Red Wing makes 2,600 pairs of boots and shoes a day

August 30, 2004|JOHN T. DAVIS

Every morning a truck from Minnesota rolls down Hustonville Road to the Red Wing Shoe factory. It carries sheets of leather, still shaped like cows, and other raw materials. At the end of most days, it will be loaded back up with 2,600 pairs of boots and shoes.

Red Wing Shoes was founded 99 years ago, and has a decade's history in Danville.

From leather sheet to sole, skilled employees here construct 100 different styles of shoes. The company prides itself on making durable, hard-working boots that protect the feet of construction workers, industrial workers, firefighters and business professionals.

"We are the Cadillac of the work-boot industry," said Terry Martin, cutting and fitting manager.

First a sharp metal die is used to cut the different parts of the boots' leather upper. The work looks much like a baker using cookie cutters on rolled-out dough. The die is placed on top of the leather and then a heavy press comes down on it forcing the die through the hide.


Then the shoe-piece shapes are sewn together on industrial machines. Tags are sewn on and the places that will be sewn are sheared down. This helps make a smoother seam and more comfortable fit. The leather is marked in silver, so the seamstresses know where to sew.

A lot of hand sewing

Red Wing boots are put together for optimum fit and comfort, and that requires a lot of hand sewing, said plant manager John Gajdosik.

A sign that hangs from the ceiling reads, "Be alert. Don't get hurt." It is an appropriate motto for a factory where people work with powerful sewing machines and sharp edges.

When the upper is finished it goes to the other side of the factory so a sole can be added. There are several layers in a sole of a boot. That layer is shaped on a last, a plastic model of a foot. Red Wing Shoes come in a range of sizes and widths. Each different size and width has its own model. There are also different toe shapes for the different styles of shoe; some more square and some more rounded.

The insole is attached to make up the top of the sole. A steel shank, for arch support, and foam or cork make up the inside of the sole. All the sole's pieces are kept together with a piece of rubber that is sewn on.

The bottoms of the boots are heated up on a flash activator that looks like a barbecue pit. Workers heat them up on the grill and then press the boot and sole bottom together. The edges are shaved off and the boot is ready for finishing where the laces are added and the leather conditioned.

The final step is to pack the boots in a box.

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