At the Circle C Leather barn, just outside of Rolla, large rolls of unblemished leather lay on the floor. Tools of all shapes and sizes are scattered everywhere on beaten workbenches. A myriad of gun holsters, saddle bags, bridles and knife sheaves sit in various stages of completion. Enter the world of Terry Cadenbach.
At the Circle C Leather barn, just outside of Rolla, large rolls of unblemished leather lay on the floor. Tools of all shapes and sizes are scattered everywhere on beaten workbenches. A myriad of gun holsters, saddle bags, bridles and knife sheaves sit in various stages of completion.
“I get going on so many things, it tends to get messy in here,” said 68-year-old, Terry Cadenbach. He's the man behind this leather- working madness. His “man cave”, a large pole barn just footsteps away from his family's rural home is a tribute to the working cowboy, a salute to the Civil War soldier, the cattleman and everything in between.
He said he got into leather crafting as a teenager growing up in St. Louis.
“Leather was the thing back then,” he explained. “I took apart a suede-leather jacket and added some Boy Scout bead work to it. It was a work of art.”
It was also a work that got Terry hooked on leather crafting – a hobby that has brought meaning to his life for more than 50 years.
It has followed Terry through a tour of Vietnam, a stint as a St Louis County police officer, an employee at Southwestern Bell and 22 years of marriage.
Projects big and small
In the course of 30 years, Terry estimates he's crafted 50 saddles.
“I figured out the first one myself. It took a long time,” he recalled.
A number of his saddles are his own and others have been custom-jobs for friends and acquaintances.
He explained that saddle-making is a tedious process which involves cutting precise sizes of leather that follow paper patterns and layering and fitting them on a bare saddle tree.
“It can take months,” noted Terry. “Patience and measurements are key. Once you've got the leather on then it could take you another couple of weeks to get a design or pattern on depending how fancy you want it. There is no quick-fix in saddle making.”
His “Michelangelo” of saddles is a fancy, silver-mounted parade saddle.
“I always wanted something that looked like it was part of the Rose Bowl Parade,” said Terry. “It took me seven years to make -working on it here and there.”
For Terry, saddles are the big projects. In between, there are the little jobs such as saddles bags, gun belts and other things he puts together for friends. He said his favorite thing to craft are Western gun holsters. They're practical.
He and his wife are card-carrying members of the Single Action Shooting Society. Single-action shooting is a competitive sport that preserves the art of the Old West shoot-out and cowboy culture. It involves dressing the part and playing the role.
Terry quipped, “I grew up watching the Lone Ranger, Gunsmoke and Bonanza. The cowboy spirit is in my blood.”
Here comes the cavalry
For the past three decades, Terry has been an active Civil War reenactor. He's a member of the 4th Missouri Cavalry, a Union unit his great-great-grandfather was once a member of. During 1860s this unit fought mainly in Missouri and Arkansas. As a reenactor, he and his horse have been in a few Hollywood movies and TV documentaries. His most famous spot was in Ride with the Devil, a 1999 Civil War movie staring Tobey Maguire.
“It's not as glamorous as it appears to be,” notes Terry. “It's a lot of sitting around with your horse and your buddies waiting for five minutes of work. They do pay you though and give you two meals.”
He recalled a couple of movie scenes where he was one of hundreds of Civil War riders charging across the plains of Kansas. Those scenes he said were well worth the wait.
“The real star of these shows was my horse, ‘The Widowmaker,’” recalled Terry. “He was fearless and directors loved him and we kept getting called back.”
For the fellow vet
As a Vietnam Veteran, Cadenbach, knows the effects of war. He was a Green Beret and suffered numerous gunshot wounds during his two years of service. Over the years, he's had 36 surgeries related to war injuries.
“Honestly, leather working has prevented me from suffering from post -traumatic-stress disorder,” he said.
He has become a champion of helping fellow veterans. In 2012, he was a regular instructor of leather crafting at Fort Leonard Wood's Warrior Transition Unit (WTU). The WTU provides primary care and case management for service members receiving treatment for injuries suffered while deployed in the war on terror. The unit works to promote every injured warrior’s timely return to the force or transition to civilian life.
Twice a week he would instruct around 12 soldiers on the art of leather. “I am very proud of that, said Terry. “Even more so because I had one student who has successfully created his own saddle-making business here in Missouri.”
Just a hobby
As for his own leather working, Terry said he has no desire to turn his passion into a post-retirement job. He said that with his connections to Hollywood, he's been approached by studios to do large projects such as making hundreds of gun holsters. He's turned them down.
“That's work,” he stated, “and I don't need a J-O-B.”
He's content with a saddle here and there for a friend and help design a holster for a fellow soldier.
“When it becomes work, then it's no fun,” he noted.
Last year, Cadenbach had his massive record-album collection from the 1960s and 70s transferred onto CDs. He bought a five-disk CD player and keeps his oldies cranked up loud in his workshop.
“I could stay out here for days,” he said, “just listening to music. This is relaxing for me to be out here cutting and and dying leather. I can do it on my own time and at my own leisure. Who could ask for anything more.”