Making Ski Boots an Art
To a craftsman often belongs much of the credit for a sport. Skiing, for instance, would have made poor progress without the bootmakers. One of the masters of the craft lives is in Jamaica plain, Mass., Peter Limmer, once of the Bavarian Alps.
He comes by his skill naturally. His father was a bootmaker, and his great-grandfather was a boot maker.
Two of his brothers, one in New Jersey and one abroad, are bookmakers too. Their favorite story is that their father stitched uppers for 65 years without glasses.
Mrs. Peter Limmer, born Mary Bucherl, was the daughter of a shoemaker and the sister of two. It was her early intention never to marry another.
But today even her two sons, Peter, 20, and Francis, 17, are apprentices to the trade, and she herself does the fancy stitching on her husband's boots in her spare time.
The WorkshopPeter Limmer fills an order for one pair of boots when he will not for a hundred. An individual skier goes right to his heart, never a department store. Time and again the men behind mass production have knocked at his door, and every time he refuses to listen.
Peter Limmer has a small business. He wants to keep it small. When you do lots, he says, a boot loses its excellence. And when he makes a boot, everything must be "j-u-u-st right!"
There is one thing he would like, he admits, more space in the front shop. It's a tiny room with a large window over-hanging the street, and into it are crowded Peter, his two sons, his two assistants, known as "Charlie" and "Jim"; rows and rows of leather shoes and wooden lasts, shoes machines' work benches, a framed diploma of Peter's certificate from the old German shoe-making guild,—he was one of the youngest ever to receive it, —and a dozen or more posters of the high mountains in Bavaria, Switzerland, France, and New Hampshire.
In the wall is a tiny window, not quite the size of a person's face. It opens into the front hall, and every now and then Mrs. Limmer pops it open to say briskly, "Peter, some gentlemen here to be measured."
His SpecialtiesThen Peter drops everything and runs down the hall, through the xxx room with the two cuckoo clocks and the photographs of eidleweise... (Clipping Damaged.)
9-Year-Old BootsThe secret troubles of this country's most famous skiers are an open book to him. About an instructor at Sun Valley he can say, "Oh, yes, he has darn funny feet, very flat and all bones. He wrote last week to say he cannot get a satisfactory pair of boot in Idaho." Or about a racer from New Hampshire, "He came in here with a pair of my boots, only two years old, and the toes curled up like a rocking chair!"
"Like a pretzel," inserted Mrs. Limmers.
"Yes, like a pretzel, and he was afraid to bring them back. He said he thought he ought to have them repaired someplace else first before he dared to bring them here. I told him it would have been a good idea. Anybody who'd use a boot like tat ought to be ashamed of himself."
And at the very recollection Peter Limmer's face fills with righteous indignation.
It takes a man a day and a half to stitch a boot after the uppers are cut, using the best of leather. No good bootmaker likes to have it forgotten.
A customer of whom Peter Limmer approves is the man who bought the first pair of ski boots he made in this country, nine years ago. They are as sound today as when he ordered them. He has kept them faithfully greased and on boot trees.
This same man has also had a pair made every year since, not to wear, but just for the record, as a kind of history of ski boots. The thought of his collection makes Peter wild. He himself failed to keep any models, and now to put it mildly, he wishes he had.
Overhead, above the second shop, up a high narrow flight of stairs, is a third workshop—the holy of holies.
Ski Boot Most Difficult(Clipping Damaged.) ...out onto to mountains, high peaks and unbroken snowfields. The first two years the family lived in Jamaica Plain they missed them dreadfully. Then they began to learn English, acquired friends, and made ends meet. Now they never want to go back.
They would still like to go up to the White Mountains every week-end if they could. Peter likes to climb, in leather shorts and half socks, a hat with a chamois brush and a gray jacket set off with green collars and cuffs and elkhorn buttons.
Flowers From the Alps
Perhaps the family's proudest possession is an eidleweiss plant in their rock garden brought over from the Alps by a friend of theirs two years ago. There in Jamaica Plain the dusty, fuzzy leaves and petals the texture of thick white velvet thrive each summer much as it did among the rocks high above the timberline in the Alps.
Mrs. Limmer has one dried eidleweiss blossom in a crystal locket. And though it may be mid-winter now, in a corner of one of the three workshops you will see a large earthen flowerpot with a small green leaf curled on the soil. "That's eidleweiss I'm raising myself," Peter announces proudly. "They're delicate plants, very hard to grow, but I move it with the sun a dozen times a day. You have to watch it like a baby."
During the war, when he was still a young boy, Peter served as a member of the army for four years and eight months under almost incredible circumstances. In one of his first engagements he was taken prisoner by the Russians. Thereafter he was shipped from pillar to post for the duration of hostilities. He himself has no idea how many thousand miles he covered between 1914 and 1918.
He reached St. Petersburg the day the revolution broke out. He was lined up to face the firing squad and only missed death by a fluke. He was kept on rations that reduced him to 84 pounds and required him to walk, if he wanted to walk at all, on crutches. For four years he had no expectation of living to return to his parents. The presence of death became so constant he grew almost indifferent to it.
He was in prison in the Caucasians and in Finland. He was shipped from the White Sea to the Black Sea. He stayed in a half-dozen of the cities which the Italian and Greek battles are brining into the news now: Constantinople, Salonika, and Baku.
Yet when he returned from the war he found that every member of his family was alive and well, and he was one of 13 children, eight of whom had been drafted.
Two souvenirs he values particularly in Jamaica Plain are water colors done by a fellow prisoner, an artist, who painted tem for a piece of bread because he was starving. They are respectively, a view of the prison barracks and graveyard, and a view of the cliff below the camp over the Black Sea. Every morning the coast below that cliff was littered with the bodies of prisoners who had committed suicide.
Mrs. Limmer keeps the pictures in a dark closet to preserve their colors, and dust off the frames and glass when she brings them out.
She cooks the meals exactly as she did in the Alps. "Lettuce and mayonnaise, we don't like anything like that. We have plain, good food, bread dumplings and noodle and black bread and sauerkraut. That's what keeps us strong and healthy."
For an honored guest she reserves a glass of light, dry wine and a plate of hard, sweet cookies, served in the living-room with the two cuckoo clocks.
A whole way of life, you see, goes into the making of Limmer boots. Clattering down the New England slopes and trails, how many skiers guess it?