Gene Logsdon and Friends

When The Gumboots Come Marching In [Updated]

In Gene's Weekly Posts on May 18, 2011 at 8:24 am

From GENE LOGSDON

[Update: Please scroll down and read the responses… great comments and video… -DS for GL]

The most essential accessory in the garden farmer’s wardrobe is a pair of gumboots. This is the most practical piece of footwear ever invented. You can slip gumboots on your feet easily without having to bend over or without straining your guts while pulling them on. They are made entirely of seamless rubber and reach up to just below the knee. No strings to tie, no zippers to zip, no buckles to buckle. They fit loosely, so you can also slip out of them without slipping a disc in your back.  Their loose fit means that walking in them produces a clomping sound not unlike what a Belgian draft horse would make coming in last at the Kentucky Derby.

More civilized people refer to these boots as Wellingtons after the first Duke of Wellington who popularized them a century or so ago. When the British were going through their turn at trying to run the world, soldiers and officials going to Africa to save all those people from sin and ignorance often wore Wellingtons, which the natives called gumboots since they were made out of gum rubber. Why we farm kids of the middle 20th century in Ohio also called them gumboots I do not know. We wore them regularly and so, human beings being what they are, gumboots became a symbol of our country culture and we were ridiculed for wearing them by town brats. Even as a young man who often went to town wearing gumboots, I was teased, usually in good humor, but the barb was always there. The city slickers didn’t realize that gumboots were very fashionable with the British aristocracy in the early nineteen hundreds.

I chanced upon a tennis court once (in Iowa, honest) where there was a rule that only tennis shoes could be worn. But an exception was made for gumboots. The sight and sound of a bib-overalled farmer clomping around the court in gumboots while brandishing a tennis racket made for a better clown act than I have ever seen.

Gumboots are perfect apparel for garden and farm work, especially this year when the rains won’t stop. They won’t keep your feet warm in winter, but I still wear them through the snow to the barn when I know I will be back in the house in a half hour or less. They are so much easier to slip off than insulated boots without coming into contact with the manure on them. Even on summer days, the pasture grass often remains dewy until nearly noon, so it’s on with the gumboots even in fair weather.

The only problem is that the gumboots coming out now are so cheap they can develop leaks almost before you reach the barn the first time. The answer of course is to buy more expensive models. But I have discovered a way to beat this system. My dirt cheap gumboots are roomy enough that I can wear the right one on the left foot and vice versa. For some reason, my left boot will invariably sport a hole in about three months but the right one will go on for two years if I’m lucky. I must list slightly to the left when I walk. Can’t figure it out, but I get my money’s worth out of the deal because most of the time I’m wearing two right-footed boots.

Gumboots are right for garden farmers for another reason. The Africans developed what became known as gumboot dancing after the British tried to stop them from dancing to the beat of drums. African dancers found that they could stomp and stamp around in gumboots and produce a sound not unlike drumbeats— as any of us who wear them easily understand. Some of the gumboot dances actually made fun of the way British officials would pompously stomp around in their Wellingtons. It became a not-so-silent way to ridicule, protest and undermine officious bureaucracy.  I think of those old gumboot dances (Paul Simon has even recorded some African gumboot music) whenever I read the latest absurdity from our Department of Agriculture about subsidized farming. I stomp and stamp to the barn with more noise and spirit that is actually necessary. Maybe I stomp harder on the left boot and that’s why it wears out quicker.
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  1. I have a pair of bright yellow ones that go over the shoe–necessary since I have to wear orthotics and can’t just use the plain gumboots. The cows find them fascinating and always want to nibble, while they pay no attention to the drab brown ones worn by my nearest and dearest. One other great thing about gumboots is that if your spouse is not so good about cleaning his feet (and God forbid he should actually take them off at the door!) before he comes in the house, they’re easy to hose off. When mine is wearing his heavy work boots with the deep corrugations in the soles, he leaves a trail of rocks, manure, leaves, sticks and other crud.

  2. Dear Gene,
    Cheap gumboots also hurt my feet. By the way, the Dutch immigrants in Canada often wore their klompen (wooden) shoes out to the barn at night for some of the same reasons you wear the boots.

  3. Mine are lavender with tiny purple flowers. They’ve also got a thermal lining to keep my feet warm when I’m sloshing through the mud in January. Best Christmas gift I ever received! Glad you decided to honor the Wellies with this post.

  4. I agree with your evaluation of the utilitarian nature of gumboots. That being said, I have never been a big fan. Like Curt, I have always found them to make my feet ache if I wear them for any extended time. It seems that most work jeans have pant legs that are too small to accomadate the boots slipping inside them easily but too big to prevent being a bunched up pantaloon if you try to tuck them in. All of that could be forgiven if it wasn’t for the consequences of their loose fit, Many a sock has been fully saturated with mud or manure when the boot remained sunken while the foot remained in motion. And last of all rubber does not breathe – at all. I am not particularly squeamish by nature, but some of the foulest odors I have ever experienced came from the dark recesses of gumboots. Other than that they are great.

    Gumboot music ,dance and tennis! You always keep it interesting and informative.

  5. My dad got me my first pair and said that they were gum rubber boots still sticky from the “gum” from the rubber trees. I regularly went over the tops in the spring wet manure so they were never very popular with Mom. My L.L. Bean Wellies are 20 years old and still as good as new, but I’ve been addicted to my Muck Boots the last 2 years. I can wade in water or snow over the tops, feel the cold for a couple of seconds and then my feet warm right up again. A bit expensive, but since I don’t have many other vices – other than your books – well worth it.

  6. Best gumboot sound from 5 minute search:

    I want to try that in the manure pack!

  7. In Tennessee, we call them “muck boots” or simply “rubber boots.” I put the tine of a pitchfork through the toe of my first pair the first day I got them–I little silicon sealant fixed ‘em good as new!

  8. I’m wondering what a visitor to your farm would think, seeing a track of two right feet leading off through the mud or snow! Perhaps two one-legged men out for a walk?

  9. Gene, I needed a laugh this morning, thanks!

  10. Gene,

    So funny and so true. The first summer of marriage my wife (not from a farm background) commented on me wearing my gumboots with shorts for evening chores as being 100% hayseed – now she wears her own “hayseed” boots every single day! Wonderful post.

  11. Fun post – I’ve been giving thanks for my muck boots often these days! Thanks for the silicon repair tip Betty – I’m springing a leak right now & I’m going to give that a try!

  12. Gumboots eat my socks.
    No matter if the socks are thick or thin, anklets crew or knee socks, as I walk the boot pulls the sock down under heel and into a wad at the front of my toes.

    The only way I’ve found to stop it is to tuck my pant leg into the sock. Of course that means you have to reach down to put them on, you can’t wear shorts, your socks have to be large enough to accommodate the pant leg…

    But I do love them – especially that muckboot brand.
    Any suggestions on the socks problem?

    • Hunter brand makes official Wellies and special socks to go with them. The socks are taller than the boots and fold over the tops. My husband has a pair of the boots, but not the socks although we’ve been tempted…. they are very well made.

  13. Gene, I bought a $19.99 pair at our local farm store. They were PVC type, but I thought they would keep the dew off until I could get a pair of “LaCross” boots later. The trouble is, the darn things were made (where else?) in China. The ankle part is about as wide as the calf/top part. My old butcher/logger legs can’t fit in them. They are as tight as a frogs butt and that is water tight! Lucky for me my son’s girlfriend can wear them. Must be the Chinese have small legs or not enough PVC to make a full pair of boots!

  14. I’ve got muck boots, which I love and wear any time it’s cold or wet. I got a bit of teasing at my kids’ playgroup for wearing them there. Ah well, my feet were warm and dry which they would not have been with any of my other shoes by the time I stomped across the snowy yard to get to the garage.

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