In Memoriam: Al Tietjen, 1928 – 2009
It is with great sadness that the TCAA marks the passing of one of this organization’s most esteemed members; Bit and Spur maker Al Tietjen. Albert Herman Tietjen, 80, of Reno, NV passed away at his home on October 8, 2009, following a brief battle with cancer.
Tietjen grew up on a ranch and from his early years, he possessed that inherent interest in cowboy gear. But when he and Elmer Miller decided to open a custom bit and spur shop in San Francisco, California, he embarked on a brand new career. “I was just a pup then,” he recalls. “I didn’t know a thing about making bits and spurs—I just decided to look at what other people were doing, and do it.”
Miller, of the acclaimed Elmer Miller School of Bit and Spur Making had been a rancher, too—in Paradise Valley, Nevada, and while the two men were making a living in San Francisco, Miller’s father died, and he inherited the ranch.
“Miller moved to Paradise Valley and took over the ranch. He was my partner for five years. I was drafted into the Korean War in 1951, and Miller took the business with him to the ranch,” Tietjen says.
Tietjen had never shown an interest in art. “I couldn’t draw my name,” he says. Nevertheless, he became a maker of bits and spurs that were coveted by ranchers and riders everywhere. After returning from the service, he went back to the ranch and worked with Miller in haying and making bits and spurs—and that Fall, he moved to Reno and went to work for Ford Garage.
In 1954, Tietjen married, and he continued to tinker with the western gear that felt comfortable in his hands. “I was a grease monkey,” he says, “because making bits and spurs alone at that time created a starvation diet. I had to work someplace else, too, to put beans on the table.” He made bits and spurs in his spare time.
But he had a sharp eye for business. In 1968, he realized the potential of mass producing stainless steel bits based on his old patterns. “You just can’t mass produce the homemade stuff,” he says. He ran the stainless steel business until 1985, when foreign competition forced him to shut down.
At that time, Tietjen went back to his original handmade methods, and he worked making bits and spurs for a limited clientele. Tietjen bits have been owned and used with pride for many years.