The boot brand Kreosote is but one man—JD Gabbard—some wonderful vintage tools, a 1978 Airstream, and one of the most unique and curious spirits in all of the handmade footwear world.
After decades traveling the world as a fine art photographer, Gabbard found himself at a bench in a Texas cobbler shop, compelled to learn the trade of boot repair—the first step in his journey to making the things himself, from the last on up.
Today, operating out of that Airstream in the woods near-ish-by St. Louis, Gabbard hand-crafts some of the most singular boots you’ll find anywhere, each of which combines his own American folklore roots and deep historical inspiration. And while Gabbard’s boots are without question highly specific—”they’re not for everyone, they’re for people who aren’t quite like everyone” might as well be his motto—and necessarily not exactly cheap, drawing people into his world hasn’t ever been a concern. Making around 50 pairs a year, his wait list now extends out to 30 months.
While in the research phase before designing his PaRLOR SkAR engineer boot, Gabbard went all the way back to 1814 to trace the history of the engineer boot forward—and let’s just say he discovered some things that may rock your understanding of the style’s lineage and uses over the decades.
I can promise you the whole episode is one helluva ride—so give it a listen, and be sure to follow along with the photos below once we get to the engineer boot history section in the second half of the episode.
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This episode was sponsored by Grant Stone, one of the best values in Goodyear welted footwear, period
Gabbard’s Engineer Boot History (This Will Make a LOT More Sense if You Listen Along With the Episode)
1814: The Wellington Boot
Arthur Wellesley, the First Duke of Wellington, in 1814 commissioned his own shoemaker, Mr George Hoby of St James’s Street, London to build a tall-shafted leather riding boot constructed with side seams and a low heel. The inspiration for the Wellington Boot was the Hessian Boot first worn by German soldiers in the 18th century—these military riding boots became popular in England, particularly during the Regency period (1811–1820).
1861 to 1865: American Civil War Officers Calvary Ridding Boot
You can see hints of the early engineer design with a 17-inch side seam and back seam option with squared off toe complete with leather buckle strap for a horse riding spur.
1875: Charles Hyer’s Early Cowboy Boot
This one is more inspiration for Gabbard than a clear through-line to the emergence of the modern engineer boot—but again, you’ll understand more while listening to the episode.
1917 US Army Calvary Officers Riding Boot (aka, per Gabbard, the very first engineer boot)
Developed after America entered into WW1 in 1917 this boot is the closest in design and I believe it to be the very first “engineer boot” of its kind. This unique boot was offered up at an auction resembling a nearly perfect matching of the Chippewa Engineer boot of the 1940s: tall stovepipe shaft, elongated heel counter with wide buckle straps, gusset upper buckle strap complete with flat almond/square toe shape.
1939-1945 Royal Air Force & German Pilots Bomber Boots
The Royal Air Force bomber pilot buckle strap boot modeled after the “1936 Pattern Design Flying Boots” with lined lambswool, 14- to 17-inch shafts.
German Luftwaffe pilot flight boots complete with 24-watt electrically heated lambswool shafts dated 1942, made by HOFFMAN & Co.
1937-1940: The American Engineer Boot
American shoe manufactures Chippewa & Wesco Boots both released their first “Engineer Boot” between 1937-1939—similar in design, they were both popular with sportsmen, as well as industrial dock and metal workers. Nice price, too!
2021: Kreosote PaRLOR SkAR engineer boot
Huge thanks to Gabbard for coming on the Shoecast, and especially for amassing this fascinating history. You can read his complete version here.