If Pendleton awarded a “Mr. Round-Up” title, Randy Severe would definitely be in the running.

The rodeo is in the saddlemaker’s blood. Every year, he makes the lion’s share of the trophy saddles given to Round-Up champions. Severe Brothers Saddlery has completed more than 200 such trophy saddles since Severe’s father and uncle, Bill and Duff, made the first one in 1968. That year, only the steer roping champion (Allen Keller) won a trophy saddle, but slowly the tally went up. Today, there are 10 — one for each event, plus an all-around saddle. Randy made nine of the 2014 saddles, while Hamley & Co. fashioned the tenth.

He estimated that each Severe Bros. trophy saddle represents about 120 hours of labor. Sponsors pay a flat amount, but when the money runs out, Severe keeps going.

“That’s my civic contribution,” he said. “I make them the best saddle I know how to make.”

Severe could still vie for the “Mr. Round-Up” title even without all those trophy saddles. The popular cowboy served as Round-Up president in the Round-Up’s centennial year and has attended every Round-Up since he was a boy.

He also operates Hotel de Cowpunch, a bunkhouse on the second floor of his rustic saddle shop. Here, Round-Up cowboys find respite after brutal afternoons atop bulls and broncs. Superstars such as Larry Mahan and Ty Murray have bunked down at the cowboy hotel in the past decades. Bronc rider Casey Tibbs named the bunkhouse and hung the sign.

The current crop of riders look up to the saddlemaker, who gives the cowboys equal parts ribbing and hospitality. Often, the riders ask him to fix their banged-up saddles.

On a recent afternoon, Severe and a saddle bronc rider, Heath DeMoss, bent over a worn-out stirrup leather and pondered how to repair it. DeMoss and his brother, Cody, are frequent guests at the Hotel de Cowpunch. Severe nurtures Heath’s timeworn saddle — one he’s had since age 16. The saddle is as comfortable as a favorite pair of boots and DeMoss has no intention of giving it up unless the tree breaks. DeMoss, who is currently fourth in the world, said Randy not only fixes his beloved saddle, but is also “possibly the nicest human being I’ve ever come across.”

“He amazes me every time I come here,” DeMoss said. “I always learn something. He is the master.”

Cody, a saddle bronc rider who is currently ranked 10th in the world, has won two of Randy’s trophy saddles.

“Or is it three?” Heath asked his brother.

“It will be this year,” Cody quipped.

They busted out laughing. Such is the confidence of a rough stock rider.

The trio stood in Severe’s domain of leather and wood. Hundreds of tools lined the walls, along with old photos, antlers, straps, stirrups and buckles. An ancient guitar hung from a peg. Severe fits the environment perfectly.

The saddlemaker grew up in this world of rawhide. His dad and uncle started their saddle business in 1955. Randy became his uncle’s apprentice because Duff was the leatherworker while Bill made saddle trees. Since Bill made five trees to Duff’s one saddle, they needed leatherworking help. Severe Brothers’ current tree maker is Randy’s bother, Robin, who works in his Helix shop.

Severe described his uncle as a perfectionist who practiced economy of motion.

“There were no wasted efforts,” Severe said. “He taught you that time is the only thing you’ve got — make the most of it.”

Randy operates under the same premise, making three or four saddles at a time. But the saddlemaking ceases during Round-Up week when he always volunteered in some way, whether it was untying calves and steers or driving the Round-Up Court to their various appearances.

“My first job was going around the arena picking up rocks,” he said. “It’s riverbed — there are lots of rocks under the arena.”

Maybe it wasn’t a coincidence that during Severe’s presidency in the centennial year, the association installed a sealed underground screen under a layer of dirt and sand to keep the arena rocks at bay.

Current Round-Up President Tim Hawkins, who served on the board with Severe during the centennial year, called him “the quintessential centennial president,” the guy who knows everybody and is loved by all.

“When you think of the Pendleton Round-Up,” Hawkins said. “You think of Severe Brothers and Randy Severe.”

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Contact Kathy Aney at kaney@eastoregonian.com or call 541-966-08

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