FORAKER — There's a missing portion of the Watusi steer horn.
James Coldren takes a piece out of the horn for a buckle.
“I don't use patterns, I go by the eye,” Coldren said. Therefore no two buckles are alike.
Coldren takes the cut-out portion, steams it, puts it in a press for a day or two to get just the right curvature for a buckle, not too horseshoe-shaped, not too flat.
From there he cuts out the portion where the actual metal buckle goes through and connects side to side.
If a customer orders one with rawhide around the edge, he drills a series of holes. The branding of initials, or a ranch brand, is formed with wire a little smaller than baling wire. Then he inlays the silver on the brand.
He sands the buckle down “real fine” and then buffs it on the buffing wheel.
Customers can order a buckle that fits a three-quarter-inch belt or a standard size belt, an inch and a half. And while he does buff buckles, the order can specify the rough-out finish, which is not buffed.
The color, be it white, gray, black or almost a tan, is natural from the horn color.
Started in 1985
Coldren goes annually to Texas to buy the horns from a man who said he orders them from other countries.
Although the Oklahoman works with Watusi steer horns, that's not what he started with.
“There's a guy that started making these buckles when I was a kid and I always wanted one and I never had the money to buy one,” he said. “They were mostly out of Hereford horn, kind of a tan. He's still a good friend to this day and he showed me a lot about how he did it and got me started.
“Then I kind of modified it.”
So when James' brother gave him a buffalo horn in 1985, “I decided to try to make one myself. I've just been making them ever since.”
Marks reflect quantity
Any idea how many you've made since that first one?
Coldren walks over to a green door in his shop. Some people take a pencil and mark the height of their children through the years. He and wife, Shari, have two children, but on this door are the markings of his other children, the buckles. It's a wooden spreadsheet of sorts with years divided into months beginning in 1994. His most recent work is 1,633, but remember, he started making buckles nine years before he started recording them. Since 1994 the backs of those buckles includes Coldren's initials, the year date and the buckle number.
On the chart, those that are underlined include rawhide and silver. And it's easy to tell by the writing on the door that orders pick up in October and then go strong in November and December as Christmas approaches.
His prices range from $100 to $200 depending on what details the customer would like in his or her buckle.