During part my tour of duty in Vietnam, I served in the jungles of the Mekong Delta where I was constantly wet, which led to my having jungle rot and prickly heat. Prickly heat is a skin condition where you feel like you’re getting shocked, while jungle rot removes the skin off your body. Being wet constantly and wearing boots was excruciatingly painful; my feet were raw. Instead of letting us come in out of the jungle, the Army’s solution was to take our boots off at night on ambush so they could dry out. Only a complete fucking moron would come up with a solution like that, which gives you an insight to how the war was being run on our part. You don’t take your boots off at night on ambush patrol. When the shit hits the fan you want those boots on your feet.
As usual we had been out in the field for only God knows how long, when we were dropped off in to a hot LZ and the only way out was to assault. When you get caught in an ambush your natural instinct is to hit the ground and find cover, but being caught out in the middle of a rice paddy you’ll just get picked off and annihilated. As I was assaulting the wood line, point blank 40′ in front of me a VC rises up with a RPG rocket launcher and fires it at me. As I fell I fired hitting him. Getting up and giving chase, a gunship finished him off.
As I approached the body to make sure he was dead so he couldn’t shoot at me again, I saw sandals on his feet. So in the middle of a huge battle I sat down and took my boots off and removed his sandals to try them on. Fortunately, I was able to adjust the straps, they were made out of tires.
After getting out of the Army, I went looking for a pair of sandals and all I could find were the Mexican Huaraches, which like the Ho Chi Minh sandals they were also made out of tires; so I decided to make my own. During the 60’s & 70’s craft fairs were really big and you would find wood workers, pottery, glass blowers, candle makers, leather craft, and all kinds of handmade stuff. But on my quest to learn how to make sandals, any leather crafters I approached they acted like I was trying to steal their trade secrets.
I was out front saying I wanted to make a pair of sandals and did they know how to make them, but they were all so fucking paranoid that I was trying to move in on their business. But it just wasn’t the leather crafters it was all of them: potter’s, jeweler’s, candle makers. So here you have craft fairs and 90% of the crafters are playing the hippie role – peace brother, save the planet, and everyone love each other. But these people were so far from the shit, they were wolves in sheep’s clothing and there was nothing brotherly about any of them. They were making good money and didn’t want anyone taking it from them.
Santa Cruz had a tannery, which had a retail store where they sold everything leather and also leather tools. Even though no one working there made sandals they were able to help me out. My first pair of sandals were what some people referred to as the Jesus sandal: a leather strap going over the big toe and a wider strap going over the foot above the arch. After making my first pair of sandals friends of mine wanted some and then it just kept growing.
When I learned how to make women’s sandals with adjustable straps, the only place that sold straps that narrow and long was a sandal shop in Old Town Los Gatos, The Sandalmakers. During those years I couldn’t afford to buy a leather hide to make my own, so I would hitch hike over Hwy 17 to Los Gatos to buy them. If I drove, there went my profits in gas, so I had to hitch hike. It was a great store, for me it was a Christmas store. I only saw the owner a few times, but he was aware that I was buying straps, so he asked me what I was doing with all the straps and I told him I was making sandals. He gave me a small pamphlet on how to make sandals and I kept it forever.
In 1972 I began making desert boots, but with a major change – I used velcro in the heel to fasten the shoe. The reason for the velcro was, I was surfing 4 Mile lefts in the winter, which only broke on the minus tides which were in the afternoon and evenings. I would be surfing until dark and when getting out of the water my hands were so cold that I couldn’t tie my shoes and it was a long walk to the highway. Walking barefoot was out of the question. So I used velcro so I could get my shoes on.
There was one time that I had surfed until dark and when I finally got to my car my hands were so cold that I couldn’t turn the key to unlock my car, so I had to wait for a car to come by and flag him down and ask him to unlock my car.
The sandals progressed and along with leather work such as making surf leashes for the surf shops. I also made leather purses, bags, carpenter nail bags, and back packs and I would promote these at local craft fairs, the biggest one being the Spring Fair. The Spring Fair was put on by the JC’s and the profits went to charities. It started off on the mall in Santa Cruz and then moved a block away to San Lorenzo park where it grew to epic proportions – they had bands and beer. Everyone went, it was a great party for all the locals.
Every crafts maker across the US wanted in to this 2 day event and every year you had to submit an entry form where a panel would decide who would get to come. Well, I was lacking in a few departments and submitting an application was one of them, but Gary who was the JC president covered for me. I was so bummed the first year that I forgot to submit an application that I went out there early on Saturday morning when everyone was setting up and Gary recognized me and asked where I was setting up and I told him I didn’t do it. And he asked me if I wanted to do the fair and I said yes and he said lets go find you a place. I missed putting an application a couple of times, but the JC’s always covered for me.
The only year I missed the Spring Fair was in ’75, and I was in Hawaii. I went over in January of ’75, and thought I had a place to stay on the North Shore, but it didn’t happen. There were 2 brothers from Castro Valley in the bay area who lived in Santa Cruz for a few years and then moved to Hawaii. I had surfed and lived next door to them and they said I could always come and stay with them. The month before I was leaving I saw one of them here in Santa Cruz and asked if that offer was still good and he said yes and gave me their address.
Arriving at the airport, I got a ride out to the North Shore and it was right at sunset when I found their house. When I pulled up one of the brothers walked away while the other was talking to some locals. I jumped out of the car and greeted them and got the cold glimpse in return. The one brother who walked off in to the house didn’t come back out and the other would not look at me, but the Hawaiians kept looking at me. These guys got so caught up in their image, whatever the fuck that was, they didn’t want to be seen with the haole who just got off the plane.
I ended up getting a ride back to Waikiki, and when I saw what the rents were, I slept in bushes and unlocked parked cars. I couldn’t afford those prices. Dreamed of the North Shore and it fell thru. I ended up staying in Waianae, not knowing this was Hawaii’s ghetto and was not a place for haole’s. I happened to run in to a couple of guys who I knew that lived next to me in Santa Cruz and they told me their apartments were looking for a maintenance worker. They introduced me to the the guy who was managing the Hemmeter Properties which had a lot of apartment’s in Waikiki. Not only did I get hired but they gave me a place to live.
I did maintenance on the apts. in the morning and was the night supervisor for King’s Alley shopping center at night, where I got to set up a sandal display to sell my sandals. I started off cheap, just trying to get some sandals out there and on people’s feet. No sales. People were telling me that they were to cheap, raise the price. Since trying to give them away was not working, I raised the price and got a few orders. These were all custom made. So I raised my price again and started selling more sandals. So I raised it again and again and people started buying them.
By the time December came around I was over Hawaii. The winter surf had arrived and I was on the wrong side of the island with no way to get over there or anyone to surf with. I knew more about the North Shore when I was living in Santa Cruz. My dreams of surfing Pipeline and Sunset were over. After all the confrontations I got in to from Makaha to Waikiki and some were fist fights, I was over it, vowing never to return.
Returning back to Santa Cruz, I got a job in a shoe repair shop and Bill the owner was a third generation shoe maker, which is why I went to work for him. I wanted to learn how to make riding boots. I did learn how to do orthopedic work and make foot plates/inserts for shoes. I also learned how to re dye shoes and do some shoe repair work, but that was not what I wanted to learn and I realized after awhile that he wasn’t going to teach me how to make custom boots.
He sold the shop and the new owner was retired navy and he was anal. He wanted me to wear his navy dress shoes to work and that wasn’t going to happen. Knowing that I had served as a Ranger in Vietnam just short circuited him. And then the new owner bought a shop in Aptos and he wanted me to work there on consignment, but the real kicker was that there was no bathroom in the place, which meant you had to lock the place up and go use the complex’s public bathroom, but he didn’t want to leave me a key! After just one afternoon working there, I knew I was leaving. When he came in to check up on the store, I said goodbye. When he realized I was quitting and not going to take his shit anymore his attitude quickly changed and he tried to start bargaining with me and I politely told him to go fuck himself.
Looking in the paper I saw an ad for a sandal maker in the Odwalla building in Davenport with Agneaux Concepts making sandals. And it was here where I learned all about manufacturing foot ware using machinery. It was a good job with minimal pay, but the benefits were good. No it wasn’t medical or dental, it was being up north and surfing. There were a lot of evenings that glassed off up there and no one was around, so I surfed a lot all by myself.
There were no surf cams, wind reports, or cell phones back in those days, so no one would check it late in the day. Everyone always thought it would be windy and there were a lot of days that it was. But there were a lot of days with no wind and just me. There were the morning crowds up there and the guys who thought they were the locals, but after their morning sessions they were gone, driving back to where ever they came from.
It was at this time that I started selling wholesale to surf shops, making leather and rubber thongs. Unfortunately I had a monetary falling out with the owner, and I was pissed and walked out. It could have been a year maybe two that I was gone, when I went back to see if I could rent his machinery. He wasn’t happy to have me back and I felt the same way, but I wanted to make sandals and not by hand so we worked it out monetarily to his advantage and also to the companies.
Even though we worked it out there was still dissension between us, so going back there to work was strictly business to me. Being a former combat soldier I’m not the person to go up and start conversations with strangers nor did I want to engage with anyone there. I just wanted to come in and do my job and leave. My job was finish work. Sanding, polishing, and cleaning up any imperfections before the sandals were shipped out. I was also the only one there who knew the whole operation and how to work and maintenance the machines.
Before I left, he had moved his business in to Santa Cruz on River St., a few blocks from the down town. When I returned there were still a couple of people there who I had worked with before. While I was gone, there were a lot of changes at the factory and in Santa Cruz. Some magazine had called Santa Cruz the lesbian capitol of the world and when that got out, lesbians flocked here in droves. There were a few lesbians now working there. I didn’t know them nor did I know their names, but a couple of them that were going to UCSC went completely out of there way to let me know that they hated men.
After a while I noticed a few people quitting and a few more lesbians being hired. It didn’t take long to realize why the people were leaving. When I biked to work I had to bring my bike in the building and put it next to me. I had always chained it up outside before, but after having my tires flattened a few times I brought it in. But it didn’t stop there, my time cards were disappearing and when I drove I had to park my car out on the street because they would flatten the tires.
My job was in a corner facing a finishing machine up against a wall. Behind me were racks of sandals waiting to be finished. Everyone else was out on the floor assembling and gluing sandals and they could talk and see everything that went on in the building. There was a refrigerator on the other side of the building across from me and this is where I would put my lunch. And as I said, everyone on the floor had a full view of the place except for me. I would bring my lunch in a bag with my name on it – some days it was gone and on other days someone was taking bites out of my sandwiches and putting it back in the bag. The way they were treating me, I could only assume they were doing other things to my food, such as probably spitting in my sandwiches or putting chemicals in it.
So one day I made up a sandwich with a lot of meat in it and in the middle of the meat I left them a nice surprise. That was the last time they fucked with my lunch. I encountered racism in the service and learned never to engage because that’s what they want and that there is nothing I can do or say that will ever change them, but this group took it to a whole new level. Fortunately for me we had a few El Nino winters and everyone got laid off except for me and after a couple of winters they were gone.
As you entered the building there was a small showroom and the owner Jim wanted to keep it opened on weekends to generate sales, so I volunteered. I loved working weekends. I got to be there by myself which alleviated a lot of anxiety/pressure and I used this time to work on custom sandals, because I could use all the machinery without interruptions. And in the spring and summer I was killing it doing custom sandals. Also the surf was crowded on the weekends – nothing compared to now, but the talent was good. When you watch the Hook, the Lane, or Capitola now – it’s all kooks and the worse part about it is that some of them actually think they can surf. It’s mind boggling to me that they have no fucking clue to what a good surfer is. If they got to see themselves on video they would puke and quit. But then that’s not true, because I’ve seen them tell each other how they’re ripping – OMG, they have no fucking style or have any clue.
Another benefit of working at the factory was that I was able to take time off, it had to do with the war, whether it was not wanting to be around people, but mostly the feeling of being confined – I felt like I was going to explode. But, I definitely have my residue war shit. After being gone for a few days, I would work late in to the nights until everything was finished.
The reason I was able to do this was because, when I came to work on Monday’s I was not hungover from alcohol or drugs. The 70’s were notorious for people doing drugs and I didn’t drink, smoke pot, do cocaine, or pills. Pills were big time. The factory, along with a lot of other business’s, had people coming to work on Monday’s that were not worth a shit, because they were so hung/drug over. By the time they were sober, it was the weekend and time to party again. There was something about Thursdays in the 70’s, Thursday nights were big party nights for doing drugs.
I don’t remember the year, but there was going to be the first Whole Earth Expo in San Francisco and I was telling Jim that he should do it. Besides my Santa Cruz’n Sandals, I also did the finish work on Jim’s Interplanetary Sole’s, which had straps like the Birkenstock’s. Birkenstock’s are a rigid pre mold insole made of compressed latex and cork, but the Interplanetary’s were a self molding sandal with a layer of cushiontex rubber, which absorbed the impact of walking. They were great health sandals. So he said if I wanted to do it to go ahead and this was strictly just for his sandals.
It was a 3 day show and I got my friend Mark to help me. We left early Friday morning and got there and set up our booth. The show was from 10 to 10. And it only took a few hours before we were swamped – there was no going to get something to eat or drink. I had to get to a pay phone and call for reinforcements. With no cell phones, luckily for me Jim was at the factory when I called. And when I said I needed more sandals and as much help as he could bring, he thought I was joking and I said I’m sorry, but you’ve got to come up here.
For those 3 days in a 10′ X 10′ booth we were overrun and it was good because he was able to generate retail sales, which is great for a manufacturer, but we were wiped out at the end of those three days. But we killed it and his sandals got great exposure.
At the end of ’82, Jim closed the factory and licensed out his sandals and the machinery that he kept, he took to Greenfield where he opened a men’s shoe store. The factory would buy its neoprene and soling by the pallets and now that it was no longer making sandals I had to find manufactures who sold small quantities – that was a task, because everyone wanted to sell pallets only. It wasn’t before long when Jim sold off his remaining machinery, but he did keep his dyes which he let me use. Dyes are metal cookie cutters and these were in the shape of all the different size sandals. My search continued, I needed to find a hydraulic press for the dyes so that it could stamp out my sandals.
I went to the SBA, but they couldn’t help me because I had no job or collateral, but I did have a marketing plan, which laid out the full cost of materials and labor to make the sandals. I also showed accounts I had and the profitability. They sent me to a seminar in San Jose on how to get loans. The place was packed – hundreds of people. On the stage there were a number of people from the SBA. About 45 mins into their speeches I raised my hand. The speaker tried to ignore me, but I kept it raised until he finally asked me if I had a question. Standing up, I looked at everyone in the audience – I wanted to make eye contact with everyone and then looking back at him, I said “yes.”
“You’re telling me that if I’m a minority that I can come in and you will help me with my loan papers – is that correct?” Looking at the panel of SBA people and then back at me he answered yes. They knew something was coming.
Stepping into the aisle I continued, but now they were seeing former Army Sergeant Farley, who was pissed. “So, if you work for the SBA and you’re filling out their loan forms, how are they not going to get approved? Do you also approve the loans?” The people from the SBA knew they just got caught in their own shit. ”
“Do you approve the loans or not,” I demanded.
After a silence he said yes in a low voice.
“I’m a Vietnam Veteran, I served with the 1st/16th Rangers – I served and fought for this country. What are you doing for Veteran’s?”
And with that I exploded, “Fuck you,” I yelled. And as I started walking out, a few other people yelled obscenities at them and also walked out.
I was fortunate to find a hydraulic press to rent and it was in Scott’s Valley, a short distance away. Dan English, who owned the press had a very successful hat making business which he sold, but he kept the press to make weight lifting belts. While Jim and Dan both had their companies, I once went with Jim over to San Zeno’s (Dan’s company) to pick something up that Jim had purchased from them. I was amazed at how organized and clean San Zeno was. It was Army Drill Sergeant clean and organized.
I rented time on Dan’s press for 15 or so years and he made it convenient for me; most of the times when I used the machine he was working somewhere else. He would either be doing car reupholstering or driving tractors, which he got into. He had his brother making the belts, which they sold everywhere. Dan is one of those people who can rebuild cars, tractors, or rewire a pin ball machine.
For most of the ’80’s I lived in a renovated large chicken coop and this is where I also made my sandals; renovated it for the sandals and then added a bedroom. It was nice because I was isolated from the world and the rent was good. During this time I met Dan Floyd who retired from the semi conductor business. I think he was one of the first millionaires to come out of the silicon valley and this was mid ’80’s.
Dan helped me to get the sandals off the ground and purchase a few sewing machines, one being a custom strap maker. As I would make the leather and rubber thongs, he would purchase them from me, which aloud me during the winter to build up an inventory to have ready for the spring. In the spring and summer I would loose a couple of days a week in trying to restock and check on the stores inventory. As I resold the sandals to the stores, those checks would go to Dan. I was not the only person that Dan was helping and he wasn’t in it for the money, he was in it to helping people that were willing to work hard to make a business happen.
In 1988, Dan purchased a building in the midtown of Santa Cruz and was going to finance a retail outlet for my sandals. The store opened in April of ’89, but on opening day it was a surf shop. If you go to the menu link: Santa Cruz’n > surf shop, the story is written there about how it went from a sandal store to a surf shop.
What made the sandals unique was that they were handmade manufactured sandals, using cushiontex rubber made in the USA and top grade leather. I went to the leather factory a few times, so that they knew what I wanted. The sandals had a life of the sandal guarantee and that was that the straps would never pull out. I had taken the gluing process to a science with only myself doing all the gluing.
In the almost 30 years of making sandals, there were 2 people that I hired that were outstanding and neither one of them had any prior sewing experience, but they became great seamstresses: one was Oceana Roman and I think she was like 14 years old and the other was Amber Ash. They were great assets.
We closed the surf shop in ’97, and shortly after, my living nightmare occurred. California’s environmental laws banned toluene to be used in the glue, but did the company who I was buying the glue from inform me – no they didn’t. As I was stock piling sandals during the winter, for some unremembered reason I went and opened a box of inventory and saw that the sandals were coming apart. I freaked out. I began opening up other boxes and saw that they were all coming apart. It was a sad day.
I got a dumpster and loaded box after box of sandals into it. Sandal making was over.
September 27, 2017….I will ad more pictures and stories, when they come to me.