Everyday people: Holst takes pride in his job at Red Wing ShoeShoes. We all wear them. Heeled, flopped, tied, Velcro or slip-on, shoes are a basic wardrobe necessity.
By: Stacy Bengs, The Republican Eagle
Shoes. We all wear them. Heeled, flopped, tied, Velcro or slip-on, shoes are a basic wardrobe necessity.
Take Lee Hazelwood’s 1966 lyrics. “These boots are made for walkin’,” he wrote. “And that’s just what they’ll do.”
The simple song, originally sung Nancy Sinatra, may not have been written about a certain type of boots, made in a certain town — but before any boot can “start walkin’” someone needs to make them.
Making boots is not a one-man job. Just ask Red Wing Shoe worker Craig Holst.
In the 36 years Holst has operated on the line for Red Wing Shoe, he has contributed to the production of more than a million pairs of boots — made for walkin’ as well as hiking, working, hunting and more.
Born and raised in Red Wing, Holst began at Red Wing Shoes at age 18. Home over a Fourth of July weekend from his then job as a crew member for a logging company in northern Minnesota, Holst was looking for work closer to home.
Calling family friend Bert Rosener, who happened to be a supervisor for the company at the time, Holst got the break he was looking for. “He said ‘You’re hired,’” Holst recalls of his easy employment process.
What started out as “just a job” for Holst has turned into something else.
“A lot of people my age and older, have a lot of pride about working at the Shoe,” Holst said. “That’s what makes a good shoe — people have pride and care about what they do.”
Walking through the plant with Holst, one experiences what he is talking about.
“How many years?” he shouts to colleagues operating on the production line. Without batting an eye, his simple question is quickly answered. Whether it be six months or 36 years, the camaraderie creates an environment capable of producing top-notch hand-crafted American-made boots.
Currently Holst works in the mold shop, making the individual guides from which thousands of urethane boot soles will be produced.
“You have to do a good job,” Holst said of his specific work. “It’s not like one pair of shoes is being made from this one mold.”
On average the workers produce 25,000 pairs of boots per week, he said.
In the department for a year now, Holst has experience in several areas of production. “I’ve worked in the cutting and lasting departments,” he explained.
Lasting is when the leather is stretched over a mold mimicking the human foot – the mold is referred to as the last.
“When I first started working here they used wooden lasts,” he added. “Now we only use plastic ones because there isn’t anyone that makes the wooden ones anymore.”
In 2005, when Red Wing Shoe marked its centennial anniversary, Holst volunteered to give tours of the production plant to visitors in addition to his daily duties on the line. Today, he is one of the plant’s go-to tour guides for groups or individuals interested in understanding the process of boot-making.
“Craig is a very enthusiastic tour guide,” said payroll and personnel administrator Amy Thomforde. “He is a great ambassador for the company and we are very happy he is willing to do it.”
Three years ago the plant opened up the work floor for tours beginning in mid-May and running through October.
“There was a group of 75 retired Northwest Airline pilots that specifically came to town for a tour,” Holst recalled of one of the most memorable visits. “They were great and had a lot of good questions.”
He compares that tour with another favorite — a group of Boy Scouts. “They had just as many questions,” he laughs.
The average nine-hour work day for Holst begins at 5:55 a.m. Monday through Thursday and ends early Fridays with an 11:55 a.m. punch-out.
His schedule allows him to continue in a long-standing family tradition – raising, selling, breeding and training hunting dogs.
“I call them my chores,” Holst said. Currently he works with German shorthaired pointers, or bird dogs, but has also cared for coonhounds.
“My grandpa did it as well,” he said. “It’s just kind of a family thing.”
The dogs aren’t the only thing to occupy Holst’s free time. “I have five horses,” he said laughing. “I’m a busy person.”
Whether on a riding trail in the Black Hills of South Dakota, one of Holst’s favorite places, or attending a national show as an active member of Pheasants Forever or giving a tour of plant — his work seems to always be a part of him, or at least his feet.
“I have many pairs,” he said of owning Red Wing Shoes, smiling and pointing to his feet.
Coincidences where his work and everyday life combine are not uncommon for Holst.
In fact, he said he frequently runs into people when traveling who are wearing some type of Red Wing Shoes and conversations can start from there.
The most common comments being, “That’s all I ever wear,” or “It’s the only shoe I buy,” he explained.
“I’ve seen them in movies,” Holst excitedly adds about glimpsing Red Wing Shoes on the big screen. He gives examples from an a pair of Irish Setters seen in the 1992 film “The Bodyguard” to a stack of shoe boxes in the background of the 1993 movie “Grumpy Old Men.”
On or off screen, on horse or on foot, on the clock or off the clock, Holst keeps a prideful eye out for the boots he may have helped to create.
So the next time you happen to see a certain kind of shoes with a name of a certain town, remember they’re made for walkin’ and a lot more.
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