Harley Parlin has died.
Harley owned Boot Hill Case Company. He was a kind, generous man, a meticulous craftsman and all around great guy.
I wish I had known him well. We met several years ago when one of my cases needed work and friends suggested him. Instead of shipping the case, I drove it up to his house. I’m glad I did.
Harley and his wife Kit lived in a farmhouse in western Maine. It was winter and especially cold when I arrived. Handshakes were reserved for once I was inside and the door shut. Harley looked like a page out of an old L.L Bean catalog, dressed in khaki pants and a faded green chamois shirt. Trim and enthusiastic, I would have guessed he was 52 or 53. Actually, he was around 60.
His shop was in the basement. There were big machines on the floor–a table saw, a sander, a drill press. Rolls of leather were stacked on shelves in a corner. Punches, awls and dozens of wooden-handled tools filled racks around a table. The shop looked ready for inspection and I had a feeling it always looked this way.
Harley spent years in Maine’s shoe-making industry and used this knowledge of leather craft to start Boot Hill. What he didn’t know about vintage cases he figured out through ingenuity, intelligence and perseverance.
Thanks to his superb work, he thrived. My case was typical. A oak gun case made in Britain around 1866, it was lined with red wool baize and the original maker’s label was glued in the lid. All it needed was a little fixing up and some stabilizing. A lot of people could have done the work. Harley was going to do it because he would do it right.
Harley was proud of his work and as we talked, he showed me pictures of his other projects. The motor-style case he made from scratch for this Purdey 3-barrel set was impressive. The skill and craftsmanship that went into making it were as stunning as the gun.
I headed up to Harley’s shop a few more times over the next few years. Harley always took the time to show me what went into his trade – from how an oak-and-leather gun case is made to the basics of stitching and tooling. I appreciated it a great deal.
One evening we went fly-fishing on a boulder clogged river near his home. I forgot my glasses back in my truck and I remember squinting hard to spot rises near my bobbing fly. I fumbled, tangled a bunch of casts, missed some strikes. Harley caught some brook trout, mostly small ones, none longer than a revolver. We had a good time.
I saw Harley one more time. I don’t remember why I headed back to his shop. Whatever the reason, it was really just an excuse to spend some time with Harley and his craft.
Goodbye my friend. You’re missed a great deal.