In the woods along the Scappoose Creek that runs into the Columbia River sits a heritage shoe maker with a history like no other. John Henry Shoemaker was not inspired by his own name to be a crafter of footwear, but rather out of the necessity to do something other than deliver newspapers. Thus before the turn of the 20th century he began his journey into footwear by working for a manufacturer in Grand Rapids that made boots for Saginaw, Michigan loggers, which at that time was the epicenter of the lumber industry. After several years he took his knowledge out west to work for several footwear manufacturers, all the while picking up secrets, strategies, techniques and honing his craft. In 1918, with two decades of manufacturing experience, John H. founded West Coast Shoe Company in Portland, Oregon.
Geared almost exclusively toward making shoes for the logging industry and specially-crafting each pair to withstand the particular rigors through which their hard working customers would impose upon them, many of the pairs were sold on-site by taking custom measurements of the logger’s feet. John came back into Portland and made the boots that were then picked up by customers when they came into to town for supplies. This direct connection to the customer meant receiving honest consumer feedback, which in turn pushed Shoemaker to build the precise types of boots that loggers needed down to exacting detail, thereby creating new benchmarks of quality for work boots. Of course, there were also some pretty tough men around the camps and plenty of items that could be used as weapons if a product failed expectations. Then in 1929, the Great Depression swept through like a whirlwind, the country and economy ground to a halt and business dried up overnight. Despite the setbacks, closing of the factory, and a depression that affected the pocketbook as well as the soul, Shoemaker moved to Scappoose in 1931 and began making plans for the next facility that materialized on his home's property several years later. Still passionate about making footwear, and with pent up demand, business began to surge.
As WWII broke out, so too did the country stir from its stagnated state of production. Shoemaker was one of the few who had the knowledge to re-tool and ramp up the industrial production of hand-crafted footwear, and Wesco was vaulted into producing large orders once again. Highly regarded on the West Coast, Wesco made Engineer boots for ship workers and Logger boots for well, loggers, and continued to have steady growth fostered by an enduring focus on quality and what the working man required out of his footwear. That focus, coupled with inventing various processes in production that increased longevity and efficiency, caused Wesco to thrive. As one of the first makers to introduce boot re-building, which remains core to their identity and capacity today, Shoemaker kept pushing the boundaries of how long a boot could last in the working conditions of the day. Inventive, entrepreneurial, and designed for the working man: these are the guiding principles for the company now known as Wesco.
This history, family ownership, and dedication to the industrial uses of their product remains core to Wesco’s identity. Still much of a working man’s product, only in the last decade has a focus been paid to the aesthetics, capabilities, and adaptations that can be employed to construct a Wesco that’s appropriate for the street as well as the ship, lumber, or steel yard. As many companies chase this new found style-centric appreciator, however, Wesco has maintained everything from their time-honored craftsmanship, core styling and construction, to their rugged suitability. When you try on, own, break-in, and wear a pair of Wesco’s you know that this is an Unapologetically Raw American Work Boot.
While much larger now, the factory remains in the same location that it’s been since the 1930’s. Processes have become more streamlined and production has increased, though much of the can-do attitude and the approach of maintaining a manufacturing focus on the American worker has remained. A central ideal of fitting every foot exactly and the ability to adapt lasts in a bespoke program for industrial workers has become a significant differentiator of Wesco to other logging or work boot manufacturers. Whether one has lost part of their foot, has the equivalent of a size 20, or simply has irregular feet, Wesco will make a last and a boot for any such stipulation.
Much of the production and construction is still done to the preeminent standards of the old ways. Rapid E Stitchdown, a thick oak-tanned leather insole, steel shank, cork filled, and another thick leather midsole are all layered atop the specific sole specification. Top quality full-grain leathers are bountiful as the toe and heel of the boot construction is double layered. High tension and heavy-weight stitching for the upper coupled with the application of structural reinforcements amount to a boot that possesses an unassailable durability. The break-in period of a Wesco conveys this toughness as it’s often suggested to wear a Wesco for several hours at a time and ignore the pinching in the forefoot. As the materials flex and soften, it will become a companion that provides increasing comfort but more importantly to a Wesco guy, it will embody a poise and strength that will not diminish.
Going to Scappoose and walking the factory with Chris Warren, who’s been building and customizing boots for customers for almost two decades, is always a pleasure as one can sense that the hand-crafted industrial past is honored, alive and well within Wesco. The Shoemaker family legacy still allocates their talents and knowledge to building boots for and by the American worker. Our focus in working with Wesco and designing custom and adapted styles of their goods is to highlight that heritage and give them breadth to occupy that space in our mix of true Americana. Being one of the few legacy stitchdown manufactures in the United States that is still family owned and has stayed away from the conglomerate buyout, Wesco deserves all due credit for how and what they produce, and it is our goal at Division Road to communicate that tradition, history and style with the products we design in conjunction with them.
In that vein we bring you a single release of the Wesco x Division Road Packstallion. An all blacked-out and adapted 7” Packer upper, with a straight cap toe and a Vibram 430 sole for all of those grease monkeys, workman, and easy riders to whom Wesco Boots appeal. We wanted to create a custom representation of the stock line of Wesco, but with our subtle touches like the use of a natural midsole and application of the chrome tanned pull-up Black Tie Domain from Seidel, and corresponding blacked out stitching that coalesce to make this boot modern while hallmarking the core of what makes a Wesco.
In addition to this release, we are announcing our Wesco Whiskey Riot on April 1st for a very special opportunity to meet with Chris Warren of Wesco Boots and get a custom fitting from the boot master himself; share your input on what type of Wesco’s you want to see from us next, pre-order the first of a rare women’s heeled boot that we’ve developed in conjunction with Wesco that finally gives our ladies a fully re-buildable hand-grade footwear option, and partake in the renowned American Single Malt Whiskey from Copperworks.
Wesco Whiskey Riot: Saturday 4.1.17 at 5-8pm