When I was eighteen and studying journalism in my first semester of college, I met a man named Eddie Barker who came to speak to my class. He was a television legend in the Dallas–Fort Worth area, the news director and evening news anchor on the local CBS affiliate station, and I thought working for him would be the key to my success.
I asked him for an apprenticeship. Yes, an apprenticeship. You don’t hear that term much these days (I myself had picked up the word from the classic 1940 Disney short “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice”), but it was perhaps one of the most significant experiences in my career because it set me on my path.
Apprenticeships and mentorships can have a life-changing effect. Just ask Lee Miller, who at nineteen years old asked Charlie Dunn, the world’s greatest bootmaker, for an apprenticeship. Charlie Dunn was an old-world kind of guy, and he liked the sound of that word—apprentice. So he hired Lee.
Then he fired him, over and over again, because that’s what Charlie did. But Lee hung in there and just kept coming back to the boot shop, day after day, to learn the trade from the most famous bootmaker there ever was or probably ever will be. That fame is due, in great part, to the 1972 song “Charlie Dunn” by Jerry Jeff Walker.
Lee Miller was Charlie’s apprentice for years, and when Charlie died in 1993, the boot shop in Austin became Lee’s boot shop.
I first met Charlie Dunn in the mid-seventies, and when I went back to the shop in Austin about ten years ago, I was happy to see that it is still going strong, with Lee Miller making boots just like Charlie taught him all those years ago. As you’ll see in this classic episode, he’s still using most of Charlie’s old tools and still has a years-long waiting list.
But one of the things that made me happiest was seeing that Lee wasn’t working there alone. He had two apprentices at the time, and he now turns out an army of them.
After nearly fifty years, I’m glad to see this little shop carrying on the tradition.