American Made: The Countryside of Texas
The raw material for your wool felt hat primarily comes from the great state of Texas, where sheep graze the open plains and frolic under the normally sunny Texas skies. This region has just the right moisture level to produce the highest quality wool. The farm families that produce this important commodity have a rich ranch culture that has become a Texas tradition. Whole families are involved in the hard work that requires their attention every hour of the day, 7 days a week, and 52 weeks a year. Every member of the family is part of the family affair, and from a very early age, kids are taught the value of hard work, and are expected to do their share before and after school and on weekends. There is no doubt that sheep ranching is a family affair.
Producing quality wool for market is a complicated enterprise that requires all hands on deck. It also requires cooperation from Mother Nature, as the amount of rainfall in any given year can have a huge impact on the profitability and success of that year’s wool production. Years with abundant rainfall are generally the best years for high-quality wool production, while dry years can be very challenging, requiring the added expense of purchasing food to feed the sheep and to purchase the precious water needed in the production process. Sheep must eat no matter what, so when the rain doesn’t fall the grass doesn’t grow, necessitating the purchase of supplemental food to keep the sheep well-nourished, a critical requirement so they can grow thick quality wool.
There are approximately 20 sheep farms in Texas that produce raw material for our wool felt hats. These ranches are part of a local industry composed of family businesses passed down through the generations. Dedicated ranch owners have created businesses where sheep roam freely, and where twice a year, usually in April and September, the sheep are ready to be sheared. At that time the shearing crew arrives. Supervised by a contractor referred to as “captain,” they are brought in to do this very important work that not just anyone can do. Most shearers live locally, but when demand is high workers are brought from New Zealand, taking advantage of the skilled worker’s visa program. These workers, many of whom ranch in their own country, join the local crew to get the job done quickly. Often they come with their wives who work sorting the wool that is especially dirty, assuring that only the highest quality wool is packed into the final bales.
Next in the process bales of wool are sent to our scouring facility in San Angelo Texas. The Bollman Hat Company has been operating this plant since the 1940’s, actually acquired ownership in October of 1990. In this 750,000 square feet facility, the incoming wool bales are weighed, tested, purchased, and prepared for the washing and carbonizing process. The highest quality wool for the world’s leading mills are scoured here, however, due to the vast volume of wool needed to make our wool felt hats, some of the bales need to be sent off to other facilities so that the vegetable material can be extracted from the wool and the wool can be prepared for felting. This is done by washing the wool, then placing it in an oven-like container and treating it with an acid which separates the vegetable matter from the wool, turning it to ash, after which the wool gets washed again. Once complete, the wool can finally be sent to our factory in Pennsylvania for felting.
After the wool bales are received at the Bollman Hat Company factory in Pennsylvania, the wool felting process can begin. However, we will save that story for another day! For now, we hope you will savor the images of the complex network of Texan ranchers and skilled wool masters presented here, and that you will appreciate the men and women who have been practicing their craft with pride and determination for hundreds of years.