A passion for making fine felt cowboy hats
“I was always into hats,” said Brooks Atwood, “I shaped my own as a kid and worked for Leddy’s in San Angelo in the hat department while I was in college. It was there that I learned the difference between a good hat and a really fine hat.”
Brooks’ father, Dick Atwood, started Atwood Hat Company in 1996. A business born out of necessity that sprang forth because of Dick’s constant search for a hat that would work as hard as he did and still look good enough to wear to town after the workday was done. What started out in a 12 by 16 foot portable building on the Atwood’s ranch has since grown to become a leader in the western hat industry. According to Brooks, “I started making felt hats six or seven years after my father started Atwood Hat Company. He started with the palm leaf hat, and it was absolutely the American dream come to life. His goal was to make the best hat no matter the material. My dad was a great example of hard work and vision. The big hat companies kind of scoffed at him and one even told their sales reps that a year from now you won’t remember his name. A great man with a great product is hard to whip I guess. They never got it done.”
At this time, Atwood Hat Company was making everything but a felt hat, so Brooks set out to teach himself how. “I only ruined about $38,000 worth before I started to get it,” laughed Brooks. “But, I was blessed with some great teachers and eventually figured it out.”
“Fast forward about 15 years and I was making what I thought, as did many others, the best felt hat on the market. Then it happened. We have a place in Fort Davis and one day I wandered over to Alpine, Texas to Spradley Hats. I had never heard of them and it was just killing me. This is when I met Jim Spradley, we were instant friends. I immediately knew he was special, and then I touched one of his hats and it was like the heavens opened up and I found the Holy Grail of hats. That’s where it all started,” said Brooks.
“One day I was talking to Jim on the phone and he expressed that his shoulders were giving him some trouble and I offered to block some hats for him and just get the hats started. I did that for some length of time and paid more visits to his shop, learning more from him each time. Then he tasked me to help with more of the steps in his process. More time passed, more visits. More steps for me. Finally, he had three hats to make for three guys who came in together. He sent me the felt and told me to make them start to finish all the way down to putting their name in the sweatband. I was pinched up. I wasn’t sure I could live up to the Spradley legacy. Well, I shipped him the hats and the guys all told him that those were the best hats he had ever made for them. That’s when he told them that he never touched them, his friend Brooks Atwood made them.
It was shortly after that Jim called me. I said ‘hello’ and the first words out of his mouth were ‘you have a decision to make.’ You are buying this hat shop or I’m closing it after all these years of hard work. We talked about it and figured out how to do it and here I am.”
To this day Brooks still makes these Spradley Hats out of the finest material that is to be found anywhere, just like Jim told him about. All of the hats are still handmade, one at a time by Brooks Atwood, using the same time-honored traditions used by master hatters for centuries, with some of the tools used dating back to 1850.
“There really is only one explanation for this journey. It’s a straight up God given gift,” said Brooks. “It took me a long time to figure out what I was supposed to do in life. I spent time on the road with a band, did the Nashville thing for a few years, got close but not close enough. Had an Air Conditioning company for nine years, hated that. Ran a lot of outside cattle for a long time. Turns out I was a hat maker all along.”
“Hat making is a great and challenging profession. It lets you create with your hands and interact with the finest sort of people and I love every minute of it. So, long story short, God knew all along where he was taking me, but he also knew that I was hardheaded so he thought it best to make me earn it. I’m thankful every day for a dad who taught me how to work and enjoy my fellow man and showed me what quality in a product really is. And for Jim Spradley who is in the finest sense of the word a disciple of Christ. He showed me how that plays into following your dreams of making the best product that you possibly can for those that trust you to do so.”
Meet us at Dienger Trading Co. on June 3 to get the best quality, best fitting hat available – We will be taking our last orders until October, 2024.
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