Wyoming couple buckles up as fishers head out

Handmade designs a popular collectors' item for 28 years

Posted: Sunday, August 06, 2006

Pat and Patty Lynch haven't fished in the Golden North Salmon Derby for years, but they've played a critical role in the past 28 tournaments.

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The Wyoming couple designs, makes and sells the derby's commemorative bronze, pewter and silver buckles - a collector's tradition they started in 1979.

This year they returned to a small booth in the corner of Western Auto Marine - their derby headquarters for the past few years. All 500 of the bronze buckles - priced at $18.50 - sold out by Saturday morning. Another 50, cast in sterling silver, were also snapped up.

"By the time you figure out travel costs and all that, it's kind of a break-even operation for us," Pat said. "But we don't care. We do it because our friends are here. Our 'buckle family' is here."

The Lynches began making bronze buckles in 1976. Their first project was for the U.S. Forest Service, where Pat was a forest ranger. In 1977, the Lynches moved to Juneau and made the first derby buckle in 1979.

"At the time, we thought, 'This will catch on. This is something that people will want to do every year,'" Pat said. "Some people think we must travel all over the country and go to other events. We don't."

The Lynches sold on the docks for the first few years. They moved indoors to Chandler's Nugget Sports, then Rayco Sales and eventually Western Auto Marine.

The Lynch's sons used to make the trip until they started their own family. Pat's mother helped out the operation until she passed away.

"It's been a fun family project over the years," Pat said.

Most customers are collectors. Each year, the Lynches keep a list of everyone that buys a buckle. The next year they send a letter to each person on the list, inviting them to buy a new buckle with the same serial number.

"Patty's really the brains behind it," Pat said. "I consider myself the grip. She knows all the people's names and she knows their serial numbers. She'll astonish them: 'You're so-and-so, and your number is 27. It's really quite special, I think."

The majority of customers live in Juneau, but the Lynches ship buckles to California, Kansas, Oklahoma, Missouri, Arkansas and all corners of the Lower 48.

There's one customer in Paris who's been buying buckles since the late 1980s.

"We probably have at least 100 people that come back ever year," Patty said. "One customer, her grandfather died, and now she picks up his number and she's carrying on the set. We're into the second and third generation of a lot of these collectors. It's really neat to get to know all of the family."

The Lynches sell a variety of buckles, pins, mugs, wood-lasered desk accessories and embroidered apparel through their Colorado-based company, Western Heritage.

The couple runs their foundry out of Encampment, Wyo., a town of 400 near Laramie. Pat casts each buckle mold using the "lost wax process," a time-consuming job of wax molds, plaster and molten metal.

"People think that we have some sort of hand press," Pat said. "I wish it was that easy. We do them all by hand. We don't send them off to China."

Pat designs most of the buckles, but guest artists frequently submit designs. Tisket Seslar designed the 1889 and 1990 logos. Ed Kasko, of Klukwan, sketched a few with a totemic design.

The 1979 buckle, originally sold for $12.50, is now worth $148.50 - an arbitrary inflated price set by Pat for the protection of the collectors. A set of all buckles is worth a little more than $2,200.

The buckles come with a lifetime guarantee.

"We figure these things are going to last forever," Pat said. "If anything ever went wrong with them, if a hook broke off the back, we'd replace it for free."

The Lynches also have been making commemorative pins since 1986. This year, they sold out of all 100 - priced at $4 each - on Thursday morning.

"We should have brought 150," Pat said. "I think there was more interest this year, because of the 60th."

• Korry Keeker can be reached at korry.keeker@juneauempire.com

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