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At home in the Old West

Shop owner in Ogden collects all kinds of Western items

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OGDEN — Brent Baldwin is a fixture on Ogden's Historic 25th Street. Before his Cowboy Trading Post and Frontier Barber Shop opened, there were only a pawn shop, one tavern and lots of vacant old buildings on the street east of an empty train depot.

"I think it was me who talked Mayor Dirks into having 25th Street," Baldwin said. A. Stephen Dirks was Ogden's mayor back when Baldwin was cutting hair in a shop on Washington Boulevard more than 20 years ago, and 25th Street was only a bad memory on the wrong side of the tracks — a home to transients and the down-and-out.

Now "Historic 25th Street" is considered trendy, and Baldwin trims his customers' mustaches surrounded by an amazing collection of old Western saddles with names like Sam Stag, chaps called "shotgun" and "batwing" and single spurs waiting for someone to drop in looking to make a pair.

He has all kinds of Western items — pictures, dishes, kitchen ware, a little furniture, tools — but Baldwin particularly looks for what he calls "early territorial" Western gear that dates to the years before Utah was a state.

The Sam Stag rig was used before the more modern cinch. The saddle strap wraps around the saddlehorn with the cinch hooked to that. The shotgun chaps were cylinders of leather like a shotgun barrel that fit tightly around the legs.

The batwing was a later variation of that.

"I like the stuff that you'dve seen when ol' Brigham Young was walking around Salt Lake," he said.

He has gear stamped by the makers: J.G. Read or C.W. Cross, both of Ogden and other Utah leather workers. "The name brand is what does it."

Baldwin became interested in antique gear while a little boy in Cannonville, near Bryce Canyon, where he spent time with his grandfathers, who were cowboys of another era.

"They always told me to keep my hands off their stuff, so I was fascinated," he recalled.

Now, besides collecting and dealing in authentic antique items, he reproduces some of the early styles of chaps, with nickel-plated studs and "designs like playing cards, the moon and stars" in soft, supple leather.

People aren't buying Western antiques the way they were five or six years ago, but Baldwin has his own way of riding out the market's ups and downs. He falls back on his first vocation: barbering.

His one chair in the combination antique store/barbershop is usually full in the mornings and late afternoons. In between, Baldwin takes a three-hour midday break.

"I've gotta have my own time," he says, leaning back in the barber chair. He spends noon 'til 3 p.m. "playing" with a few of the 30 or so quarter horses and mules he keeps at his North Ogden "ranchette" and 6 acres of historic property he bought six years ago on the west edge of Ogden.

The 6 acres just off Wall Avenue are on the site of Bingham Fort, one of several pioneer forts that protected early Ogden-area settlers from Indian attacks. There are two old buildings on the property, a house original to the fort era of about 1850 and a building that was originally a granary and later housed a family.

On this warm summer day, Baldwin is spending part of his midday time at the Wall Avenue property. As he strolls from his oversize Dodge truck, well-worn felt cowboy hat pulled over his eyes, suspenders hitched to boot-cut Wranglers, he's greeted by a broad-beamed brown mule, a filly and a mare, who seem to have been waiting for him.

"The mule's name is Olivia," Baldwin said. "We call her Liv, and she's a real character." The filly is Savannah and the mare is Diamond Durr, but Baldwin doesn't especially like the name. "She had that when I bought her," he said as he put a halter on Savannah and fended off a nuzzling Olivia.

Baldwin breeds saddle mules and sells many of them to outfitters who mount sometimes inexperienced riders on them for guided trips. The animals' small hooves and sure-footedness make them safer than horses in Western mountains and canyons.

"Mules are highly intelligent animals," Baldwin said. "They're more personal toward you."

He said mules are not really stubborn, they just refuse to do some of the stupid things humans want them to do. That could be why Baldwin likes the animals so much — he also tends to avoid the "stupid" human conventions and chooses instead to live life a little differently, his own way.

E-MAIL: karras@desnews.com