Remember the Merle Haggard song, “Okie From Muskogee?” Part of it went, “Leather boots are still in style for manly footwear.” Many years before Haggard came out with his hit song, I wore leather boots American-made leather boots. My first pair was a secondhand set of Bass boots, made in Maine. These had thin leather uppers and soles made of some kind of leather-fiber amalgam. They first belonged to my grandpa and when my feet grew large enough to fit in them, he gave them to me.

These boots were designed for hunting upland game, but I wore them all the time. Light, comfortable and durable, they lasted me for several years. When they finally wore out, the shoemaker in Liberty was able to patch them up. Eventually, that fix failed and my Bass boots were officially worn out. Still, I saved them and used the leather over the years for making various needed items such as hinges for creels and so on.

I tried to find another pair just like them, but couldn’t. I recall that Perry’s Nut House in Belfast used to sell Bass brand footwear, but it seems that they sold mostly low shoes and moccasins.

So it was time to find another brand. By now, other than dress shoes for church and so on, I wore leather boots every day for every occasion. For some time, my favorite place to buy boots was at Jack Betencort’s store in Liberty. He had lots of seconds, otherwise good boots, but with minor imperfections.

Betencort carried many different brands, but I wanted the best and those, at the time, were Herman brand. It was kind of comical to stand in line and have Jack take the boots, slowly turn them over and over and finally look at me and say, “Those are Hermans. Gotta get $40 for them.” Other brands normally sold for between $20 and $30. But those Herman boots were well-made and they lasted. So it was shell out forty bucks and feel good about it.

Red Wing

But Betencort’s Store finally closed and it was again time to find a new brand of leather boots. For this, I shopped at the Shoe Trailer and sometimes Epstein’s in Searsport. These places sold inexpensive leather boots that lasted only about one year. This was not a satisfactory arrangement.

And then I read an ad for Red Wing boots in an outdoor magazine. The ad touted them as being American-made, something that had never occurred to me to question. Weren’t all boots American made? No, they were not, as eventually became apparent.

So from then on it was Red Wing for me. My first pair was a nice, lightweight boot, as well made as the old Bass boots. The sole was of some kind of long-wearing hard rubber. These were slippery on oil-soaked floors, but since I never walked on oil-soaked floors, that was not a problem. I did slip and fall when stepping on an exposed cedar root on a wet day, but that was my fault for being incautious.

Those Red Wings worked so well that I soon bought an insulated pair for winter use. Eventually, both of these wore out and it was time to buy new boots. Imagine my surprise, though, upon finding out that Red Wings were no longer made in America. The salesman in the shoe store said that in order to buy a pair of American-made leather boots, I would have to have them custom made, a terribly expensive proposition.

This news hit me hard, hard enough to continue wearing my worn-out American-made boots for several more years. They finally became thin and ripped open, making them impossible to wear. What to do?

Bean boots

My search for American-made boots continued, without success. But then it hit me that L.L. Bean manufactured boots and these were made in Maine, or at least they were some years ago. Was it possible that Bean still made their trademark footwear in Maine? A chance trip to Freeport answered that question.

Finding myself in the area on business, a visit to the L.L. Bean store seemed appropriate. Going to the footwear section, I anxiously examined one of their Maine Hunting Shoes. On the bottom was the legend I had hoped to find: “Made in Maine by L.L. Bean manufacturing.” Here, then, was the answer to my dilemma.

What was even better, these said, “Maine Hunting Shoe” on the back. That legend doesn’t appear on all Bean boots. But these were a special commemorative run, specially made with not only the Maine Hunting Shoe wording, but also in elkhide, a darker leather than regular steer leather.

Unfortunately, the soles of my new boots were weathercracked, probably from sitting in stock for too long. They were new, but still old. And they leaked. But true to their word, L.L. Bean gladly replaced the lower part and even patched a spot on the leather where some stitching had come undone. So now I wear my American-made boots, bought and manufactured right here in Maine, with pride.

Special requirements

The places people in RFD Maine go often require boots of some kind or other. At any given time in the trunk of my car you might find my Maine Hunting Shoes, a pair of knee-length, rubber clamming boots and perhaps even a pair of hip boots, needed for wading out to launch a boat or perhaps to cross a stream or swamp.

For most occasions, though, the Bean boots suffice. And for mowing the lawn, working in the garden and other dirty but not necessarily wet chores, I have finally gone to the modern sneaker look-alikes. My present knock-around shoes are made by Merrell and not only are they waterproof, they are very rugged.

But the Merrells and others like them have one drawback; the soles are lug-style and pick up cultch, crude and disagreeable stuff of every description. They are good for walking on rough surfaces which, for me, means nearly every place I go. This, though, seems a small price to pay for lightweight, durable shoes.

Not likely

One of my magazine editors often counsels me to wear sandals. He delights in telling me how comfortable they are. And I always reply that he might indeed see me wearing sandals, but not while I am alive to prevent it. The conversation usually ends at that point.

Then again one of my friends has urged me to buy some kind of device that looks like the sole of a shoe, minus the uppers. The thing is cut out in the shape of a foot, with individual toes. He says that we were made to go barefoot and that these are the next best thing to it.

I can’t imagine walking through a bramble patch with such contraptions on my feet. Nor would I feel comfortable climbing down the steep, rocky gorge where one of my favorite trout streams flows. No, for me, it is the most rugged footwear available. Maybe some day when my legs wear out and I’m relegated to straying no further from home than my front yard, maybe then I will give up my leather boots and other RFD Maine footwear. But not until then, by gorry, not until then.