Red Wing Shoe Co. has been handcrafting boots that endure, perform and save lives since 1905.
Fans of the brand have been sharing their stories with the company since then and Bryce Wernsman, director of marketing, said the archives are filled with used boots and handwritten letters that define what it means to work.
Wernsman said the company wanted to find a way to honor the tradespeople who have been "quietly building the world around us day in and day out," so in 2017, the company began soliciting Red Wing wearers for their stories. Thirty-two of these boots and three stories without boots, have been collected for display on a Wall of Honor, which was unveiled March 12, 2018, at the Red Wing Shoe flagship store downtown.
One story came from Dana Pope from Murphy, N.C. After wearing out a few pairs of Red Wing logging boots, he lucked into purchasing a secondhand pair, barely worn, for $75. They lasted 28 years without a single resoling.
"It makes me think back all the years I was up in the tree and I thought, 'How in the world can a pair of boots last this long? It's not possible!'" Pope said. "I literally would say to myself after each season ... well you lasted another year. I said, 'You're going to outlast me' — talking to my boots, you know. Well, come close to it."
Pope and four other honorees attended the unveiling and were toured around the Red Wing Shoe plant.
"Just seeing the factory, seeing the people, seeing how it's done and the fact that it's not all totally computerized ... I'm very proud as an American to see Red Wing is doing it. Have been for years. It's great."
Chris Csoka, a construction manager from New Jersey, bought his first pair of Red Wing Linemans while working in the piles after 9/11. The guys on the site told him to "stop playing" with those other boot brands, which were wearing out for him in just a few days and buy Red Wings instead. So Csoka made the investment and a few days into wearing his 2292 boots, a sudden electrical fire erupted under his feet and sent him sailing, but he survived.
"Get back to job site five days later, guy's breaking my chops," Csoka said. "And the guy says 'Aren't you glad you bought the boots? They're rated at 20,000 volts.'"
He replied he should write to thank the people who made his lifesaving boots. So he did, and never heard anything back, until last year when he got a ping on his LinkedIn account to invite his shoes and his story to join the Wall of Honor.
Since his survival in the piles, Csoka has been brand loyal to Red Wing Shoes. He said he buys two pairs a year "whether he needs them or not," and aways the same style — Lineman 2292.
"The truth of the matter is the boots saved my life," Csoka said. "Boots saved my life, and from that day forward I don't buy anything else."
The Wall of Honor is now on display at the Red Wing Shoes flagship store located in downtown Red Wing. Submissions are now open for the next class of honorees to be unveiled in 2019: in.redwingshoes.com.