Tag Archives: factory

Your Trash, Her Treasure

April 9, 2017 by
Photography by Keith Binder

Even on a blustery, freezing January day, as Christmas lights still twinkle from neighbors’ homes, it’s Halloween inside Diane Hayes’ apartment.

Enter into her abode, which is located in the 105-year-old West Farnam Apartments off Dewey and 38th streets, and you’re confronted with fortunetellers and witches and skeletons, oh my! The 1,800-square-foot place is spacious, with floorboards that squeak and much of its early 20th-century charm still intact, but it’s Hayes and her often-merrily macabre refurbished artwork that makes the apartment truly spellbinding.

“For a while, I tried to keep all my work hidden in one room, but then I said ‘Oh, to hell with it,'” Hayes says. “By the time they carry my body out of here, I suppose things will really look strange.”

Hayes lives to make the old new again. From turning a vintage side table into an animatronic fortuneteller to using antique alarm clocks to create mini terrariums that depict tragedies like the Titanic sinking and Lindbergh kidnapping, she uses her creative magic to take everyday objects and turn them into art. A strong believer that “décor shouldn’t come from Bed, Bath & Beyond,” Hayes scavenges through Goodwill, antique shows, and online to buy things only for their pieces and parts.

After purchasing an item, she stows it away and lets ideas start marinating in her head. Once inspiration strikes, the tinkering begins.

“It’s not my thing to come home after a long day and sit down to watch TV,” Hayes says. “I’m always putting something together.”

While she displays most of her work in her home, she does sell some items on Etsy and has donated pieces to benefits for the Nebraska AIDS Project and the local chapter of the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.

If she isn’t selling or donating a piece, chances are it will end up in her year-round Halloween-themed office. Teeming from floor to ceiling with things that go bump in the night, this room is more fun and festive than frightening, as most of her collection reflects Halloween styles that were popular in the 1950s and ’60s. And come Halloween night, Hayes is the ghostess with the mostess, inviting around 80 costumed party guests into her apartment to have their palms read by a fortuneteller and watch silent films like Nosferatu.

“I love the Halloweens I grew up with,” Hayes says. “It’s such a fun time of year, and it doesn’t have the stress or religious and political connotations of Christmas.”

Beyond Halloween, living in Omaha’s first luxury apartment building offers its own inspiration. Built in 1912, the West Farnam Apartments house the city’s oldest working elevator.

“You can hear those 100-year-old gears cranking and groaning, almost like a tiny factory that’s come to life,” Hayes says.

Perhaps, this explains her next project—refurbishing an old clock complete with its own ancient gears. Some projects she completes in a day, others she’s always working on, always tinkering. This clock’s finish date is yet to be determined, and to Hayes that’s just fine.

“It’s been an unfocused life,” Hayes says, “but I’m not sure I’d want to do it any other way.”

Visit etsy.com/people/halloweenclocks for more information.

This article was printed in the March/April 2017 edition of Omaha Home.

History is Made in These Boots

March 17, 2014 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann
Although their professions and proclivities may differ a bit, astronauts, bikers, cops, movie stars, presidents, fighter pilots, polo aficionados, members of San Francisco’s leather subculture, tank commanders, and Teutonic toughs all seem to agree on one thing—The Dehner Boot Company of Omaha makes one fine custom leather boot.

On a walk through the factory near 36th and Martha St. with company president Jeff Ketzler, the Dehner ethic is quickly apparent. Artisans cut and shape leathers with hand tools smoothed and patinaed from decades of use. Leather uppers are sewn to soles with antiquated, belt-driven, black-enameled machines. Indeed, the factory floor could just as easily be a living-history museum of the cordwainer’s art circa 1930.

But Dehner continues to exist precisely because most of the world has passed the company by.

“We refuse to change how we do things,” Ketzler says. “We are known for craftsmanship and quality. I would close this factory before I allow us to become just another company that cranks out junk.”

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Little has changed during Dehner’s 130 years of existence. The tech revolution never happened here. The equation is simple: Determine exactly what the footwear needs to do. Take exact measurements of the feet the footwear needs to service. Once you know these details, find strong, supple leather and have men and women, most with decades of experience, use heavy-duty materials and mostly centuries-old techniques to craft the final product.

If it’s a Dehner, you will be comfortable in this timeless piece of footwear long after your other shoes have turned to scraps.

Using this formula, Ketzler and his father and grandfather before him have built a resume unmatched among American shoe manufacturers. NASA turned to the company to build some of the first boots to go into space. General Curtis LeMay looked to Dehner to design and build the perfect boot for the quick-strike flight crews of the Strategic Air Command. Horse buff Ronald Reagan often talked up his Dehner riding boots. James Dean wore Dehner boots. Leaders throughout World War II, including Gen. George Patton, wore Dehners. The Thunderbirds. The Blue Angels. Ketzler just shipped off a pair of military-style boots for Brad Pitt to wear in an upcoming movie. In time, you realize an impressive chunk of 20th century American history was made in Dehner boots.

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Ken Hedrick, owner of Stompers Boots in San Francisco, one of the largest retailers of Dehner Boots in the world, explains why Dehners are sought when the best is needed.

“There are really only two makers of very serious custom boots left in this country—Wesco and Dehner,” he says. “With the Dehners, what you come to realize—and what a lot of people have come to realize—is that nobody anywhere makes anything as good. They have some secret sauce or something. People have tried to copy them, but nobody can pull it off.”

Dehner once hovered around 40 employees in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The company has tended to employ closer to 20 in recent years, but they are doing much better than many other small custom shoe companies.

“We are doing pretty well while so many other companies like us around the world have gone out of business,” Ketzler says.

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Still, Ketzler does have plans to explore new markets. His latest idea came to him last year after his father passed away.

“It got me looking back, thinking how much he had been involved in, how much the U.S. had been involved in through that time,” he says. “It seemed like a history that should be celebrated.” So Dehner boots now has a “Reenactment Line.” If you or a group wants the exact boots worn by any number of historic figures, Dehner can make them for you for somewhere between $500 and $1,000 a pair.

“We still have all the designs in our files, and we still use all the same equipment and all the same leathers,” he says. “You get the exact same boot.”

In the front office of the Dehner building sits the lineup of Dehner products past and present. Here, longtime company everywoman Mary Rushing provides the tour. In her 18 years here, she has run done everything from finishing boots to running the shipping department and front office.

Today she gives a detailed, inside-the-craft, foots-on tour of a dozen or so of Dehner’s most historic artifacts. The black and white NASA boots worn in space by astronauts such as John Glenn are, back here on earth, just about the coolest things ever.

“I’m pretty proud to be a part of all this,” Rushing says. “It’s a unique company with a great history that stands for quality. You can feel like you’re doing something pretty cool here.”

The trick moving forward, Ketzler says, will be to stay true to the company’s history while trying to grow—carefully—in a world that “may not appreciate what we do as much as in the past.

“This company has a 130-year history of making a superb product,” he adds. “I’m just not going to be the guy who destroys that kind of legacy.”

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