings, then Einar Alderin his grandson can damn well make winter-time footwear out of snow. So that's about it. It took some tinkering and such, but you know, they ain't all that fancy. And some people really like what I make. "Biodegradable", they say. They like that stuff nowadays, so that's how I advertise. "No cleaning or repairs needed, ever." I say that too.

And then I have to pick the right customers. And it's really just a winter business, but guys in Michigan like them OK. Minnesota too. Montana. So on. Some clown in Florida kept emailing me. Got pretty nasty after I told him like four or five times I couldn't fill his order. I returned his money and all but that wasn't near good enough for him. Got real ornery, that guy. Well, let him come by in person. See how he handles thirty below in a twenty mile an hour wind. Freeze his god damn Mr. Bojangles right off. Then he'll have something to think about besides some damn snow boots in Florida. But most people are pretty good.

I use top quality snow and I got molds for all size feet, so most are happy with the fit. Got a bunch of lasts cheap from a guy who used to have a hunting boot factory in the family from back in the old days, and they work real good. So mostly people are happy. Right now I'm working on colors. White is all I got for now but not everybody likes that. I do have a hell of a time some years. Not every year is good for snow you know, so I got to do a bit of careful scraping at times, but so far I get by OK. Keeps me busy between deer season and spring planting so I guess it's OK there.

Hoofist:  And how should people take care of their SnowShoeGear footwear? How many miles do your customers get on a pair, for example?

Einar Alderin:  Well, don't try wearing them in the house. That would be the first thing I guess. Keep them out back if you can, on the north side a the house, or in the mud porch. This is if you can be sure the weather is staying good and cold, otherwise keep them in the freezer and don't wear them in the car. I can't tell you how many people forget and get into the car with their snow boots on and crank up the heat.

Well, that's about all she wrote right there. Don't take more than a minute, tops, and your snow boots are ruined, so keep that in mind. A foam cooler is fine. Put them in there and put that in the trunk of your car or in the pickup and all is well. Socks too. At least two pairs, wool, good and thick. That way your feet stay warm and the boots don't melt out. Some people go all winter. It ain't like summer hiking anyways.

People go out every month or two at most, and pretty soon it's spring and that's it, so mileage ain't a big deal. You know. Kind of a specialty item. It don't take much to make these here boots. It's mostly plain snow and I use a putty knife and a couple a scrapers and I have the lasts, so I ain't sure why nobody else hasn't got into the business. I think maybe somebody tried, but I'm still the only one that has made it so far as I know. Could be the snirt. You don't see that anywhere else.

Hoofist:  Snirt? What's that?

Einar Alderin:  Kind of my secret ingredient I guess. Leastways I can't think of anything else. This here is something like our secret sauce, kinda what makes North Dakota the place it is. See, there's lots a farm land here, and lots a it is laying fallow, and after harvest you also got all that land that got plowed up in the spring and grew crops and it's still exposed, so the dust don't stop blowing around just because a winter.

You get snow, you get dirt, and pretty soon they are all mixed up together and what you got is snirt. We're known for it, leastways locally. I think that's what holds my snow boots together. Nobody else has made it work and I think it's the snirt. Could be. I don't worry a bunch. The business ain't like my real job anyways you know. Just something I do in the winter. I'm happy.

Hoofist:  Well thank you for sharing your experiences with us. We really appreciated it.

Einar Alderin:  Well sure. Come by some day and I'll whip up a pair a snow boots for you and we can hike out and have a look at the horizon for a while. It's real pretty some days. The wife won't leave the house all winter and it can get so I'm afraid to come back in so it would be nice to see a new face and all. Just give me a call a couple of hours ahead and we'll be square. Any time. I'm free for about four months now. How about next week?

Hoofist:  Well, I'll let you know next time I'm in the state.

Einar Alderin:  OK. Or any friends a yours. They're welcome too. We don't see too many outsiders here. Not too much a anybody. Just send them right straight up here, OK?

Hoofist:  Thanks again. I'll do that.

Einar Alderin:  Or you could send me their names and addresses. I can write to them. Anybody you know. Just about any time. Don't be shy. It would do us good to see some new faces. Lots a them.

Hoofist:  Once again, thanks. Oops. Looks like my internet connection just went down. I guess I'll have to post what I have. Our guest this time has been the cottage ultralight manufacturer Einar Alderin, founder of SnowShoeGear in Beulah, North Dakota, near the shores of the lovely Lake Sakakawea reservoir, where you can find the best snirt on earth. Thanks, Einar.