Rattlesnake Crafts & Rocks : Page 3 of 4
Arizona Rattlesnake Crafts & Rocks
As a sideline, we would go out into the desert in search of artifacts left behind by Apaches or cowboys. We would bring those small items back and display them outside the shed that held the rattler crafts. We found quickly that many of the tourists were more interested in those relics than in our rattler crafts, so we began trading our crafts to the ranchers in the area.
They would give us the old items that they had in their barns and had no use for, and would accept our rattler crafts for gifts for their grandkids. We began to display all of those items outside, but would not offer them for sale. Just the rattler crafts were for sale. We learned that the weather did terrible things to any of the wood or leather items we displayed, like saddles or stirrups, or barrels. But iron things like branding irons, old rifles & pistols, hatchets, axes, picks, and blacksmith tools, would just rust, but last forever outside. Slowly, but surely those items have increased to where we now have over 5,000 different interesting things on display outside. Someday we may have a huge auction...we're getting pretty long in the tooth to be hunting rattlers, but it's still fun for us.
Q: Are you two the only ones running the business, or do others help? Do you enjoy working together?
A: We spend just about 98% of our time together, and enjoy the solitude of the remote location we're in. Our shop now is in the middle of a 10,000 acre ranch and the nearest towns are about 15 miles away. We get about 600 to 700 visitors per month during the tourist season of from December to May, and that total drops off quite a bit during the other months where we just get locals and their visitors. Being located just 15 miles from Tombstone makes it a convenient stop for folks who are looking for something different, and the local shop owners always suggest our place to visitors.
Q: Taking a day-trip to your store and museum through the Arizona desert is definitely a treat to experience first-hand, although not one everyone can make. Do you sell your rattlesnake crafts and rocks on your Web site or through other online outlets? Do store owners in souvenir towns like Tombstone buy and resell your products?
A: We have a web site now, but have decided at least for the time being, not to sell through our web site. It's a 35 mile round trip to a post office, and we're not ready for beginning a shipping business. We do sell to some of the Tombstone shops, but our items get pretty expensive when marked up by 100% or more.
Q: Since you've walked this path with seeming success, what advice would you give to others thinking about leaving their day-job to pursue an unconventional life or creative dream?
A: It's hard for us to give any advice to people considering doing something like we did. For us, it has worked out well, and we've been modestly successful, but we think every once in a while of what would have happened if either of us had a major health problem, after we left our good company health insurance behind.
Q: Sandy, you do most of the harvesting and prep work on the snakes after catching them. Since most of us run the other way when snakes slither towards us, how long did it take you to embrace doing this work? Did you and John easily agree on "snakes" early on?
A: John showed me how he processed the first snake we caught in Arizona 30 years ago, and I thought that was something I could do to contribute to our new adventure. It's become so automatic now that I don't even think much about the skinning and tanning while I'm doing it.
Q: Is the work ever more challenging than you'd prefer? Have you dreamed of trading your dry desert day-job back for the air-conditioned office work-a-day life?
A: Sometimes a particular item we make is a real challenge to sew or craft, but never enough to make me think of returning to office work. For an outdoor person, as I am, it's great.
Q: Do you design or make any of the jewelry or crafts you sell?
A: Sometimes I offer suggestions, or come up with an idea for a particular item, but John is the creative one.
Q: Do you enjoy any other passions or creative pursuits?
A: I knit, read, do crosswords and play my keyboard. I enjoy our trips to flea markets and to shop, but I'm always ready to leave the city and head for home when we're finished.
Q: John, you use every part of the rattlesnake the rattle, fangs, vertebrae, skin, and ribs to make over 150 different kinds of rattlesnake craft items, from knives, wallets, belts, and cell phone cases to hatbands, jewelry, and jerky from the meat. What are your 10 most popular items, and did you have a creative longing towards making things like this while in the work-a-day world?
A: Out of the 150 or so different items we make, the most popular with our customers are the wallets, the credit card cases, earrings, bracelets, belts, and necklaces. We use the ribs, the vertebrae, the fangs and the rattles in our different jewelry items, and decorate them with semi-precious stones such as turquoise. We've found women to be the most active when it comes to buying our items...many men are OK with their 5 year old wallets and 10 year old belts.