Willie Lusk learned his trade during an old-fashioned apprenticeship. His master was a man named Frank Urban, a Czechoslovak native who emigrated to San Angelo, Texas and took Lusk on as his prize pupil during the late 1920s when it became apparent his own two sons had no zest for the business. Urban had been a bootmaker in Europe and applied the old-world techniques to making boots for West Texas cowboys. Lusk worked with him for seven years, at one dollar per day, until he moved to Lubbock in 1934 and joined the celebrated Brown's Saddle Shop, which was employing 22 expert bootmakers when it closed down in 1946.
Lusk moved to Avenue A in October of that year, and by Christmas he was six months behind on his orders. Each of the men in the Lusk shop is actually in competition with the others. An order is handled, from first shaping to final stitching, by one person rather than passed around from specialist to specialist. Lusk today detects a leaning toward a stylish conservatism. "You don't find many fancy boots today," he says. "They're not a fad anymore."
The fanciest pair of boots Lusk ever made was for a Western singer 15 years ago, who ordered the dead man's poker hand (a pair of aces and a pair of eights) on one boot and a whiskey bottle on the other. Unhappily, the singer never became well known, though there are Lubbock residents and Lusk fans who insist his boots should have made the Top Ten charts even if the singer never did.
Every Lusk boot contains, or rather fails to contain, a reverse status symbol. Nowhere, not on the sole or down in some obscure nook on the inside or anywhere else, is there a marker indicating the boot was made in the Lusk shop. You have to know you are wearing a Lusk boot and hope your friends have taste enough to know it, too.