ROARING FORK VALLEY—(August 6, 2013) As a little girl, Ginny Harrington remembers running next door to her Great Aunt Cedelia (Roy) Johnson’s farm house, to a special loft filled with ladies hats.
“These were the glorious ladies hats with sequins and beads and feathers and silk flowers,” said Harrington, whose family has ranched in the San Juans for generations and who now lives near Carbondale. “It was wonderful! I was big enough that I could climb the ladder to the loft and play with the hats. I stood in front of a mirror for hours looking at myself in those hats.
“I have loved hats since.”
Today, Ginny makes her own cowboy hats, entirely by hand—a small business that is a natural outgrowth of the life she and her husband Tom have intentionally built, a life centered around a family tradition of love, ranching, giving back to the community and hands-on creativity.
“I call my hat business Quarter Circle Lazy H,” said Harrington, who inherited the brand from a cherished lifelong friend, Charlene Kinney. “This was one of their family brands and Charlene gave it to Tom and I on Christmas in December of 2005. She passed away that next spring. She loved hats as I do. In fact, she wore the same size hat as I, and I have several of her hats that were given to me and yes, I wear them.”
Tom and Ginny also use the brand for their own cattle herd, Ginny noted.
Although Ginny has accomplished much in her professional life—A CSU graduate, she has served as head of the Ouray County Historical Society and Northern San Juan Alliance, and helped to establish the ranching history museum in Colona while living on the Double RL Ranch (where Tom served as ranch manager) in Ridgway a decade ago—today she spends her days in traditional ranching activities that keep those traditions alive. When Tom is not busy on the ranch he currently manages in the Roaring Fork Valley, he turns his skills to leatherwork, and to building his own saddles and other leather items under the name Harrington Saddlery.
“These are just things you do on a ranch, things we do and enjoy together,” Harrington said. “These are things you might need. My mom and dad live on 40 acres, and they are very creative to this day—mom is a seamstress, and dad welds and also can work on any type of vehicle. Creativity was always part of my upbringing, and I always did 4H.
“I especially love Western history, and the industries like ranching, agriculture and mining that are inherent to Colorado,” she said. “It’s part of me.”
The two small businesses came about after Tom and Ginny took a class together at the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Elko two years ago, she said.
“Tom has always done leatherwork, and he wanted to take a class,” Ginny said. “I took a cowboy felt hat making class, and I kept in touch with the friend I met there. She helped me find the supplies I need, old hat blocks—wooden blocks that correspond as closely as they can to heads, and you need all sizes. I finally have put together my tools. You need the right tools for stretching the hat.
“I am not going very fast right now, but that’s not the point,” she said. “The point is to do a great job, and to enjoy seeing people wear them. It’s about making something from your own heart.”
Putting hands and heart to work are part of an overall partnership that has kept this ranching couple happy, and living the life they were both born to live.
“Communities were more tight-knit when my grandparents were young,” Ginny said. “Tom and I feel that honoring those who went before is part of taking care of the land. We want to carry it forward. We want our grandchildren to know where their food comes from.”
Although Ouray County, where Ginny’s ancestors have lived for generations, will always be home, the Roaring Fork Valley has proven to be an excellent fit for the Harringtons, who now live at Crystal River Ranch.
“The owner of this ranch is wonderful,” Ginny said. “She makes it about family. The whole family rides the ranch; wives and kids have the opportunity to help out with moving cattle, checking on new calves, branding and just enjoying the ranch.”
Doing things in traditional ways is part of the Harrington family philosophy.
“We are trying to preserve history through living it,” Ginny said. “I love to read about history, but I also want to keep it alive. Sometimes the way we do things seems old-fashioned, but they were done that way for a reason. We like to do things for ourselves as we can.”
Tom has done leatherwork since age 12, building his own tack and other items, and shoes his own horses most of the time, she said.
“We rope and drag for branding, all horseback work, the traditional way of branding and working cattle,” Ginny said. “We ‘neighbor’ with other ranchers and neighbors and friends. Everyone helps each other out. It’s about preserving our heritage and honoring those who came before through the way you live each day. I sew and I can and I put up all kinds of things. Since people love my jalapeño pickles, I have traded them for all kinds of stuff. I did 72 quarts and 18 pints of the jalapeño dills last year and 36 jars of old fashioned sweets for Tom last year. Tom also loves salsa, so I put up 186 pints last year.
“People here have told us, ‘you fit right in.’ We have been blessed to find such a great place to settle,” she said. “We want to pass on this heritage and traditional way of ranching to our granddaughter Tegwyn, who is two. We love that she and our daughter Crystal get to spend a good part of summer with us on the ranch. Tom can put Tegwyn on the front of his saddle, and take her with him when he goes to feed and irrigate.”
Both Tom and Ginny serve on numerous boards, both local and statewide. Tom serves on the board of the Carbondale Wild West Rodeo, which runs on Thursday evenings for 12 weeks each summer (Aug. 8 will be the tenth rodeo of the 2013 season). Ginny updates the rodeo web site, continues to do historical presentations as time permits, and to record her memories of her family and her own life as a ranch wife. At the center of it all is a marriage that is as much a working partnership as the embodiment of a shared lifelong dream.
Every year, Tom wears a hat built by Ginny to the Roaring Fork Ranch Roping Event (Sept. 7-8), which he helped to start, and which draws enormous community support. Ginny wears chaps made for her by Tom as a Christmas gift. And together, they live a life that shows how much is possible, even today.
“Last week I put up green beans,” Ginny said. “I try to have a big garden, but this is high altitude, so if I can’t grow it I will buy or trade for it locally. I do end up spending time on my computer each day, but it is nice to do things that produce more tangible results—something you can look at, and hold.
“Just last night at the rodeo I made a deal with a local ranch wife to trade her more of my orange brandy syrup to use in her pancakes and muffins in exchange for a crunchy salad topping that she makes that is sooo yummy…
“Tom would tell you I am way behind on the mending. I guess it will wait ‘til winter.”
To learn more about Ginny’s hats, call 970-318-0076; to learn more about Harrington Saddlery or the Roaring Fork Ranch Roping (Vaquero style, big loop roping) event, call 970-275-1165.