The Fabled Cow Town Of Elko

USO 61 | Cowboy Culture In Elko

 

One thing Aaron Scott Young is passionate about apart from coaching business owners is the cowboy culture. In this episode, Aaron shares with us a fresh story of visiting Elko, Nevada for the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering with his dad, Richard Young. He takes us into the world of spurs and jingle bobs and gives great nuggets of wisdom about delivering products and doing the work with great pride and joy. Allow Aaron to inspire you about being the best and making an art form of what you do.

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The Fabled Cow Town Of Elko

The Story Of Silver Spurs And Saloons

I’m pretty excited because I’m going to tell you a story of something that happened to me. Many of the stories that I’ve told you before happened years ago, but this one is brand new and fresh. I had the coolest opportunity to go up with my dad, Richard Young and we went to Elko, Nevada. You say, “Where’s Elko, Nevada?” It’s in the eastern middle part of Nevada.

Going Up To Elko, Nevada

It’s a long way away from any place. Dad and I went there to go and attend the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering. Going up to this event was something that I’d been looking forward to for a long time. I knew my dad wanted to go and his circumstance had not been one that easily made it possible for him to go.

I called him up, “Dad, we’re going to Elko, you and me. We’re not going to invite anybody to go with us. It’s just going to be us. We’re going to have a big time. I look forward to it. Put it on your calendar. We’re going to go.” I knew that if we set it up in advance, we’d make it happen. We drove the twelve hours to Elko from up here where we are in Southwest Washington. We got into the fabled cow town of Elko, Nevada. It’s like a scene from a movie when you go down the old part of downtown and you look at these wonderful old buildings. A lot of them are in disrepair but some of them are oozing with cowboy culture.

Capriola’s And Garcia: Spurs And Jingle Bobs

There is one little street about two blocks off of main street where the brothels are. There are a number of them there, but the most famous one is called Mona’s. Mona’s has been celebrated in story and song for many decades. I first heard about its name on an old Ian Tyson song. Ian Tyson’s a cowboy songster. We’re in Elko and we’re having this great time. It wasn’t time yet to go see any of the events that were going on. I told my dad, “I know where I’m excited to go visit.” There’s a store there in Elko called J.M. Capriola. They’ve been officially in business on the corner that they’re on since 1929. There was a fire and the old place was burned down. They rebuilt it in the same spot.

The point is Capriola’s has a great history. J.M. himself started as an apprentice to a man named G.S. Garcia. It’s Garcia that I want to talk about. I will give you this last little bit on Capriola’s because you’ve got to go there if you’re ever at Elko, Nevada. Even if you’re close to Elko, you had to drive in and go to Capriola’s. It’s a true working cowboy Western store with working cowboy gear. It’s not like what you find at the Boot Barn or any other places in town. This is a real working cowboy gear. It’s such a great place. Capriola was an apprentice to G.S. Garcia and then Garcia moved to California. Capriola built his business. In 1978, when Garcia had died and his son was an old man, a descendant of J.M., Jim, bought the G.S. Garcia Bit & Spur Company.

That’s what I want to talk to you about because I love horseback riding and I like to get the right gear. I’ve talked in other programs about the critical nature of having the right stuff, the right people, the right software, the right whatever. Especially when you’re going up in the back country on horseback and you’re going to be there for a day or two or three or five, you better have the right stuff. This isn’t like being at a hotel where you can call room service or run down to the Rite Aid. When you’re in the back country, you better have the right equipment because your equipment keeps you comfortable, safe and alive in a very real way. I was excited to go to Capriola’s because I knew I could buy things there that I couldn’t easily find almost anywhere else.

I knew that Capriola’s owned the Garcia Bit & Spur Company and among buckaroos and among those who love the Western Buckaroo or Vaccaro, Buckaroo is a derivative of the word Vaccaro. In Spanish, the V sounds more like a B. It’s a Spanish-style cowboy. We have bastardized the word into Buckaroo. I knew that they had great stuff there that I couldn’t find and I was anxious to go look at these beautiful Garcia silver bits and silver spurs. I went into Capriola’s. I’d never been there. It did not disappoint. The ambiance was exactly what I hoped. It was full of cowboy hats, wild rags and Lucchese boots all being worn by the locals. I knew I was in the right place. I went midway back in the store. On the right-hand side, on the wall, in a very large glass case were several hundred sets of silver bits and silver spurs.

You might ask yourself, “Out into the mud and the gunk and riding in the back country, why would you wear a beautiful set of spurs?” It looked like a piece of art with inlaid silver, set deep into the metal and overlaid silver that’s etched in beautiful patterns. Why would you wear that into the back country? I’ll tell you why. Because a part of that Vaccaro spirit is having the right gear. The Cowboys didn’t have much, but whatever little money they made, they spent on having a good gear because they lived in the back country and they wanted to not only have quality gear. They wanted to have stuff that would make them look good as they went down the trail, stuff that would sound good when they used it, stuff that would set them apart as a real professional in their chosen industry.

When I ride horses, I ride with spurs and you should know that spurs are not used to hurt the horse. If you have a properly designed set of spurs, what it does is your spur can give very sensitive cues to the horse of what you want it to do. You end up rolling the spur or tapping with the side of the spur on the appropriate part of the midsection of the horse. Spurs are designed so that even if you kicked hard with the spurs, they would roll off the horse. They wouldn’t jab into him. If you’ve ever seen them and thought they were barbaric, they’re not. They’re a better tool to help the horse feel communicated with in a way that it can get its job done.

I like what’s called jingle bobs. It’s your two little pieces of iron that hang down from the connection where the rowel, that’s the spinning part on the spur, connects. I’ve always ridden with jingle bobs. Most jingle bobs that I’ve ever had has a very clunky, hollow sound. The jingle bobs, when you’re riding, you hear that little noise. When you’re walking, they fly up and down and they clink. I’ve had a lot of spurs. I have one with silver overlay all over them. They’re beautiful. They look like classy spurs.

USO 61 | Cowboy Culture In Elko

Cowboy Culture In Elko: When you’re in the back country, you better have the right equipment that will keep you comfortable, safe, and alive in a very real way.

 

Garcia: The Holy Grail Of Spurs

I knew Garcia is not a high-end work of art that’s meant to be hung up or put in a museum. Garcia is widely considered the holy grail of spurs and bits because G.S. Garcia’s patterns, the same patterns he created back in the 1880s are being used now because they’re beautiful and functional. I got in there and I’m looking at these beautiful spurs and this beautiful silver. Some are bright silver on the metal and some are blue like a gun bluing process on the metal. Others are bronze which my eyes kept being pulled to, these bronze-colored spurs. I finally saw a pair and I thought, “These are beautiful. They’re gorgeous.” They’re expensive. It was almost $600 for this pair of spurs that I knew I would not put aside on a shelf as a piece of art. I knew I would strap them to a pair of spur straps, put them on my boots and these would go into the back country with me. I asked the clerk if they would please unlock the cabinet and let me take a look at these set of spurs.

There were three or four that I liked, but the one that I saw first that is like a tractor beam grabbing my eyesight is the pair that’s sitting in front of me. I looked at several, they were all beautiful and they all had a unique sound that I had never heard before on any pair of spurs that I owned. That jingle bob, that ringing of the silver spurs was something I’d heard about in song, but I’d never seen it or heard it with my own ears. I took out the set of spurs from the case the man handed to me. I held the silver and bronze in my hands.

The sound sustains and lingers. This beautiful clear tone is like hitting a tuning fork. It’s so much different. As I held these spurs in my hand and looked at the intricate work and listened to that beautiful tone, I thought, “I have to buy these. I have to bring them home. I can’t leave these in the case. They’re too fantastic. This product is so good. How can I leave it behind?” I bought them and they gave me a certificate of authenticity. They showed me the special serial number on the inside that identifies this specific pair of spurs as not only authentic Garcia but the only one of its kind.

The People That Build Spurs

Let me tell you a little bit about these people that build the spurs. First of all, Garcia opened up a shop in Elko. He’d already been building equipment, silver bits, spurs and some saddlery for cowboys in central California. He heard about this fantastic place called Elko, Nevada. In 1893, he set up shop in Elko as G.S. Garcia Saddlery. First, he would work late into the night doing the silver work for the spurs and the bits. Eventually, he took on apprentices and those people worked for him mostly for the rest of their lives. Joe Capriola was one of the only guys that was not a Mexican who went to work for Garcia. Capriola eventually left and set up shop down the street from him where they still are now. Almost 100 years later, his descendants bought Garcia’s company and brought it back home to Elko.

I did some research with Garcia’s company to ask them how they do this. The first thing I found out was each set of spurs is built by one craftsman. They’re not stamped out on a machine and then they use a bunch of drills and stuff to open up the holes. Here’s what I found out. They’re all made in Mexico in the same place they had been manufactured for over 100 years. One craftsman starts with the forge, forges the steel, cuts the metal with a hacksaw. At a shop, almost all of them are in the people’s homes. Some of the homes were very not modern. As a matter of fact, a lot of these guys use a wooden pole as the device to shape the spurs. They cut the metal and they began pounding around a wooden pole that’s just built the exact right size. They start to file and sand and work this thing down.

These spurs are almost perfect, you can’t believe that a human hand has touched them. One person cuts out the metal from the forge, sands it, shapes it, cuts it, puts in the silver inlay, lays the silver overlay, makes that perfect rowel that’s going to have that beautiful tinkling sound that isn’t found anywhere else. It makes the jingle. It does every single piece. One person, it takes them about two weeks to build one set of spurs from blank metal to this beautiful thing. These artisans that build these things, almost every single one of them that build the Garcia bits and spurs are second, third and fourth generation descendants of the original people that G.S. Garcia trained. They’ve learned this from their fathers and their uncles and they’ve kept it in the family.

These are the people that still are the ones that know how to do all this beautiful intricate work and know how to meet the high standard of the Garcia bit and spur company. It’s interesting to me that when you have people who find great, not only pleasure, but pride in the work that they do, it’s amazing how they can take a very simple pedestrian sort of thing like shaping metal and make it into an art form no matter what it is. That’s the lesson we want to learn. We want to say, “What can I learn from G.S. Garcia and his apprentices and the several generations of artists who have grown up in these families to learn how to make this fantastic piece of art called the Garcia bit or the Garcia spur?”

Doing The Work With Joy And Pride

We want to make sure in our business that we learn how to do our work properly, that we find joy and pride in our work. There’s so much drive now to come up with a minimum viable product and push it into the market. We know it’s going to go out with lots of bugs and we’ll fix the bugs as they’re discovered and we’ll improve it as we go. There’s a place for that, but let me tell you what. When you get to a point where your name matters, where your reputation matters, you want to make sure that you’re doing the work that you do masterfully, that you do artistically. You surround yourself with people who do things that are challenging for you, who can do it better and smoother. Here’s what I try to teach people that I work with on a one-on-one level, know what your great at.

Whenever I meet somebody and have my initial meeting with them. If they’re going to hire me as a strategic thinking partner, I always say, “What are you great at?” I then I ask them, “What do you suck at? What do you crummy at? What do you struggle with? Don’t do that. Whatever you’re great at, do that.” Don’t be everything to everybody. Do what you’re great at and own that space. If there’s other stuff that you need in your product or service delivery and you know you suck at that stuff, then you outsource it. You get a great accountant, you get a great engineer, you get a great sales manager, you get a great operations VP. You get the right people around you who play at the things that you have to work at.

USO 61 | Cowboy Culture In Elko

Cowboy Culture In Elko: When you find great pleasure and pride in the work that you do, you make it into an art form no matter what it is.

 

Get the right people and surround yourself with them. Give your client a great product. Give them a great experience. Give them a great service. Let me say one more thing. When I went into Capriola’s, I had a pretty good level of faith that when I looked at the Garcia bits and spurs, I would be impressed. I’ve heard and I’ve read that these are the holy grail of bits and spurs for people that are buying from a company, not from an individual artisan who’s going to custom-make something for you, but buying from a company that’s in the business. When I held this in my hand and I saw the workmanship and then I heard that ringing of the jingle bobs on the rowel, I knew that the hype hadn’t been overblown, that the reality was better than I could have ever imagined.

If you are not putting out a quality product or a quality service, you make sure that you figure out a different way to describe your product or service. You make sure that you don’t lie about it. You don’t overhype your service. You don’t promise results you have no intention of delivering because that will kill your reputation. It will kill your business. You don’t have to have this perfect jingling, this perfect sound that the Garcia’s do. These other bits and spurs, the clunky ones, they still work. They’re about 20% of the price and they aren’t nearly as smooth and beautiful. Nothing about them is as beautiful as the Garcia. They still work. You can sell on price. You can sell on nothing fancy, no frills here, just exactly what you need to get the job done or whatever.

Don’t promise somebody a Garcia experience and then produce something that’s much less. That will hurt you or send almost anything else that you could do in your business. Be honest about who you are. Be honest about what you’re selling. If you’re honest with yourself and honest with your customer, people will give you a lot of latitude to not be the high price, high beauty, high quality leader. If you count yourself as that, you better darn well live up to that. That comes right out of Cowboy Ethics, one of my favorite books.

I want to tell you one last thing. The takeaway is if you’re going to be the best, really be the best. Your product will speak for itself. People will be able to tell by that quick little interaction of looking at it and seeing what you do and they’ll know. There will be no doubt and you’ll have a customer for life. If you’re not going to be that, don’t lie to yourself. Tell the truth. Market yourself on the realities instead of what your fantasy is and you’ll be okay there too. That’s the lesson and I hope you have an opportunity to go to JM Capriola’s and to walk in and look at that big glass case and handle a set of these G.S. Garcia’s spurs or bits. If you’re a horseman, horsewoman, you’re going to love it.

In closing, I want to tell you a little bit more. I want to read to you from the Western Folk Life website about this wonderful place that I got to go experience with my dad. It says this, “Some people say the Cowboy Poetry Gathering was born in January 1985. Now it’s called the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering and it was thus decreed that name by the US Senate and all the crown heads of Europe, making this thing the main cowboy poetry gathering in the world,” but as it says here, “Even though it’s officially called the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering, most regular folks just call it Elko.” It started with a bunch of drunk cowboys that wanted to get together and read their poetry to each other. A few of them got together and it was a small event back in 1985.

Now, thousands of people come. Journalists have said things like, “It’s the most honest, openhearted festival in America.” America’s Ranchers Journal said, “These few days contain the highest concentration of lies in any one place at one time.” Because you’ve got a bunch of cowboy poets and storytellers and singers. Glamour Magazine said that the Cowboy Poetry Festival was one of the ten best places in America for a woman to find a real catch of a man. All of this makes a sensible person wonder about what the heck they got into when they walked in.

Here are the facts. You’ve got some of the best salt of the Earth people walking around in custom hats and beautiful boots and silk wild rags around their neck and they’re all sitting there celebrating America, the ranching lifestyle, the grit and the spirit of the American West. They do it out and separated in a long way away from the craziness of the city. They can walk around and get to know each other. It’s one of the great experiences of my life and I hope that someday you’ll get to do that. No matter what, when you come up here to the lookout, we’re going to dig out some cowboy poetry, including some written by my own son, Adam Young. We’re going to read it and you’re going to know immediately why this stuff gives you that beautiful ring, that beautiful feeling of looking at high quality. Because cowboy poetry goes right to the heart, soul and spirit of what makes America great.

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