Category Archives: Tack and Gear

Posts regarding saddles, tack, and gear for horse and mule packing, riding, and training

My solar panels set out to charge my iphone

Gear Report: Goal Zero Solar Chargers

Goal Zero Nomad 13 and Guide 10

Goal Zero Nomad 13 and Guide 10

Thought I’d take a few minutes this morning to type up a gear report on one of the pieces of gear we took that truly proved its worth and durability on our 355 mile horse pack trip through the rough country of southeastern Arizona:  Our Goal Zero solar chargers.

As you might recall from a previous post, I bought two solar chargers made by Goal Zero – a Guide 10 and a Nomad 13. The Nomad is the larger of the two panels, producing up to 13 watts of electricity, while the Guide 10 produces up to 10.

Goal Zero Guide 10

Goal Zero Guide 10

The reason I bought the Guide 10 to supplement the Nomad was that it comes with a rechargeable battery pack of four AA batteries that can be used as an emergency power source to recharge our other electronic devices when no sunshine is available.

Tough covers and clear plastic protecting the solar cells

Tough covers and clear plastic protecting the solar cells

When I first purchased the chargers I was quite concerned about their durability. They are flat-panel solar panels covered by a tough nylon-canvas material with a clear plastic cover over the solar cells. They both have a zippered pocket on the back, where cords and adapters may be stored. I am pleased to report that these panels have survived the first leg of our trip. 355 miles of the toughest terrain I have ever ridden over.

As I felt I needed to keep these panels accessible at all times, as well as the need to protect them from damage, I kept them in my saddle bags for the entire ride. My original intent was to strap them to the top of our pack saddles, so we could charge batteries and devices as we traveled. However, after our first day out, I let that idea die. We passed under so many low branches of mesquite, ironwood, juniper, ocotillo, and cactus, that I’m pretty sure they would have sustained damage had I tied them to our pack saddles.

My solar panels set out to charge my iphone

My solar panels set out to charge my iphone

What I ended up doing for most of the trip was to set the panels out each morning and evening to catch as much sunshine as possible. Often, we made camp after the sun was low on the horizon, so I didn’t get a lot of charging done in the evenings, but I generally got several hours of good charging time each morning as we broke camp. My solar panels were the last thing to be packed before mounting up.

About the second week, we had a spell when there just wasn’t enough sunshine to keep our batteries charged, partly due to our traveling through trees in the Chiricahuas. I ended up one day with all my GoPro camera batteries discharged, my iphone dead, and my DeLorme Explorer GPS almost dead. Out of necessity I tied the Nomad 13 to the back of my saddle as we traveled in open country from the Chiricahuas to San Simon, AZ. 20150429_114019The canvas cases for both units have small loops along outer borders which serve very well for tying them by saddle strings over my coat behind my saddle. While it did not charge very efficiently, due to not being able to always have it directly facing the sun, it was enough to get my iphone up to about a 30% charge after several hours. After that, whenever we traveled in open country I tied the Nomad to the back of my saddle connected something to it, be it my iphone or the Guide 10 battery pack. In that way we were able to keep the most critical devices with at least a minimum charge the whole trip.

Another benefit of having both the Nomad and the Guide 10 was that the two can be connected together, or “daisy-chained”, by connecting the built-in cables, to increase their charging capacity. This greatly decreased the amount of time needed to completely recharge a device or top one off. When I set the panels out each morning or evening, they were daisy chained and I took pains to make sure the panels were situated to take maximum advantage of what sunshine was available. I found that even on cloudy days, there was sufficient sunshine to produce a trickle of electricity to get some charging done.

Guide 10 battery pack

Guide 10 battery pack

The item I always gave priority to keep at full charge was the battery pack. The battery pack contained four rechargeable AA batteries and had sufficient depth to bring my iphone 6 from dead to about 95% charge in a matter of about 3 hours. At that point the battery pack would be completely dead. I would make sure it was brought to full charge the following morning. My reasoning for this was that my iphone was the second most important electronic device in our inventory. It communicated with my DeLorme Explorer and provided viewable topographical maps by which we guided ourselves much of the time. Since we didn’t get all the paper maps we should have, we were very reliant on the iphone to keep us going the right direction, particularly at forks in the trails. It also served as a camera for still shots and the occasional short video when I didn’t have the GoPro out and ready. The battery pack gave us some insurance against days without sun and was used a number of times to keep the iphone alive until it could be charged by the solar panels.

Indicator light, USB output, two power inputs, LED flashlight function on the battery pack

Indicator light, USB output, two power inputs, LED flashlight function on the battery pack

One end of the battery pack has a well organized set of power inputs and outputs, as well as an indicator light and LED flashlight function. The USB power output allowed us to use the regular USB charging cords for charging all our devices. The inputs allow charging from the solar panels via a built-in cord or from a 110V wall outlet via a USB charger. When the battery pack is discharged, the indicator light shows solid red. As it charges it shows a blinking red light, which changes to a slow-blinking green, then a faster-blinking green, then finally a solid green when fully charged. The same indicators show as it discharges while charging a device. There is an on/off switch on the left side which also turns the LED flashlight on and off. While I never needed the LED flashlight, I can see where it might come in handy on occasion. The pack also comes with an adapter to recharge AAA batteries. The reserve power of the battery pack was a very important asset for us on the pack trip. In fact, I am considering purchasing a second battery pack.

The most important device we had was, of course, the DeLorme InReach Explorer, however the settings I had in place on it kept it going for up to five days before hitting the critical 20% charge level. Not only that, but it would come back to full charge within about two hours, when connected to both panels in direct sunlight. So, one good morning would have the GPS set to go for nearly a week.

I made sure all our devices were turned off each night and not turned back on until needed the following day. By doing so, and by ensuring that I set the two chargers out each morning, along with the additional charging time on the back of my saddle, the two solar chargers kept all our devices with at least a minimum charge the entire trip, except that one day when I let things get discharged. That one day taught me to become more diligent and organized in keeping things charged and utilizing the sun when it was shining. Additionally, as we took a rest day every Sunday, the solar panels were set out all day and adjusted periodically to maximize their effectiveness in the sunshine, while charging all our devices to maximum capacity (that is, when the sun was actually shining).

As for durability, while stored in my saddlebags, along with a number of other items – flashlights, binoculars, odds and ends, etc – these two solar charges survived multiple instances of my saddle horse laying down and attempting to roll over. I can’t think of many more effective ways to prove the durability of these little panels. After the trial they have been through, I am satisfied that I will have them for many, many more miles into the future.

wear spots on the plastic solar cell protectors

wear spots on the plastic solar cell protectors

The only thing I have found that would improve the durability and effectiveness of the Goal Zero solar chargers, in my opinion, would be to have a piece of flanel cloth, or similar material, cut to the size of the panels to keep between the clear plastic panels when the units are closed. I found that the clear plastic face of my units became scratched and had a somewhat fogged appearance in places, from the dust that got between them and scratched the surfaces while closed. I’m sure that decreases their efficiency, although I don’t know how much. This little improvement is something I will do for future use. I intend to recommend this as an improvement to the manufacturer.

My overall evaluation of the Nomad 13 and the Guide 10, used both individually and together, and I think I can honestly say they received a baptism by fire, so to speak, is that I consider them to be one of the most critical items of gear we had on the trip. That is not to say they were necessary for our survival, but they were absolutely necessary for the successful outcome of our trip. They proved themselves to be very durable under the most harsh conditions, surviving some pretty rough treatment and kept our critical electronic devices with at least a minimal charge throughout our month-long trip, thus ensuring we had the ability to contact the outside world at any time and that we were able to photographically document much of our trek for our followers.

Overall grade:  A+


truck and trailer with Ranger

Getting Loaded…..


Loading the trailer, that is.

Yesterday I brought my 1991 Logan Competitor Plus four-horse trailer to the house to start the work of getting it ready for the big haul to Eagar, Arizona, then on to the US/Mexico border at Douglas, AZ. I have already had the brakes checked and adjusted and the bearings re-packed, and repaired the electrical system as far as the tail and running lamps go. There is little left to do except the packing and loading.

Trailer-Aid chock/jack

Trailer-Aid chock/jack

A week ago, I hauled four horses down to Holden, Utah, about an hour’s haul, for a 1/2-day’s ride. On the way back we had a blowout on the right-rear trailer tire. It was good that happened, because I discovered that I hadn’t yet put a lug wrench in the trailer! Nor could I find my hydraulic jack, which I thought I had put in there somewhere. I was, however, able to test out the new Trailer-Aid chock/jack I recently purchased through Outfitter’s Supply.




The Trailer-Aid is simply placed in front of the tire adjacent to the flat and the trailer is pulled forward until the tire rests on top of it. This is supposed to provide sufficient lift to get the other tire off the ground for changing. The above photo shows my right front trailer tire on top of the Trailer-Aid with four large horses in the trailer! I learned, however, that with the trailer loaded, there isn’t sufficient lift to get the flat completely off the ground. We weren’t very keen on unloading the horses on the side of a freeway with a speed limit of 80mph. We were lucky enough to be able to contact a relative of one of my passengers, who came to our rescue with a lug wrench and a hydraulic jack. Luckily, my spare tire is a good one and we were back on the road in just a few minutes.

After getting the trailer home, I unloaded the horses and tried the Trailer-Aid again. Happily, it will, in fact, lift the adjacent tire completely off the ground, allowing a tire change, with the trailer empty of horses. Just for information, my Logan trailer has independent tortion bar suspension, rather than leaf springs. I don’t know whether that would make a difference. At $48.95, I believe this is a good, heavy-duty piece of gear that will become standard equipment for all my trailers in the future.

The learning experience from this blowout has prompted me to find my heavy-duty 2-ton hydraulic bottle jack (which was in the trailer the whole time, hidden away in a cubby hole) and strap its handle to it with a plastic wire-tie, purchase a good T-bar lug wrench and some spare lug nuts from the local Napa store, and place them all in a storage bin where they are easy to find and won’t get buried by other gear. As for the blowout, of course I bought a new Goodyear Marathon 8-ply trailer tire to replace it. All my tires are now up to full pressure at 65psi (cold). The left-rear tire appears to be losing pressure slowly, so I will go down tomorrow to get it repaired or replaced.

Removed left window in over-bed area

Removed left window in over-bed area

Last Thursday I removed the left-side window in the gooseneck area to have the slider replaced. It was broken before I owned it. I took the window to Carter’s Glass in Spanish Fork, UT. I was disappointed to learn that they can no longer get tempered glass for repairs in campers and trailers, so the replacement slider will be plexiglass. When I get back from my pack trip I plan to start the cosmetic repairs to the trailer, so I’ll check with Hehr, the manufacturer of the window, to see if they have glass replacement sliders available.

Removing the window was a simple matter of drilling out the 12 aluminum rivets with a 1/8″ drill and cutting the caulking around the edge of the window. It came right out with little resistance. No big deal. It will go back in the same way, using aluminum 1/8″ X 5/8″ rivets and my trusty rivet gun.

2015-03-29 13.56.17I had previously repaired all the trailer lighting…at least all that are required to be legal on the road. Some of the wiring needed minor repair and a couple bulbs replaced. I also purchased orange and red reflectors for the sides of the trailer, which is also required by Utah law. The originals had long ago fallen off. I scraped the old remnants of the previous reflectors off with a wood chisel (a window scraper might have been better), then cleaned it well with mineral spirits. The new reflectors came with a peel-and-stick adhesive already applied, so I simply peeled and stuck them to the sides of the trailer. These reflectors can also be attached with rivets or screws, if desired.

My trailer came equipped with interior lighting, as well as exterior lighting, however they are not working and are in need of extensive repair to the wiring. I’ll let that go until after my big pack trip, since I will not be hauling at night on this trip.

2015-03-29 14.02.51

Circle J Trailers water tank, made to fit in the rear tack compartment

When I bought my trailer, it came with a triangular shaped water tank that has been used, but was not installed. It bears the Circle J Trailers brand, so it was not made for this trailer. It is of the type normally installed in the rear tack compartment, however, the way my saddle rack is made will not allow this. I removed a metal shelf unit that was installed in the acute-angle corner of the dressing room in my trailer, which is the same angle as that in the rear tack compartment. The tank will fit in this corner, but will require me to build a stand, to get the spigot up off the floor, as well as make some metal bands to secure the tank in place. Apparently the angle of the Circle J trailers is a little more acute than those in the Logan trailer, because I’m going to need to apply shims on one side to keep the tank snugly in place. Still, it will give me around 36 or so gallons of water for the horses while I’m hauling.

So, on with “getting loaded.”  Yesterday afternoon I pulled everything out of the trailer that was not stuck down in some way, and swept and cleaned a little. It could use a thorough cleaning, but that will have to wait until I’m done with my trip.

I then separated all my horse tack and gear into two areas: That which will go on the trip and that which will not. I have acquired, over the years, a bunch of old horse tack, much of which I will never use again or is beyond its useful years. These items, including old saddle pads and blankets, old halters, and other odds and ends, I packed into a duffle bag which will stay here at home until I decide how to get rid of it.

As for the stuff in the “go with” piles, I pulled out my gear lists for the pack trip and started my inventory. As I located each item on the list, I stowed it in the trailer then checked it off the list. As I did so, I was amazed at how much tack and gear this trailer will hold without seeming jam-packed. Everything has a place and when packed it all fits very well. This trailer is just what I need for trips like this.

Rear tack compartment

Rear tack compartment

The rear tack has a four-tier saddle rack. It now carries two Phillips Formfitter pack saddles in full rig and two western riding saddles. Inside the horse compartment are saddle pad racks for up to eight saddle pads. They now hold four pack saddle pads and two riding saddle pads, as well as two sets of saddle bags. On the door of the rear tack compartment, the previous owners installed a set of horse shoe hangers which now hold two hackamores, two bridles with snaffle bits, and two halters and lead ropes. On the walls inside the tack compartment are additional hooks that hold an assortment of cinchas, a couple rain slickers, and some miscellaneous items. In the floor is room for several shallow feed buckets and my trusty Trailer-Aid chock.

2015-03-29 12.40.54 2015-03-29 12.40.18

Side storage compartment

Side storage compartment

The side compartment is extra storage space created by the feed mangers in the horse compartment. While the manger makes loading horses somewhat tricky in a slant-load (you have to get between the horse and the manger to tie them in or go around and tie them through the windows), the extra storage space is more than worth the inconvenience. The storage space, which measures about 40 inches high X 18 inches deep X 14 feet long, has two access doors on the driver’s side of the trailer. Along the inside wall, near the top, are hooks which are perfect for hanging halters, lead ropes, pack ropes, hobbles, and miscellaneous gear. This is where I store my bagged feed, feed buckets, pack paniers, manties, farrier kit, hydraulic jack and tire tools, and anything else that doesn’t have a specific designated place elsewhere. Both access doors have a large, deep, box shelf for holding things such as brushes, fly spray, and other small items.

The “dressing room” portion of the trailer is not sufficient to call a “living quarters”, however it is large enough that I plan to convert it to a rudimentary camper in the future. Some previous owner started the conversion, having installed insulation and wood paneling in the front portion of the room. I will probably remove all the paneling, so I can reconfigure the electrical system and install some plumbing, before re-covering the walls with paneling. My plan is to install a sink with a manual pump, a two-burner propane stove top, a fold-down table, and a port-o-potty. I’ll likely make an outdoor “cowboy shower,” as well.

Dressing room area

Dressing room area

This area currently holds a couple built-in box seats, which are also storage containers, a small closet, and a couple small cabinets in the nose of the gooseneck area. I have a large black plastic box that will hold all my personal items and small gear, such as the solar panels, camera, binoculars, cooking gear, etc., for the trip to the trailhead. My hand tools, for mechanical emergencies, are also stowed here in a toolbox. There are a couple coat hangers on the back wall, one of which now sports the new Mud River rain slicker I purchased from Outfitter’s Supply. All this stuff, except the hand tools, will go on the pack horses and in my saddle bags for the trip.

The photos you see in this post are with all the horse tack and pack gear I purchased for this two-and-a-half month pack trip stowed in the trailer. We still lack my personal things, our food supply, Dad’s personal things, and the tack and gear for his three horses, but this trailer has plenty of room for us and all our gear. We will, however, have much of his gear stowed in a second trailer, since we will need it for two more horses (we will have two saddle horses and four pack horses for the trip).

For my average pack trip (which is a much smaller enterprise than this current undertaking), in which I will normally have one or two saddle horses and one or two pack horses, this trailer is perfect…or will be once I get the camper portion built.

I’m quite pleased with this Logan trailer.

truck and trailer with Ranger

More Gear for the Trail…



I posted a couple weeks ago about the Goal Zero Nomad 13 portable solar charger I bought for the big pack trip. I haven’t yet had time to test it.

However, one evening last week, as I lay awake in the middle of the night contemplating the upcoming adventure (the closer it gets, the harder it is to sleep at night), I started running through, in my mind, what a day on the trail might be like. As I did so, it occurred to me that we would be using our electrical devices during the daytime, but would be unable to charge anything at night. Funny how I hadn’t thought of that before, as I plug my iphone in to charge before I lay down to sleep.

Furthermore, I realized that if our one solar charger were to be damaged, we would lose the use of all our electronic equipment within about a day, including the ability to call for help via satellite texting in case of emergency. I made the decision then that we needed a second solar charger, not only to increase our ability to recharge items during daylight hours, but as a backup in case one unit were to be put out of commission. I considered, for just a moment, the thought of buying a Sherpa recharger, however, with a price tag of over $250 for a basic model, it seemed impractical for us.

Goal Zero Guide 10

Goal Zero Guide 10

I headed back up to Cabela’s with the intention of buying another Nomad 13, but upon looking over the various models and options offered by Goal Zero, I came across the Guide 10 unit. This model is also a solar charger, with two solar panels measuring about 6 by 9 inches, putting out about 7 volts, 7 watts. It is able to charge at 5V at up to 1A (5W)  regulated – via USB port or 6.5V up to 1.1A (7W) unregulated – via mini-solar port.

2015-03-24 21.55.29Also included is a charger pack for four AA batteries that is charged from the solar charger. This battery unit may then be used as a charger for items such as my iphone 6, the DeLorme InReach Explorer GPS/satellite unit, and our recently purchased GoPro Hero 4 camera. From the literature, it appears this 4-cell unit is capable of recharging two cellular telephones on one charge. This will help for charging at night or when the sun isn’t shining brightly during the daytime. The batteries may also be removed from the unit and used as regular AA batteries. Also included is an adapter for charging four AAA batteries.

Just as the Nomad 13, the Guide 10 comes with integral cables for charging at either 5V or 6.5V, as well as an integral USB port and a separate USB/mini-USB cable for charging Android-type cell phones and other accessories. I will have to remember to bring the proprietary Apple cable to charge my iphone from the USB port. Also included is an adapter for 12V connections that use cigarette lighter-type connectors.

The Nomad 13 and the Guide 10 solar panels may also be “daisy-chained” to increase electrical charging capacity and decrease the time involved in recharging devices.

2015-03-24 22.02.25You can see the size relationship between the larger Nomad 13 and the Guide 10 units. the solar panel size of the Nomad 13 is roughly 1/3 again the size of the Guide 10, however the battery pack certainly increases the utility of the Guide 10 package and offers us one more option and backup plan for charging our very important electronic gear.

The Nomad 13’s price tag of $159.99 also made the Guide 10 a bit more appealing. Along with the benefit of the battery pack and charger came a price tag of $119.99. The combination of the two solar chargers, I believe, will serve our needs very well.

I feel much more comfortable now, having two solar charging units with us on this trip. The trick will be determining, while on the trail, the battery life of each of our several electronic devices, and developing a routine for recharging each of them in turn,  to keep them all alive and functioning optimally for two-and-a half months on the trail.

wish us luck!

2015-03-23 10.03.47

Phillips Form Fitter Pack Saddles, from Outfitters Pack Station

My pack saddles arrived last Friday, as promised by Wade and Simone Mauhl, of Outfitters Pack Station. They are every bit what I hoped.

My followers will recall the post I did a couple years ago about pack saddles, when I was trying to decide whether to go with the traditional crossbuck pack saddles or the newer, more versatile Decker pack saddles for my big pack trip…and on into the future. At length, I decided to go with the Deckers style.

So, as I was preparing to place an order for a couple pack saddles, my dad called and said I should talk to a friend of ours in Arizona, who is an experienced packer and has some definite opinions on pack saddles. I gave the fellow a call (name withheld because I don’t have his permission…yet) and talked to him for a while. He referred me to a man named Phillips, who builds a pack saddle he calls the “Phillips Form Fitter.”  My friend said he is certain Phillips makes the best pack saddle in existence.

Well, my friend didn’t know the website or how to get in touch with Mr. Phillips, so I did what any good, red-blooded American…or anybody else with a computer, would do. I googled “Phillips Form Fitter” and came up with Outfitter’s Pack Station. On their home page they have a great video presentation in which they describe in detail the pack saddle, how it is made, and how it functions. I was sold.

In speaking with Wade, I learned that Mr. Phillips has retired and Wade and Simone purchased his pack saddle business and continue to market them under the Phillips Form Fitter name through their storefront, Outfitters Pack Station.

After several conversations with Simone and Wade, I placed an order for two fully outfitted pack saddles. I also ordered a number of other items, which I will discuss in another post. Things got a little dicey, however, when I learned from Simone that they don’t keep these pack saddles in inventory. Wade makes each saddle as it is ordered, which is why they can make each one to suit the customer’s needs with a number of options. Here I was only a few weeks away from D-Day, so to speak, and I still didn’t have pack saddles! This was something I hadn’t contemplated. Wade and Simone assured me they would work overtime to make sure my saddles arrived in time for my planned departure to Arizona.

What a relief it was to receive a call from Simone last week, announcing they had shipped my pack saddles.

Phillips Form Fitter pack saddle, fully outfitted

Phillips Form Fitter pack saddle, fully outfitted

After ripping open the box like it was a Christmas present, I took a very good look at my new pack saddles.

I was immediately impressed with the heavy latigo straps and heavy nickel-plated steel hardware. All the straps are approximately 13 ounce latigo (just my guess), one-inch or 1-1/4 inch in width, depending on the particular strap. All buckles are heavy-duty roller buckles.

The upper buckle on the spider strap, where it attaches to the breeching, has a nickel-plated 2015-03-20 23.20.23shroud over the buckle. As explained in the video, this was designed to keep the pack animal’s tail hairs from catching in this buckle.

For an extra $50, one can request brass or stainless steel hardware on the saddle.

The pack saddle outfit includes all straps, double straps for the breeching, as well as double straps for the breast strap, to keep them both riding in their proper places on the pack animal. The “halfbreed” is included, made of heavy 18 ounce canvas, reinforced with leather trim on the edges and filled with a two 1/2″ layers of felt padding inside. Leather pockets on each side hold a pine board that protects the pack animal’s sides from the load.

2015-03-20 23.22.42Underneath, one finds the pack saddle is made with bars contoured somewhat like a riding saddle’s bars, but a bit thicker. They are made of a polymer plastic, and while stiff, are somewhat flexible under load. The bars are attached to the “arches” by bolts, which allow the saddle bars to float and adjust to the back of the pack animal and move a bit as it moves. That makes them perfect for my pack trip, as we will have three horses each and rotating them as pack and saddle animals. No two of them will have the same back, being a mix of Fox Trotters, mustang, Quarter Horses, and a mule, so we will not have the luxury of being able to custom configure a pack saddle for each animal.

2015-03-20 23.24.02Each saddle bar is also enclosed in leather, with high quality sheep fleece underneath, just like a riding saddle. The theory is that the fleece helps the pack saddle stay in place without riding off the pad. Heavy-duty stitching keeps it all together, with screws attaching the leather to the bars.

I was impressed.

So, this morning I made an early start to my day and went out to trim hooves. I took along one of the pack saddles to try it on Ranger.

2015-03-23 10.04.05I am somewhat experienced in horse packing with a crossbuck pack saddle, but I was amazed at all the adjustability of this Decker pack saddle! While they are offered with a double cinch, like those usually used on a crossbuck saddle, Decker’s are usually outfitted with a single cinch. That’s what I requested on mine. The position of the cinch is adjustable fore and aft by adjusting the lengths of the fore and aft rigging straps, which, coupled with the floating saddle bars, makes this saddle adjustable to fit the back of pretty much any horse or mule one is likely to come across as a pack animal.

2015-03-20 23.23.08The Decker cinches are made with two rings on each end, a smaller one inside the larger one. The larger one is for the billet and latigo, while the smaller one is used in securing the load with the sling ropes. I outfitted my pack saddles with sling ropes and other rope accoutrements, per the recommendations of Bob Hoverson, in his book entitled, The Packer’s Field Manual, a book I recommend for Decker-style packing.

2015-03-23 10.05.22The breast strap and breeching are both made of heavy latigo leather, lined with oil-tanned leather, rolled on the edges to protect the pack animal from chafing. Both are fully adjustable for length and ride height via four straps on the breast strap and eight on the breeching. The spider pad holds four straps to keep the breeching in place and has an additional ring, which I suppose is for attaching the lead of a trailing pack animal. All these parts are stitched with heavy thread and all the straps and rings are secured with steel tube rivets. The breast strap and breeching are very nicely made and should be comfortable on the pack animal and easy to clean. Every part of this pack saddle rigging is made to be adjustable, so as to fit just about any pack animal of average size and conformation one might encounter.

2015-03-23 10.09.51The arches of the Decker pack saddle are the primary distinguishing factor between a crossbuck pack saddle and a Decker pack saddle. The Phillips Form Fitter arches are made of 3/4″ steel rods, bent to an arch, which connects the two saddle bars.  These arches, however, have small appendages, of the same diameter steel rod, welded to each side of the arch, creating a Decker arch which will also act as a crossbuck to hold Utah-style paniers intended for crossbuck pack saddles. Now I’m starting to feel right at home! I love these saddles!

One reason I decided to go with Decker pack saddles over the traditional crossbuck saddles, is the survivability of the saddle in the case of a rollover wreck. I am confident that the way this saddle is made, and the materials of which it is made, make this saddle much more likely to survive such a wreck with little or no damage, than a crossbuck or most of the other Decker pack saddles I have seen.

2015-03-20 23.20.52Lest I get too wrapped up in my enthusiasm for these pack saddles, I should mention a couple minor things I noticed on the other side of the coin with regard to these saddles. While the strap leather is, indeed, heavy latigo leather, it is not top-quality latigo, nor does it meet the standard of the harness leather I have seen on some high-dollar pack saddles. Also, rather than the steel tube rivets that secure these straps and assemblies, I would rather see copper hammered rivets. Having said these 2015-03-20 23.21.13things, I am confident the use of these materials does not in any way compromise the utility and durability of these pack saddles. With a little care and oiling, I am certain they will outlast me and likely another generation of packers as well. The use of these less-than-top-flight materials is easily forgiven when one looks at the price of the fully outfitted Phillips Form Fitter pack saddle.

At $699, the price of the fully outfitted Phillips Form Fitter pack saddle, including breeching, breast strap, and halfbreed, compares favorably with other name brand pack saddle outfits that I consider to be lesser quality pack saddles.  The saddle tree alone, with no breeching or breast strap, but with the leather skirts and fleece, runs $325, which, again compares favorably with other Decker-style pack saddles with adjustable bars. Again, I am very pleased, both with the quality and the price of these pack saddles and their rigging.

I am thinking this was the first pack saddle ever set upon the back of Ranger. He handled it very well. I’m looking forward to how he handles it with a load on the saddle, our first day out on the trail.2015-03-23 10.03.47



Going through some of my new gear…

I recently received a large gear order from Outfitter’s Supply, out of Columbia Falls, Montana. Kevin was nice enough to sponsor Dad and me on our upcoming pack trip with substantial discounts on much of the gear we ordered. When I first started acquiring gear for this trip a couple years ago, I began by perusing the various websites and online catalogs available for packing gear and ordering one or two items to see what I liked and what I didn’t think would hold up, before making a larger order. As I was doing that kind of research, I came across Trailhead Supply, and I placed an order for a couple feed bags from them. I wrote a blog post on the feed bags, which you can find here.

Outfitter's Supply's canvas/leather feedbag

Outfitter’s Supply’s canvas/leather feedbag

I bought another feed bag in this recent order from Outfitter’s Supply, having decided from the previous purchases to go with the tougher, more durable, canvas/leather bag. I am very pleased with what I received. This feed bag, bearing their Trail Max marketing name, is made with a leather bottom that is formed, so that the edges come up about an inch from the bottom.  This should protect the canvas and seams from the chafing and scraping that will occur when the horse pushes the feed bag against the ground. The canvas appears to be of 24 ounce canvas. It is made with heavy-duty leather straps, approximately 9/10 ounce weight, that are riveted to the canvas at the top of the bag and extend all the way to the bottom, where it is again riveted to the leather bottom. The straps are stitched to the canvas bag with heavy thread down both edges of the strap. The leather is well-oiled and appears to be of good quality. The length of the hanger is adjusted by a heavy-duty chrome-plated steel roller buckle.

If you read the post on the previously purchased feed bags, you will remember that I was concerned that the air vent was positioned very low on the bag. I have had instances in which horses would not eat, because they could not breathe well with a couple scoops of feed in the bag.

New bag on the left

New bag on the left

I felt the vent was low enough on the bag that it would be covered by the feed and would be of little use to the horse. Since that time I have spoken to another experienced packer who once had a horse nearly drown when it tried to drink from a stream with a feed bag on. The feed bag held the water and the horse could not breathe. He felt the vent was more of a safety feature for water drainage than for breathing. I value his opinion and experience and learned that there is good reason for placing the vent low on the bag.

The vent on this new bag is placed a bit higher on the bag than the Trailhead Supply one. In my opinion the location of the vent on the Outfitter’s Supply bag is a good compromise between the safety issue of draining off water and allowing airflow to allow the horse to breathe easier with the bag full of feed.  Outfitter’s Supply has also found an excellent place to stamp their maker’s mark – right on the vent.

The Trailhead Supply bag was priced at $21.95, but I no longer find it listed in their online store. They now offer only the nylon mesh bag with a canvas bottom.

The Outfitter’s Supply bag is a hefty $64.95, but it is a heavier-duty bag and made using heavier and better materials. Is putting this kind of heavy-duty work and materials into a feed bag overkill? Outfitter’s Supply’s experience in making their feed bags comes from doing repair work on feed bags used by the U.S. Forest Service. They seem to know their stuff.

I’ll have one of each on the trip and will report how each performed when we get home.


Way back when Dad and I first started talking about taking a horse pack trip from Tucson, Arizona to Panguitch, Utah, I think it was in about 1975, there was no such thing as a cellular telephone, much less a Global Positioning Satellite system. In fact, the closest thing we had available to a cellular telephone was a “walkie-talkie”, that might have a useful range of about 5 miles, at best. Battery life on those was indefinite….as long as you brought along an inexhaustible supply of spare batteries! I don’t recall that we had re-chargeable batteries available at that time. And do you remember Kodak Instamatic Cameras?

Back then, when we talked about the trip, our main consideration was simply to get “from here to there”, so to speak. We thought about things like food supplies, horses, and gear. The gear consisted of Dad’s old pack saddle outfits, our own well-used saddles, and a bit of camping gear. When we thought of the trip, it was like going back in time to the late 1800s, or maybe the early 1900s. Planning was simple, complications were few.  We just couldn’t get our act together to actually do the trip.

Now that we’re finally ready to give our big pack trip a real try, things are a bit different in the modern world. In particular, we’re both much older now. That brings in a whole new set of concerns and complications in itself, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. We now have technology to deal with that didn’t even exist way back when.

Now, we have these great gadgets that can not only tell us exactly where we are in the world, both in time and space, but can also take pictures to prove it!  Not only that, but these same gadgets can also tell the rest of the world where we are at the same time! And, if that’s not enough, I can actually communicate with anyone I choose, anywhere in the world, via satellites in outer space! Dick Tracy, eat your heart out!

My, how times have changed!

Still, all these gadgets use electricity. All of them have internal rechargeable batteries. All of them require special cables and chargers to keep them useful for anything other than paper weights. Now, horses generate a lot of “gas”, but no electricity, as far as I know.

So, now, the big question is, how long will these gadgets stay alive without a recharge? Most of them will handle one full day, as long as I don’t play with them too much. My iphone 6 will last about half a day if I take a lot of pictures and start texting them to my wife and mother. I took the Delorme InReach Explorer out for a test ride yesterday. We were out for about 4 hours, tracking the whole ride, and it ended up with over 85% battery remaining. I plan to take along a GoPro3 camera, but haven’t purchased it yet, so I have no idea about it’s capabilities, battery-life-wise, but I imagine it is a matter of hours, not days.


Since our pack trip will take somewhere between five and seven weeks….we think…. and since most of the time we will be far away from the nearest electrical outlet, our only option is to take an electrical source with us. Hauling a generator and the fuel to run it is out of the question.

Enter the GOAL ZERO Nomad 13 Solar Panel.

The Nomad 13 is a pair of solar panels, measuring approximately 10.5 X 7 X 1 inches,  about 23 inches wide when open, and comes in its own zippered protective case with the solar panels built-in. You simply unzip, then open it like a notebook. According to the specifications on the box, the unit will produce up to 13 watts of electricity. That is sufficient to put out 5V, 0-1A (5W) regulated for USB charging, or 13-15 VDC, 0-1A (13W) unregulated for 12V charging.

Charging cables built-in

Charging cables built-in

It has several cables built into the unit, on the back side, including a USB cable, a Guide 10 cable, and two cables for chaining units together and for charging other GOAL ZERO rechargers, such as the venerable Sherpa. Also included is an adapter cable with a cigarette lighter-type connector for 12V accessories. The literature inidcates this unit, placed in full sun, will recharge a “smart phone” in one to three hours. Not that it will matter to us, but just for information, the unit will charge a Sherpa 50 in six hours, which will then charge a laptop computer in two hours.

I’m going to have to consider buying a Sherpa 50 for the trip, due to all the gadgets we’ll have along. Having the portable recharger along would certainly help if we should have a couple days of cloudy weather. Our plan is to strap it to the top pack on a pack horse and let it charge all day long. We’ll see how durable it is as we go.

At $159.99, it was an expensive accessory for us, but if it will do what it says it can do on the box and in the manual, it will certainly be worth the expense to us, as well as our loved ones left at home and our friends following us via the Internet. The GOAL ZERO Sherpa 50 Portable Recharger runs $249.99.

2015-03-01 12.43.54

I haven’t yet had a chance to test this unit, but I expect to do so in the next week or so. That test will probably determine whether I go the extra expense for the Sherpa 50.

Stay tuned!

A good night’s sleep is all I need…..

Last week I went on buying spree at Cabela’s. One of the items I came home with…two actually, were air mattresses for the trail. When I was a kid I used to sleep on the ground, and quite well, I might add. In high school, these new-fangled foam sleeping pads came out. They were 1/2″ of luxurious medium-density foam rubber that rolled up onto a 20″ X 4″ roll that weighed hardly anything and you could tie it to your pack right above your sleeping bag. Then, as an adult, I found the self-inflating 3″ foam pads that truly improved my sleep rest during camping and pack trips. However, these pads roll up into a bulky roll about 22″X8″…that is if you get it real tight. It weighed a bit more as well, at about 3 pounds or so. I stuck with those a long time. Recently, however, I’m finding I don’t sleep so well on those self-inflating pads anymore.

Now, Dad has always preferred air mattresses. Of course he was 24 years ahead of me in experience. Seems like my air mattresses always ended up flat about the time I was gliding off to sleep, and it was back to my childhood days of sleeping on the hard ground…or not. Anyway, Dad seems always to have done pretty well with his air mattresses, so for this trip I let him talk me into buying a couple of backpacking air mattresses for our trip. Mostly the decision was made to save space on the pack horses, but truthfully, I was willing to try an air mattress again to see whether I could get a good night’s sleep on one while out on the trail.

Cabela's XPG Ultralight air mattress

Cabela’s XPG Ultralight air mattress

After talking on the phone to Dad while I was looking at the mattresses, we settled upon two of Cabela’s XPG Ultralight Extreme Performance Gear air mattresses. They came rolled into a 3″ X 9″ roll, stuffed into a nice little nylon bag. I have to tell you, I was pretty skeptical that this little thing could provide a nice resting place for my tired bones after a long day on the trail. I found Cabela’s display, where they had samples of each of their mattress offerings already aired up, so I pulled each one down in turn and laid on it, right there in the store, for a first-impression test. Surprisingly, I found this little XPG mattress to be the most comfortable of the bunch.

The XPG Ultralight measures 72" X 23.5" X 2.5" inflated

The XPG Ultralight measures 72″ X 23.5″ X 2.5″ inflated

The XPG Ultralight mattress measures a nice 72″ L X 23.5″ W X 2.5″ H, inflated, which was among the widest mattresses offered. I found the goofy-looking way the mattress is designed to be very comfortable. It has round air pockets in the center for comfort and larger air pockets on the sides to keep you on the mattress during the night. This mattress didn’t make me feel high in the middle while lying on my back, which tends to give me a backache, nor did my hips touch the ground when I rolled onto my side. I was quite surprised and impressed. This is a well-designed mattress, and very comfortable to lay on.

I took a good look at the seams and materials, trying to imagine it lasting the whole trip. The mattress is made of a reinforced rubberized nylon material (no trade name for the material is given on the packaging), which appears to be fairly durable, however I wouldn’t try laying it directly on the ground. We’ll have canvas ground cloths under us on the trip, so wear from the ground should be minimal. Just in case, though, the mattress comes with a patch kit slipped inside a pocket inside the stuff sack, consisting of about 30 square inches of material (two 3 X 5 pieces) and a small tube of cement.

The seams are either glued or heat-sealed

The seams are either glued or heat-sealed

The seams appear to be sealed with cement, or possibly heat-sealed. They appear to be solidly joined. With the new “space-age” cements available, I feel confident that if I can keep Dad from jumping on the bed, they’ll last the trip.

A couple nights ago, I blew up one of the mattresses to see how much effort goes into it, wondering whether I would pass out before getting it filled at elevations exceeding 9,000 feet in some places. Again, I was surprised that I was able to fill the mattress to capacity in 17 breaths. While that will make your head swim if you do it too fast, it’s not anything that would make the average person uncomfortable if they take their time.

Pull to open, push to close, twist to lock

Pull to open, push to close, twist to lock

The air valve is a little larger and somewhat differently designed than other mattresses I’ve used before. It has a push-pull system, to keep the air in while you take a breath as you blow it up, then a twist-lock to keep it from being inadvertently opened. It took me a minute to figure it out, even with the instructions plainly spelled out on the top of the valve. Sometimes I have a hard time pouring water out of a boot with the instructions on the heel. Twist the valve to unlock, then pull. Blow into it, then push to hold while you take a breath, pull again to blow air in. When done, push in and twist to lock. Simple! Much easier than the old ones you had to hold and squeeze with your teeth while you blew.

I laid the mattress in front of the television and lay down on it to see if I could lay on it comfortably for an extended period. I was quite pleased with the results. I nearly fell asleep.

After the limited testing I have done on this mattress, I am quite pleased and convinced this XPG Ultralight mattress, marketed by Cabela’s, will do the trick for us. With a price tag of $99, I feel it is a good buy for us.

Now, a good night’s sleep is all I need.

Stay tuned for more gear reports.

Buying the Necessaries for the Big Trip – DeLorme InReach Explorer

Last week I made arrangements to take out a fairly large loan from savings (thank you dear Linda) for the purchase of supplies and gear for the coming pack trip. Time is getting short, so Dad and I are evaluating our gear, repairing what needs it, replacing what we can’t repair, and buying what we don’t have.

I recently went on one of my favorite supplier online stores and put nearly $4,500 worth of gear on my “Wish List”. We’ll see how much of that I actually order. I have to admit that some of what is on that list is “want-to-have” stuff, rather than “need-for-the-pack-trip” stuff.

Yesterday I drove up to American Fork, to the Cabela’s store and spent nearly $1,000. I bought several items that I consider to be necessaries for the trip. I’ll address each item in detail and give my first impressions of them. During the trip and after it is done I’ll post a test-report on each and my opinions about them.

Recently, a good friend of my father, Dick Goodman, who will be helping us with logistics, advised us to buy a satellite phone, so we could call out if we had an emergency.  The idea that we could keep folks posted on our whereabouts and call out in case of emergency is a thought that had crossed my mind, but sometimes it takes someone else’s suggestion to bring an idea into focus. You have to remember that Dad and I both grew up before the advent of electricity…er, I mean cell phone and GPS technology, and sometimes we forget about things like that in our planning.

So, I went shopping at Cabela’s in Lehi, Utah to see what was available.

What I found was a number of Global Positioning Satellite (GPS) units by a couple of makers, several models of “Spot” emergency locators (which a friend had recommended), one model of satellite telephone, and several models of GPS units by DeLorme. After looking over the various capabilities, features, and options of a number of units, I settled on the DeLorme InReach Explorer, priced at $379.99.

DeLorme InReach Explorer

DeLorme InReach Explorer

The DeLorme InReach Explorer is a GPS unit, utilizing the Iridium GPS system. It has all the functionality of a regular GPS handheld, but also allows two-way texting via satellite. Not only that, but it also uploads details to my personal and Western Trail Rider facebook pages, as well as to DeLorme’s Map Share application*, accessed through their website, so all my friends and relatives can track our progress.

2015-03-01 12.42.10The one thing that might appear to be an issue with this unit is the small screen size. Maps? Nope, too small. Howsoever, this unit will talk to my iphone 6 as well as Android phones, by use of the Earthmate app that can be found through the App Store or any Android app site. The unit talks to the phones via Bluetooth, so cell coverage isn’t necessary. So, I will get all the map information on my iphone 6 in all its glory. In fact, through the Earthmate app, I am downloading the high-resolution map sets I will need to my phone as I type this post.

The SOS button and lock

The SOS button and lock

Once the unit is fully charged, one must follow the explicit instructions in the user’s manual provided with the unit for initiating and setting it up. Not following the instructions in order can cause problems that otherwise would easily be avoided. The first thing to know is NOT TO DO ANYTHING WITHOUT FIRST READING THE MANUAL! The unit has an emergency beacon/call button/function that will send out an emergency call if inadvertently activated. The button has a lock associated with it, so it is quite safely secured, however, if you are like most people, particularly men like me, when they get a new toy they immediately start pushing buttons to see what they do. If you unlock the button and press it, you might get emergency vehicles and rescue helicopters arriving at your location. More on the SOS function later.

As I said, the first step is to ensure the unit is fully charged. While the unit is charging, become familiar with the various buttons and functionalities of the unit by reading the manual. While you’re at it, download the Earthmate app to your phone from the Apple App Store or your favorite Android site. Step two is to create your DeLorme InReach account online and select an airtime plan subscription.

DeLorme offers a variety of plans under two headings: Freedom Plans and Annual Plans. Both offer various options for functions and payments, with the Annual Plan options being significantly reduced in price.

The Annual option, meaning you subscribe to regular monthly service and subscription payments for a period of one year, requires an initial subscription premium of $19.95. The lowest priced plan, called the “Safety Plan” runs $11.95 per month and includes the bare minimum of functionality: Unlimited SOS, 10 texts, 10-minute tracking intervals, and tracking points and location pings at ten cents each. The highest plan runs $79.95 per month and includes unlimited SOS, texts, tracking points, and pings, and 2-minute tracking intervals.  One can change plans at anytime for a fee of $24.95.

The Freedom Plan means you can activate your coverage at any time for the month or months you require. This plan requires an initial subscription premium of $24.95. The monthly fees are slightly higher than those of the Annual Plan, but offer the same options for functionality. For instance, the low and high plans under the Freedom Plans run $14.95 and $99.95 per month, respectively, compared to $11.95 and $79.95 under the Annual Plans. However, one can change the coverage under the Freedom Plans without fee simply by selecting that plan when activating. Changing from the Freedom to the Annual plans subscription requires payment of a change fee of $24.95.

Screenshot 2015-03-01 16.48.48I selected the Recreation Plan under the Freedom Plans subscription for my trip. It offers unlimited SOS, 40 texts, 10-minuted tracking intervals, and unlimited tracking points and pings. After the first leg of our trip I will decide whether to upgrade to the Expedition Plan, which offers unlimited texts. The Recreation Plan runs $34.95 per month, while the Expedition Plan runs $64.95 per month.

The main menu

The main menu

After creating your account and activating a plan, and making payment via credit card, you can set up your options and add contacts, set up your preset messages and responses for texting, and set up your “sharing”. The menus on the unit are easily navigated by use of the small thumb pad, using the button with the check-mark as the “enter” button. The “X” button is the “back” and “stop” button. You can also access and control the unit on the phone through the Earthmate app, including activating the SOS function.

The third step in the initiation and setup process is to  go outside and make sure you have a broad and clear view of the sky. Turn the unit on, point the antenna in the air and  wait. When you set up the DeLorme account online, DeLorme sends out a welcome message as a test to make sure the connection has been made. You will see a little green light on the face, which indicates you have a message waiting. If the light turns red, you have an urgent message waiting. Please note that this little light only indicates messages waiting and does not indicate satellite coverage for the GPS function! You will respond to the welcome text with a simple response text, which tests your unit’s ability to send texts. This process may take up to 20 minutes to finalize, so be patient.

Once you are able to send your text response, the GPS unit has been initialized and is ready for use. You are then ready to complete the setup process by calibrating the altimeter and digital compass functions. You are also ready to make the Bluetooth connection with your phone and start setting up your personalized functions and options on your Earthmate app.

I had trouble getting my iphone and DeLorme Explorer unit talking to each other. I finally decided to try connecting the unit to my Apple Macbook Pro by USB cable (included) to see whether an update option would appear when it connected. It did! The update took several minutes to complete. I noticed that the “message waiting” light blinked red and green during the update. Do not unplug your unit from the computer or shut down your computer until the update is completed! Once the update completed, my unit connected right up to my iphone 6.

The menu on the Earthmate App on my iphone 6

The menu on the Earthmate App on my iphone 6

Calibrating the altimeter is not a one-time thing. Although it will always be approximately correct by just using the GPS as reference, it is a good idea to reset the altimeter at the beginning of or during an adventure by finding a point at which the elevation is certain, such as at a trailhead where elevations are often shown on trail signs, and using that elevation to set the unit. You may also set the function by using barometric pressure readings from a reliable source nearby, such as airport weather reporting.

The compass is calibrated by initiating that function through the settings menu. After selecting “Calibrate Compass” you simply move the compass in a figure-8 pattern, making sure the antenna moves through all directions in reference to the ground several times until you hear a beep, indicating the process is complete. As with the altimeter, it is a good idea to recalibrate the compass at the beginning of each new trip.

The SOS function is activated by sliding the “lock” switch on the face of the unit to the left, exposing a red line, indicating the function is now available. By then pressing the SOS button, the function is activated, sending out SOS messages to GEOS, the DeLorme monitoring center, which will then dispatch rescue services to your location. The SOS function can also be activated through the menu, by selecting the SOS icon, then pressing the “enter” button (the one with the check-mark), or by using the phone app and selecting the SOS function from the menu. Use this only in time of true emergency, as this will set in motion a very expensive bunch of fast-turning wheels.

A map on my iphone 6 via the Earthmate app

A map on my iphone 6 via the Earthmate app

As I look through the maps on my iphone 6, the resolution is sufficient that I can see excellent topographical detail, however at the magnification level needed to see marked trails, the viewable area of the map is quite small. I find it difficult to be able to see where a particular trail goes, as one would be able to do on a map, without simply following it on the touch screen. While one can gain greater perspective by zooming out, the dashed-line marking trails disappears after only two clicks out. A larger screen would alleviate the problem proportionate to the size of the screen, but this issue is not a problem with the Explorer, it’s simply the size of my phone display. I am pretty old-fashioned and still feel more comfortable with a paper map in my hands, however, for the Mexico-to-Canada pack trip I have planned, the maps alone, at 7.5 minute size covering the selected route, would number over 100 and would cost more than $700. Not having to buy and carry all those maps is a benefit one cannot ignore and one for which I can happily deal with the little inconvenience of a small screen on my phone. I should mention that I believe the screen on my iphone 6 is as large or larger than the screens I saw on all the GPS units offered at Cabela’s, including the venerable Garmin Montana.

My overall impression so far, not having actually used the unit yet, is that the DeLorme Explorer is exactly what I need, not only for the impending pack trip, but for all my packing adventures for years to come. I will be able to store the information from my trips, mileage, speed, elevation, etc., for my blog posts, keep my followers updated on my progress during the trips, call for help in emergencies, and make the trail information available for others to use.

Moreover, the peace of mind it will give my wife and my mother while Dad and I are out on this pack trip, knowing we can communicate with them and call out in case of emergency at anytime, from anywhere, via text and emergency beacon with this unit, and the fact that we can keep them posted on our progress via text and facebook posts, is well worth the $379.99 price tag and the subscription price.

This was a good score in my book. Thumbs up!

Now, you’re probably asking yourself how we intend to keep this handy little unit, as well as our cell phones, charged up.

Stay tuned.

* I will provide the link to my Map Share on a separate post once the trip is underway. The Map Share link is specific to each trip logged by the InReach Explorer unit.

Working on the Repairs for My Hamley Saddle

Now that my wife and I are settled in a house here in Salem, Utah, I have been able to get at least some of my tools out of storage and into my little workshop out back. Some of the first things I brought are my saddles and leather working tools.

2014-12-24 13.10.56A couple weeks ago I finished the work on my old Bighorn saddle, which needed to have the horn tightened up, new fleece, and new saddle strings. I finished that project and put the saddle immediately back to work on my new Missouri Fox Trotting Horse, Ranger. After having my last horse, Penny, beat my good Hamley Ranch Saddle to pieces, I decided that the Bighorn saddle was going to be my breaking and training saddle from now on.

My 1947 Hamley Ranch Saddle, ready for repairs

My 1947 Hamley Ranch Saddle, ready for repairs

Last week I got to looking at my old Hamley and decided it was time to start the repairs.

The saddle was in need of new saddle strings, new rear rigging leathers, new stirrup leathers, a new cantle binding, and possibly new fleece, as well as repair to a tear on the front left side of the seat jockey. I also need to soak and flatten both the rear jockeys and the skirts, as they have curled up pretty badly.

Just so you know why I didn’t just sell the old saddle, or hang it up for decoration, this particular saddle came to me from my wife’s family. It belonged to her uncle, Earl Richins. I got it because there was no one else in the family who would get any use from it. A couple years ago I contacted Hamley, which is still in business in Bend, Oregon, about the saddle. For a nominal fee, they took the saddle’s serial number and researched their files. They provided me with a Certificate of Authenticity for the saddle, which showed the saddle was made for Earl G. Richins, who paid $154.50 for it in 1947. It is a family heirloom and I intend to continue passing it down. I also intend to make it mine and hope that whomever I pass it to will make it theirs and use it as well. I’ve no use for a decorative saddle.

A little over a year ago I had a mare that was prone to panicking. She would occasionally just go bananas if I got her into a position where she didn’t understand what was happening and felt trapped. While working with her one day, trying to teach her to sidle up to a gate, so I could open it, she went berserk. She went back, fell over, lunged up, crashed into the gate, then over again she went. Then she jumped back up and crashed into a fence where a tree was overhanging. I had come off the first time she went down, so I was just standing by watching the rodeo, waiting for her to get finished with her tantrum. After crashing through the tree branches, she finally stopped and settled down. I went to her to make sure she wasn’t hurt, which she wasn’t, just a little shaken up. However, my saddle was another story completely.

When I got over to Penny, I could see a stick about the diameter of my thumb sticking out of the cantle binding of my precious antique Hamley saddle. Not only that, but as I checked for further damage, I found both rear rigging leathers about to tear away from the cinch ring, a large new scrape on the pommel, and a scratch across the cantle, where my spur had raked as I came off. It was only a day or so later that one of the stirrup leathers gave out and broke. So my Hamley was out of commission. After evaluating the work that would be required to “restore” the saddle to “collector” condition, I decided that it was simply out of my price range. Judging by what I have priced at Hamley and other saddlers, it would run in the area of $3500 to have the saddle restored. I decided that I would do the repairs myself and bring the saddle back to usable condition. I decided that as an aspiring saddle maker, this would be an excellent learning experience. While some may criticize me for learning on my Hamley saddle, in my opinion it was simply too far gone to be worth the expense of sending it back to Hamley for repair/restoration.

So, here I am about ready to do the repairs. By this time I have acquired most of the tools necessary for saddle making. I still lack some of the more expensive gadgets, such as a leather splitter, and I could always use a few more punches and strap-end cutters, but I have enough to do what must be done on the Hamley.

Last week I started on the repairs. I started by disassembling the saddle, as much as was necessary, so I could take a good look and evaluate all that needs to be done. Turns out the tree, a bullhide-wrapped wood tree, is in excellent condition. I was surprised to find that Hamley uses bronze stirrup hangers, rather than having the stirrup leathers pass over the saddle bars. The tree is solid as the day it was made and the bars are in good condition. I removed the  old saddle strings, pulled the few nails holding the skirts to the bars, then removed the skirts. I removed the rear jockeys, then the rear rigging leathers. The stirrups had been removed months ago. The last thing I removed was the cantle binding. I pulled the seams loose and cut the threads with a sharp knife. I used a pair of pliars to remove the remaining thread from the stitching holes in the cantle. Click on an image for a slide show with the photos in full-size.

I decided the first project would be the cantle binding, as I dreaded it the most. The cantle binding is one place that really shows the craftsmanship, or lack thereof, of a saddle maker. This was to be my first cantle binding and I didn’t expect it to come out perfect, but I hoped it would come out well.

I started by reading up on the topic in the reference books I have bought along the way, including the three-volume set by Al and Ann Stohlman and another book by Davy Jones on saddle making and repair. I decided to follow the directions given by the Stohlmans.

I cut the new cantle binding out of 7/8 oz skirting leather, making the piece about 1-5/8″ wide by 30″ long, which were measurements I took off the saddle itself. I then made a stitching groove along both edges, about 1/8″ from the edge, as this would be a binding with exposed stitching on both the front and back. I edged and buffed the edges and skived the ends thin. I then soaked the binding in luke-warm water for a few minutes, until it stopped bubbling. After stripping off the excess water with my fingers, I put the binding into place on the cantle, stretching it tight and placing a 1/2″ #12 tack at each end, down under where it would be hidden by the seat jockey.  I formed it as much as possible with my fingers, so that the edges fit nicely into place on the cantle where the old binding had been. I then let the binding sit until almost dry, going back and forming it with my fingers now and then as it dried.

Before the binding was completely dry (you want some moisture left in the leather), I removed it and finish trimmed the long end to fit properly, then re-skived that end. I applied rubber cement liberally to both the cantle and the cantle binding, however, as directed by the Stohlmans, I did not apply rubber cement to the very front portion of the underside of the cantle binding, so that it could be adjusted easily as it was put into place on the cantle. I then carefully placed the cantle binding into place on the cantle, working it into place with my fingers. A rub stick would have helped as well here, but I didn’t have one available. Both ends were tacked into place with two tacks. These will remain permanently.

At this point I ran a #5 overstitch wheel over the binding in the stitching groove to mark where I would cut the stitching holes with the awl. I then threaded two #517 stitching needles and sharpened my awl and went to work.  I found right away that it is critical to have a good awl blade and have it razor sharp. There is a talent that is developed in using an awl. I got better as I went, but my first few holes through that thick cantle leather were difficult. I had a hard time getting the awl to penetrate perfectly straight, as I kept applying pressure that was not perfectly straight. I bent my awl blade slightly several times. Once bent, you just cannot straighten an awl blade perfectly. I was able to straighten and resharpen the awl blade enough that it worked, but I had difficulty in getting the awl to penetrate straight and emerge on the backside right where I wanted it to – in the stitching groove. I would watch to see where the blade was going to emerge, then I would pull it back and adjust until it emerged where I wanted it to.

I only got about 1/3 done on the binding that first evening, because there wasn’t enough light in the work area. I just couldn’t see well enough to see where the tip of the awl was emerging and I was tired, so rather than risking a major mistake, I left it for the following day.

2015-01-03 16.36.21 2015-01-03 17.18.46 2015-01-03 17.19.14 When I got back to the project, of course the binding had dried out completely. I decided to try stitching with it dry, as I didn’t like the way it came out while working on it damp. I found that when the leather was damp I tended to tighten the stitches too much and the leather would bunch a little, making the work look a bit rough. I found that when I stitch with the leather dry I liked the look better.

One saddle maker, Dusty Johnson, recommends drilling the stitching holes with a Dremel-type high-speed tool. He told me that by drilling the stitching holes, rather than cutting them with an awl, he is able to complete the stitching on a cantle binding in a matter of a half-hour, rather than about two hours with an awl (it took me much longer). I used Dusty’s technique to make my chaps and I find it makes my stitching look much more professional. I may try that the next time, but I was afraid it would show up on this binding where I changed methods. I finished the cantle binding stitching with an awl and with the leather dry.

2015-01-03 17.18.41Another thing I am learning, slowly but surely, is to be consistent and apply the correct amount of pressure when I tighten each stitch. Toward the end of the stitching I pulled two stitches through the binding leather. They are visible if one looks, but not bad enough that I would tear it all off and start over…at least not on this saddle. All I can guess is that I came upon a weak area in the binding leather in that place, as I applied no more pressure there than anywhere else on the binding. It is possible I was applying too much pressure all along in tightening my stitches.

2015-01-03 17.19.49I also found I tend to mark my cantle binding with my fingernails and tools as I stitch. This is something I really need to pay attention to , especially while working damp leather. Anything with an edge or corner that touches damp leather will leave a permanent impression. This is not a problem on this saddle, because it’s going to get a lot of marks on my pack trips anyway, but if I were doing this as a gift or a commission, it would look pretty poor. It gives my work a used look when it is brand new.

2015-01-03 17.19.24At the end of the stitching I learned another thing. I did not pay enough attention to the angle at which I was inserting the awl while stitching around the binding. I ended up finishing the stitching on the front, but still lacked nearly 1/2″ in the back. I ended up creating another two stitches in the back, running them through existing stitches in the front, while creating a lock-stitch at the same time.

I will likely stain the cantle binding to try to get it closer to the color of the old original leather. I haven’t yet decided whether to do that or just let it age naturally with neatsfoot oil.

All-in-all, while I am not completely pleased with the appearance of my work on the cantle binding, I know it will be serviceable and it was an excellent learning project. I am sure my next cantle binding will reflect improved craftsmanship on my part. Below is a gallery of all the pictures I took for this post.

Next up: The rigging leathers.

Trailer Buying for Idiots….like me!

I recently bought a used horse trailer. The process of elimination that brought me to this particular trailer might be educational for others. Thought I’d post a few comments and photos about how I went about it and things I learned in the process.

As you all know by now, I am retired and looking to spend a good portion of my retired life in the saddle. I have identified about a thousand…wait….1,783, I think it was…places I want to go ride. Some of these places will require me to haul a pack horse. Sometimes I will want to take a friend or two…and maybe a pack horse as well.  Sometimes getting to the starting point may take two days to get there or sometimes I may get to the starting point after a full day of driving, so I would like a nice, comfortable place to spend the night. I have on occasion come back to the trailer after several days on the trail wishing I could shower and sleep in a nice, clean, warm, soft bed.  There have been times in which I have been caught in terrible thunder storms and almost had my camp washed away. It would have been nice to have been able to just go into the trailer’s living quarters and enjoy the sound of the rain and thunder while sipping hot chocolate. These and many more thoughts, born out of my experiences on the trail and my desires for future riding, went into my decision-making process about what kind of trailer I wanted.

I decided that I wanted a four-horse slant-load trailer. First and foremost, it had to be able to handle four horses. I know from experience that I will often need to haul at least three horses, sometimes four, but, in all likelihood, I will most often be hauling only my own horse for day rides in the mountains. A four-horse answers all these facts about my riding habits and desires.

I also decided that I wanted, but did not necessarily need a small living quarters. Not anything in the realm of recreational vehicle long-term-living quarters, but something very basic. I would like a space large enough for four people to sit at a table and enjoy hot soup and good conversation about the day’s ride. Therefore, I would need a sink, stovetop, and maybe a microwave, which would require a generator….eh now I’m getting extravagant. I would like a shower and toilet, RV style. That would be nice. I would probably want a refrigerator, propane/electric. How about an air-contidioner? That would be nice in the hot Arizona summer afternoons.

Ah, yes. Storage. If I’m going to have a LQ, then I can’t use it to store all my tack, so it’s going to have to at least have a rear tack and preferably also a mid-tack room. Also, a hay rack on top for extra storage would be nice for those long pack trips that require a little extra room for gear.

Still, I didn’t want a trailer that is 75′ long, but it had to be long enough for at least a little LQ and some tack storage. After spending some time hauling a 28′ RV trailer around, I decided that was the maximum length I would consider for a horse trailer. Any longer and I would never be able to get it into some of the places I want to take it…at least not without significant damage to the trailer.

So, with these criteria and thoughts in mind, I started shopping on the Internet. I quickly found that trailers, even used ones, even used ones more than 10 years old, were well above my budget range. The closest trailer I found, and it was perfect for me, was offered at the excellent price of $16,000 or best offer. It had everything I needed. I simply couldn’t afford it. Maybe after I get rich and famous from my Mexico-to-Canada pack trip….eh, probably not. So, I started watching the classified listings to find what I could that would come as close as possible to exactly what I want, but in the $4-8,000 range.

IMG_0574What I found was 1991 Logan Coach Competitor trailer, listed for $6,000. I had also looked at several other trailers that were under consideration. I made a list of them in a notepad and began contacting owners and scheduling appointments to look at the trailers. I scheduled the best IMG_0581prospects first. The Logan was third on my list. I looked at the other two trailers and decided against both. The fourth trailer sold the evening after I first looked at the Logan trailer, obviously taking it out of the running.

Upon inspecting the Logan trailer, I found some glaring issues right off. Both fenders had been bashed by cutting too close to some hard object and dragging the trailer across it. There were places where rust had started beneath the paint, but these appeared to be cosmetic. Several of the interior  rubber wall pads were missing, however, the trailer did have rubber floor and wall pads. There were several broken clearance lights and there were a few minor obvious wiring problems that would have to be dealt with. However, the trailer had a front tack room that had been partially converted to a living quarters. While there were no fixtures installed, there was room for me to create a rudimentary living quarters. In addition, there was a rear tack compartment with a saddle rack for four saddles, as well as saddle pad racks. Additionally, the horse compartments had a manger shelf running along the left wall, which  created a large storage compartment beneath it, accessible from two large doors on the exterior of the left side of the trailer. There was a hay rack on top as well. The former owner had Gerry-rigged a cable for a generator to be installed on the hay rack, which would power four flood lights affixed to the top edge of both sides of the trailer. There were four welded tie-points on the outside of the trailer, each with a bracket for holding a feed  bucket, something I had never seen before on a trailer. The trailer had four good trailer tires and a spare (truck or car tires on a trailer is a no-no, they will not last and can have catastrophic failures that can damage your trailer). For the most part the paint was decent, except for the few rusted areas and seams on the roof that had been sealed with roofing tar.

All-in-all, it was a solid trailer that actually exceeded my minimum criteria, although I thought the $6,000 asking price for a 24 year-old trailer in that condition was a bit high. I compared it to three other trailers I had yet to look at. These three all had small front tack compartments that would be useless as a LQ, except to sleep in, however two of them also lacked a rear tack, which meant I would not even have a sleeping area without transferring all the tack into the horse compartment at night. The fourth trailer I was to look at, as previously mentioned, sold that evening, before I could see it. That trailer was in excellent condition and about the same age, but a bit smaller. It was offered for $4,800, but likely sold for several hundred less. The next trailer I was to look at was listed at $7,600, but was a newer Sundowner that was in almost new condition, having seen very little use and excellent care, but had a small front tack and no rear tack, and no extra storage or roof rack.

I contacted the owner of the Logan and offered him $5,000, explaining that I was comparing his trailer to other similar trailers in better condition, for which I would pay more, but have less work to do bringing them up to snuff for my needs. He asked if I would come to $5,500, but I responded that I was intending to offer him $4,500, but the trailer I was holding as the second option had sold the night before, such that my second option was now a more expensive trailer in excellent condition, hence my higher offer. My offer of $5,000 reflected my consideration of the labor and expense I would have to put out to bring his trailer up to good condition. Despite the fact that his was closer to the configuration I wanted than the other, the other trailer was in excellent condition with no work required. If he declined my offer, I was willing to pay the extra money for the second option, rather than pay more for his trailer.  At length he accepted the offer.

I was quite proud of my negotiating prowess and felt like we both received an equitable price for our efforts. I paid the man his money and made arrangements to pick up the trailer several days later.

After picking up the trailer and heading home I started discovering where the holes were in my inspection. On the way to the Department of Motor Vehicles to apply for a new title and get license plates, a right rear brakes started grabbing. By the time I got home it would lock up when I used the brakes. The next morning I took the trailer to a shop to have the bearings re-packed and the brakes checked and adjusted. (This should be done whenever you buy a used trailer of any kind. In all likelihood the bearings have not been greased since it was new. It is one of those things that get neglected on a trailer that is not used on a daily basis or has gone through several owners.) After getting the trailer back (and a bill of $243) I started to sort through the electrical problems I had noted. The previous owner had provided several replacement clearance lights that he had apparently purchased, but never installed. I replaced all that were broken. I found that two still will not work, apparently a wiring problem. None of the interior lights, in the tack room nor in the horse compartment, work. There was no license plate bracket or light (required by most states). As I was working on the license plate problem, I found that the bottom of the loading door was completely rusted out and crumbling. This could not be seen without pulling back the rubber pad installed on the inside of the door.

I also discovered that the right rear running board had been run over a rock or something, breaking the welds at the rear, rendering it rather loose. The steel diamond plate cover actually came off in my hand. I’m glad I discovered that at my home and not by watching it bouncing down the freeway in my rear-view mirror! As I checked the lights in the front tack, I also discovered that one of the sliding windows had been broken out. I never would have found that had I not attempted to close the window. The window screen sort of hid the fact that the window was missing. Happily, I discovered that the trailer tack compartment had been properly wired, including a breaker, lights and outlets, for an electrical plug-in, rendering the Gerry-rigged generator wiring unnecessary.

All these things showed with embarrassing clarity, that with all my efforts to study things out and get the best deal for my money, I still let my excitement and pride get to me. I did not conduct a very good inspection before buying. I should not have missed any of the things I mentioned that were discovered by surprise after the purchase. Not that I would have changed my mind on the trailer, but I might have offered the $4,500 I had originally intended to offer.

Now, for what I have learned upon using the trailer.

After getting the major problems of bearings, brakes, and lights squared away, I took the trailer on its shakedown cruise by driving from Salem, UT to Blackfoot, ID to pick up a horse I bought. That is 8 hours of driving at speeds up to 80 mph. I was absolutely pleased with how the trailer performed. It pulls better than any trailer I have ever pulled. I am impressed with the smoothness of the dual tortion spring axles, as opposed to leaf spring axles on other trailers.

By one thing I was greatly surprised. I had believed the manger shelf in the trailer would be a useful and desirable amenity, especially for the additional storage space created beneath it. What I discovered, though, was that the manger shelf makes a very difficult and somewhat dangerous operation of the simple matter of loading and tying-in a horse. As I loaded my horse into the trailer, I felt somewhat trapped, being inside the trailer with a horse I was unfamiliar with.

IMG_0583The fact is, that is a very dangerous position to be in. The trailer has no escape door. You have to go into the horse compartment with the horse in order to close the dividers and lock each horse into its respective stall. In addition to all this, you are somewhat limited in your escape route through the loading door, because of the rear tack that takes up the left half of the rear of the trailer. I found myself unable to reach the tie ring as I lead the horse into its stall. As I turned to unlock the divider from its open position, being untied, the horse took this opportunity to try to turn around. I could not then close the divider, because his head was turned the wrong way. All I could do was lead him back out and try again. I was unsuccessful in getting him to load and stay in the first stall and had to close that divider and load him into the second stall, into which I successfully enclosed him without tying him.  I had to go outside the trailer, open the window, and reach in to tie him. That would have been even more frustrating had it been raining.

This same process without the manger shelf is a simple matter of leading the horse into the trailer, tying him to the appropriate tie ring, closing the divider, and on to the next horse, in just about the amount of time it took to type this paragraph. My next trailer will likely not have a manger shelf, despite the extra storage area. I’d much prefer a mid-tack anyway.

IMG_0577An additional unanticipated issue appeared as I was tying my horse into place. The trailer has pre-installed tie ropes with safety buckles on the horse end and loops braided into place on the tie-ring end, such that they are not removable except they be cut off. I hooked the tie rope onto the horse’s halter, and just about that fast, he had turned his head and put it over the divider. As he did so, the safety buckle dragged across the top rail of the divider and unsnapped. Easy as pie. He was loose again. I decided to tie him with my lead rope, close enough that he could not get his head over the divider again. I was afraid he might get stuck while in transit and panic, causing injury to himself and/or damage to the trailer. As it turned out, the trip home was uneventful, but I stopped a couple times just to check.

In taking a good, long look at the front tack/living quarters, I have decided that with some good planning and design, I can make an adequate rudimentary living quarters there, which will include a propane stove, heater, and possibly a refrigerator, as well as a sink and port-o-potty. I think I can make a fold-down table that will seat at least two persons comfortably for an evening or morning meal. The bed, of course will be in the over-bed portion of the front. I am not in a hurry for this, so I’ll take my time and study things out so I can make it as efficient and comfortable as possible.

Overall, I am quite impressed with this trailer. Logan Coach obviously makes quality trailers. There are a number of things on this trailer that bespeak durability, strength, and smart engineering. I am impressed with how well this trailer, which has been poorly maintained and ill-used, has survived and retained it’s structural integrity and value.IMG_0601

So, while I still feel like I bought a quality trailer that suits my needs at a price I could afford, and overall I’m pleased with it, I think I might have done a little better had I performed a closer inspection before making my offer. I don’t think I did badly, I just think I might have done a little better.

Water under the bridge. This is about the last time I’ll think on that aspect of this purchase and I’ll go on with my plans and enjoy this trailer to the fullest.

Checklist for the future:

– Quick once-over for first impression
– Slow methodical second go-over for details
– Hook the trailer up and check. Note all electrical deficiencies
– Tow the trailer for a test drive to check the brakes and bearings (feel the hubs for heat after towing a couple miles)
– check each window for functionality
– check floor boards – lift the floor mats and look, also look from underneath the trailer
– check for frame rust and cracks. Look under the trailer from front to rear on both sides
– Check roof for rust, recently sealed seams, dents and cracks in metal, etc
– Check the bottoms of all doors for rust.
– Check tires. Ensure that all are actual trailer tires and they are in good condition. Also check the spare, to make sure it is the same size as the rest and in good condition
– Check all moving parts for function. Note any deficiencies
– Using your notes from your inspection, conduct research to find out what repairs may cost before deciding on an offer amount.
– Never get in a hurry. Urgency will cost you money, while patience will earn it.