I was fortunate to be invited to join all the TCAA saddle makers & Don Reeves to tour the Hermann Oak Leather Tannery. On March 29/14 I flew from Calgary, Alberta to St Louis, MO. Shep Hermann picked up Chuck Stormes, Perdro Perdini and myself and took us to our hotel in St. Louis, the historic Missouri Athletic Club.
March 30 was the first of our two day tour of Hermann Oak. We were all picked up from the hotel by Hermann Oak staff and taken to the tannery. After introductions we sat down in the main office with Shep Hermann and some key Hermann Oak employee’s. Over the next couple hours Shep explained the plans he had for us in regards to the tannery tour, the company history, and their business philosophy.
After our discussions in the office the group of saddle makers along with Shep and some of the department heads from Hermann Oak we started out tour of the tannery. The tour was in chronological order from when the cowhide arrives to the finished leather. According to the staff this tour was by far the most in-depth Hermann Oak has ever done, they explained each and every process of tanning leather from the hides arriving salted, to the cleaning and un-hairing process, then the hides are taken to the rocker room where they start the process of tanning the leather using some machinery and tanning vats that are over 130 years old, this process can take 2-6 weeks. Then the leather goes into large wood drums to put back into the leather fat liquors and oils. This process takes a couple days, the leather is then put thru a slicker machine and then taken upstairs to the drying room where it is hung and dried.
After we finished the tour of the tanning process we had a very detailed question and answer period with Shep Hermann, the department heads and the chemists going over all the different processes of tanning leather. These discussions were very informational for us saddle makers and for the Herman Oak staff. This concluded day 1 of our tannery tour.
The next morning we started with another quick question and answer period, we then went upstairs to complete the tour of the tannery.
We spent a large amount of time going the grading process, learning all the different defects in leather and what the effects of these are. Along with the grading department heads we went over each and every defect, how the leather is selected and graded etc. Shep had all of us saddle makers to make a list of our top 5 most important leather defects. This discussion was again very educational for us makers and the Hermann Oak staff.
Next we met Earl and Ron whom are the two gentlemen who grade the leather.
We all had many questions for Earl & Ron in regards to how leather is graded, then the staff brought to us many different sides of leather so we could see the different defects and grades of leather, as a group we had very details discussions on each side of leather we looked at.
After our discussion on grading leather we finished the tour of the tannery, seeing all the other processes involved, splitting the leathers, dying and hot stuffing with wax and much, much more.
We then spent another few hours in the office, with another very in-depth discussion with Shep Hermann & staff with any and all questions we had about the tanning process or leather in general.
Something Cary Schwarz said after the tour which I had to agree with 100% “this was a life changing event, I’ll never look at Hermann Oak leather in the same way after visiting their tannery.”
I was simply amazed at the amount of knowledge that I gained about leather and the tanning process. This was yet another awesome experience, many thanks to the TCAA and the fellowship program.