FORT WORTH, Texas — The building sits on a street corner, its red brick facade and diagonally arching roof harkening back to a long-ago period in history. Its doors are modeled to look like those of an old western saloon. A sign hangs from the side of the building, another hint at a previous era only betrayed by its illuminated letters.

Those letters, in all capitals, read “SHAKE SHACK.”

And therein lies the odd combination of nostalgia and capitalism at the Fort Worth Stockyards. The 98-acre area began as a cattle exchange in 1866. It’s now a business district trying its hardest to attract people while looking like the set of a Clint Eastwood movie. It’s the only place where you can see a dilapidated Ford pickup drive down cobblestone streets. People walk onto the street from bars to pay five dollars to sit on a cow. Lots are wearing cowboy hats. So many cowboy hats.

As it turns out, the hats feed into both sides of the primary functions of the Stockyard.

M.L. Leddy’s Boot and Saddlery sits across the street from a general store that has a sign casually implying it will shoot anyone who tries to break in.

Inside, it’s a deceptively large space with a heavy scent of leather on the inside. An entire wall in the back is taken up by boots, and there are belts, jackets and other assorted western gear around the store. But the big ticket items are the cowboy hats. A display of “pure beaver” hats sits on a table, all the items priced around $1,600.

A customer sporting a white mustache, vest and a hat of his own explains the hats while drinking a glass of whiskey.

Most cowboy hats are made with rabbit fur, which can be damaged by rain, and is generally short-lasting and not durable. The pure beavers, as their name suggests, come from beaver pelts. Two are needed to create the hat. The first is steamed until it becomes soft and can be molded into a cone. It’s then dunked into hot water until it stiffens into a consistent shape.

The second pelt forms the brim of the hat. When the two come together, the hat doesn’t look like a typical stetson. It’s in the shape of a dome with no indentations or curvature. It’s displayed in the store that way. If someone has four figures worth of money burning a whole in their pocket, they can buy one, and then it goes onto the steamer again.

The brim softens further and can be molded to the buyer’s head. The end result is a hat that’s practically indestructible. It will withstand any elements. You can wear it every day for maybe 20 years.

At least, that’s what the guy who I inherently trust on cowboy-related things because of how he’s dressed tells me. For anyone spending close to $2,000, I hope he’s right.

  • Sports reporter covering MU football. Reach me at wdm79h@umsystem.edu or in the newsroom at 882-5700

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