The Cow Lot was where essential work was done on the ranch, where cowboys worked their cattle. Nat dreamed of providing the cowboys who worked there with two must-have tools of their trade, a good hat and a pair of boots that “FIT”. That dream manifested into an all-out Western retail store, the Cow Lot. A 54-year body of work began, dedicated to Service, Quality, Honesty & Integrity…i.e. the Western Way of Life and How You Wear It.
You can tell by lookin’ it came from the Cow Lot
To enter the doors of the Cow Lot was to enter Nat’s dream. The scene emulated the American West and its way of doing business. Product quality was second only to the integrity of the personalized service. Each salesperson was an actual cowboy, passionate to serve you, their guest. Whether you were the President of the bank or the bank held the mortgage on your property, you were treated like you were the King of the Cowboys, or the Queen of the Cowgirls, as the case might be. Art was created before your very eyes by one of Nat’s hired cowhands posing as a salesperson. Hats were shaped to best serve your lifestyle and personality. Boots were fitted. Fit was guaranteed. Prices were affordable. Customer satisfaction was the order of the day.
Together with his longtime friend Gene O’Brien, and later my father Dewey Orms, they built the Cow Lot into one of the finest Western Stores in North Texas, winning several awards including the Wendy Ryon Western Retailer of the Year. Nat met his life partner and wife, Tawana, at the store when she happened in for a new pair of Levis. The likes of legendary Larry McMurtry, author of Lonesome Dove, whose family ranched in the nearby town of Archer City, Texas, would stop and have a cup of coffee and visit and maybe buy a new pair of boots or a new hat. Nat was a pioneer in TV and Radio. In the early ’50s The Nat Fleming Show was one of the first on local TV providing 30 minutes a day 5 days a week. A big deal then because TV was only on 3 hours a day. He started broadcasting a weekly Saturday morning radio show from the store, The Nat Fleming Horn Honkin’ Show. When he saw a car drive by he would ask, ‘Honk your horn if you are listening .” 90% of the time the driver would honk and wave. The store grew and so did Nat’s inventory. Boot sizes ran from AAA widths to D. Fit was of utmost importance. Nat believed, ‘If you have to have a license to cut hair, you should have to have one to sell shoes.” People came from all over the United States to buy boots that “Fit”, the same was true with hats. Longtime Cow Lot general manager, JR Gahagan, shaped and fit most of the cowboys who were shooting the then popular and now famous Marlboro Man advertisements on a nearby ranch.
Growing up in the Cow Lot, I was officially hired on in my Junior year of High School, where my skills in the art of boot fitting and hat shaping were fine-tuned. Just as importantly, I advanced my education in Nat’s University of Down Home Business, majoring in Homespun Philosophy and graduated with degrees in Service, Quality, Honesty & Integrity.
After 54 years of service to his customers, Nat closed the doors to the great retail icon of North Texas and retired to work the real Cow Lot at his ranch in Byers, TX, where he was born and raised. He passed away in 2018 at the age of 96 leaving behind his wife Tawanna and his son Marty, who still run their cattle operation.
So now what?
In 2013 I found myself presented with an opportunity to re-open the Cow Lot. With Nat’s blessing, I took on the Cow Lot brand and created a hybrid version….an event based retail Western Hat store, the focus being on the hand shaping of quality name brand hats. Most recently the Cow Lot has taken on Western footwear.
Nat coined the phrase, “You can tell by lookin’, it came from the Cow Lot”…And ‘You can tell by lookin’ where a cowboy is from by the shape of his hat.
The art of hand shaping hats is simply that -art. Each rodeo event, each discipline of horsemanship, each region of the country has their own unique way of wearing their hat: The art of ‘creasing’ or ‘shaping’ hats was perfected at the Cow Lot..and you could tell by lookin’.
Our audience consists of participants and spectators at major horse shows and rodeos located in, and West of, the Rocky Mountains. The ability to get a properly hand shaped hat is hard to find. Not surprising, demand and customer response to Service, Quality, Honesty & Integrity has been phenomenal.
Our mission is to continue Nat’s dream of Service, Quality, Honesty & Integrity…the Western Way of Life and How You Wear It, by providing an atmosphere of personalized customer service through the art of hand shaping cowboy hats and the fitting of Western footwear.
Our story continues.