Cowboys take their hats off to her
Joyce Myers, a 75-year-old Colorado mountain native, has a special talent.”Hatting is a lost art, really,” Joyce said as she toyed with the feather in her beaver-and-rabbit-fur black cowboy hat. “There aren’t many places that still do it.”Joyce said most folks who want a new cowboy hat buy it already shaped right off the rack.”But you have to shape it for the look on your face,” Joyce said. “Getting your hat shaped is like a fitting – in the same way you would have a dress or a suit fitted.”Joyce said she runs into a lot of city slickers who pick up hats and set them on the back of their heads as if the hats are oversized yarmulkes.”That is the most improper way to wear a hat,” Joyce said, pulling her own hat down on her head until it covered her auburn hair and shielded her light face and blue eyes. “It should be square on your head.”Joyce also warned that people should buy their hats a little on the loose side because the leather band around the inside contracts when it gets wet with the sweat off the wearer’s brow.
Joyce said most true cowboys know how they want their hats shaped. She folded over the corners of the hat sitting in her lap to form a flat square.”This is called a shovel,” Myers said. Then she changed the shape of the hat and curved the ends so the front would slope downward over the wearer’s eyes. “And this is a rake.”Myers said the hat she manipulated so easily with her fingers was easy to demonstrate on because she’d had it for more than 15 years and has cleaned it numerous times, making it soft and pliable.Joyce grew up in Redcliff, a tiny town close to the mining village of Gilman between Vail and Leadville. She was a self-proclaimed small-town girl who spent summers at her grandmother’s restaurant in Glenwood Springs.”I would take my hamburger and French fries out to the street and watch the locomotives come in,” Myers said.She remembers people bringing polo ponies off the trains and taking them to Sayre Park for polo games before neighborhoods went up in that area.Myers spent a lot of time with her step-grandfather, Del Parry, during those summers. Parry was Myers’ grandmother’s third husband. Her first was a bigamist with a family in Wales and her grandmother’s family in Colorado. He left them for a third family in California.
Myers’ grandmother’s second husband died of black lung. He was a miner in Gilman. Parry was a fry cook in her restaurant. He worked for her after he got out of the Navy, where he had been a cook.”He introduced me to my husband,” Myers said. “He kept telling me about this horse jockey. When we got up to his ranch up toward Sunlight, there was my husband-to-be, spreading manure.”She married Jess Myers in August 1959. They had four sons, Jess III, Jerel, June and Jack.Of having the names of everyone in the family start with “J,” Joyce said, “We thought that was pretty funny when we did it, but it wasn’t a very good idea.”Just after Jess III was born, the little family picked up and went to a big ranch in Vernal, close to Ouray. They lived in a cabin with dirt floors and no water.”I cooked on a stove this big,” Myers said as she stretched her hands just wide enough to hold a placemat. “It had two burners, and the stove was big enough to hold a pan of biscuits. I’d go down to the creek to pack the water up and pass a ledge where the mountain lions were sunning themselves.”They hung their meat out to dry during the day and drove into town once a month for supplies.
Myers and her family were only on the ranch about four months to help Jess’ father. Myers said she’s been back since and the ranch hasn’t changed.Her father-in-law is the one who taught Myers to shape hats. He would buy hats for himself, soak them in the tub, shape them and hang them upside down to dry. Now she uses steam to shape hats.Joyce and Jess spent most of their lives working with horses. Joyce trained horses, and Jess raced them until he got older, when he worked as a farrier. They worked at the Abacus Ranch in Snowmass and built the arena there, using remnants of Camp Hale near Joyce’s hometown of Redcliff.After they left that job in the late 1960s, Joyce worked as a housekeeper in Aspen for $20 per hour during the winter in order to keep summers free for touring with the horses. Then she was offered a position at Bill Bullocks department store for $2 per hour, minimum wage.”Bullocks didn’t think we women knew how to do anything in the Western departments,” Myers said. “I became a fixture. I know more about hats and boots than ladies dresses, and I became the boot and hat buyer for Bullocks.”Now Myers works at the Rock’N Star Ranch in Glenwood Springs. The business is closing this summer, and Myers says several people have asked what she’ll do next. She’s not sure, though she thinks she will probably work out of her home because she knows a lot of people rely on her.”It takes a little bit to learn how to shape hats,” Myers said. “It doesn’t just come natural.”
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