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Old-Time Milliner Adapts Hats To Heads
Randy Priest, owner of Silver-Tip Hat Company in Donnelly, Idaho, believes that a hat is a statement of the person who wears it. “Within minutes of meeting someone, I can tell what’s going to look best on their head,” he says.
In business since 1974, Priest not only builds hats from scratch but also cruises second-hand stores, searching for older models. Tearing those apart, he soaks the sections in hot water and reshapes them using broomsticks, dry fluid, steam, and an 1899 crown iron.
Customers bring Priest materials like snake skin, porcupine quills, bear claws, bones, and other items to use as decorations. He also buys beaded hat bands from local crafters. He accommodates any special requests, whether it concerns an everyday style or something totally unique.
  Priest works with felt, leather, and suede, but his favorite material is a 50/50 blend of beaver and rabbit hair. During summer, palm leaf hats are his top sellers. He buys them with a flat brim and open crown, dips each in water, and creases them “while you wait.”
Despite living a quiet life in small-town Idaho, word of his skills has spread. Among the silk scarves, jewelry, and paintings displayed in his shop are pictures of Priest with actors Sam Shepard, Scott Glen, and singers Lyle Lovett and Natalie Imbruglia. The late Steve McQueen’s widow, Barbi, also owns a custom Silver-Tip hat. “Isn’t she cuter than a bug?” He chuckles, pointing to their photo together.
  Raised outside a Blackfoot Indian reservation in Pocatello, Idaho, Priest became interested in hat-crafting as a teen. “I could walk into a restaurant, look at the row of hats that was hanging on the wall, and tell who was there by those creases,” he recalls.
  He made his first paychecks by hitting pawn shops at the Reservation. “The men there bought new hats when they had the money, and pawned them when they ran out.”
  Randy’s skills really took off when he left home and moved to Idaho City, where he met another hat maker. “She told me I was a natural and gave me some tips as well as the names of her suppliers.”
  These days he works out of a historic 1907 former bank building on 209 N. Main Street in Donnelly. The shop is a place where old and new friends stop in regularly to pull up chairs, gather around the wood stove during central Idaho’s long winters, and of course, try on hats.
  It’s all just fine with Randy Priest. “I love meeting people,” he said, grinning broadly, “and I’ve met a lot of them. My favorite expression is, if you want to get ahead, get a hat.”
  Contact: FARM SHOW Followup, Silver-Tip Hat Company, 209 N. Main St., Donnelly, Idaho . (ph 208 315-4299; www.silvertiphatcompany.com).

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2017 - Volume #41, Issue #3