Five years ago, custom hatmaker Tom Hirt was nearing the age when cowboys think about slowing down. He’d been making custom hats for decades. Well known in a specialized circle, his hats have been worn by President Reagan, Sam Elliot and Sharon Stone. The 1993 movie Tombstone featured a Tom Hirt hat on the head of Doc Holliday, played by Val Kilmer.  

In 2015 when asked to pass on his hatmaking skills at a five day summer class at Trinidad State, Hirt decided to give it a shot. He thought he could teach some hatmaking classes and scale back the number of hats he hand-produces at his home in Penrose, Colorado.  

But it didn’t work out that way. Hirt became even better known. “I’m busier than I used to be.” Hirt, who confesses to be on the far side of 60, now teaches one week of hatmaking at Trinidad State Junior College each summer at the Trinidad Campus and an identical class at Trinidad State’s Alamosa Campus. People come from all over the country to learn how to make a hat. California, Tennessee, North Carolina, Texas. If you Google “hatmaking class” the top result is Tom’s yearly trip to Trinidad. Hirt has never advertised, but through word of mouth, social media and feature articles Hirt’s popularity has grown.  

Mitch Peters, 50, is an engineer from Las Vegas, New Mexico. He saw an article in a regional magazine at a rest stop and asked his parents from Centennial, Colorado to come along. Val Peters said, “Mitch showed it to me and said, “Let’s do this.”  Val isn’t a Western hat fan, but Hirt agreed to modify the process for her. “I sent Tom some pictures of the hats I like and he said we could do that.” Her son and husband both wear cowboy style hats, so the whole family is in. Mitch said, “It sounded like a great opportunity to work with someone who really knows that they’re doing. All the kids go to summer camp, they learn how to blacksmith or make go carts or something and now this is summer camp for adults!”  The Peters are treating this as an adventure vacation. “We rented on AirBNB.  We’re staying in Cokedale at a sweet little house,” said Val.

The class is usually dominated by men, but that seems to be changing. Seven out of the 10 students in the June, 2019 class are women. For Hirt, it’s a fun dynamic.  “Guys will sit over in the corner and no one talks to anybody. It’s quiet as a mouse. The women liven up the place,” said Hirt. For women, he says it’s also a more creative and collaborative process.  

This class, said Patty Finley of Tennessee, “actually just fell in my lap. I was watching a lady from Nashville make hats and I thought, ‘that’s so interesting.’ Because I love hats.  I have about forty hats and I thought, ‘I could make hats.’” An internet search brought up Hirt’s name and she signed up quickly. “So here I am and I’m going to do amazing with this. Living near Nashville, I just know this is going to work for me. I want to do women’s retreats and help women make hats for themselves. I was supposed to do one for my husband, but I got greedy and I’m doing two for me,” she laughed.  

Dianne Nichols of Canyon, Texas tried to get into the class in 2018 but it was already full, so she tried again. “I’m making three hats. I originally started to make two, one for each brother.  And then I got here and I decided if I’m going to put all this work in, I’m going to make one for myself.”  One brother lives in Aguilar and one lives in Oklahoma and she says these hats will be used every day.  “This class is more than I expected.  I think the class size is perfect. It’s just a real relaxing environment.  I think I’d like to visit with Tom about what would be the next step if you wanted to be able to make hats for people.”  Hirt is used to the question. Many of his students declare they’d like to make more hats when they get home.     

Jeffrey Van Myers turned 73 during the class. He’s been coming to Trinidad State for several summers taking gun-related courses at Trinidad State’s NRA Summer Program.  “This place is exciting,” he declared.  He took a couple of leather working classes the previous summer and will spend five weeks at Trinidad State this summer. “I live in Driftwood, Texas on 21 acres. This is my fifth or sixth summer in a row to come to Trinidad State. I can’t imagine not coming up for something.”

Meanwhile back home in Penrose, the work is piling up for Hirt. He has a 12-week wait on custom hat orders. And he has an ongoing commitment to supply Kilmer with “Doc Holliday” hats. Kilmer began selling them to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the Tombstone release in 2018. In the first six months of 2019 Hirt produced about five dozen hats for Kilmer. “Right now I probably have eight custom orders sitting at home.  With more publicity comes more interest and I may find myself a year or two years from now having to have someone there helping.”  

So much for slowing down.  

To get your name on the waiting list for future classes contact Donna Haddow at Trinidad State at 719-846-5724.

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