Cowboy Invents Portable Bootjack

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It may not slice or dice, but Norvall Hillmer's invention is one that cowboys and cowgals will find just about as handy as a Veg-O-Matic.

The two-year Payson resident, an authentic cowboy himself, invented and received a U.S. patent in August for a foldable bootjack that he says is perfect for the cowpuncher on the go.

"You just drop it right into your boot or your suitcase when you're traveling," Hillmer said of the hinged wooden device that folds in half.

For the uninitiated, bootjacks have a heel-shaped cutout where you can hook a cowboy boot to assist in pulling it off.

The bootjack is not the only device Hillmer has invented, but it's the first he's had patented. His previous inventions a self-dump for hay rakes and a boot wallet were devised many years ago.

Hillmer decided to patent the bootjack upon the advice of a Corral West executive, who was interested in stocking them in his western wear stores. The enthusiastic reaction from Corral West has been typical.

"I can sell all I can make," he said, "but I just can't keep up with it."

For that reason, Hillmer hopes to sell the rights to his patent, possibly to a plastics company. His handmade wooden version retails for about $20.

"There are a lot of people who want us to put up the money to manufacture it, but I've already got $10,000 in it so far with the lawyers and all," he said.

Besides, the creations that come out of Hillmer's workshop are not about money.

"Finishing something is what it's all about, something they said you couldn't do."

It's a philosophy Hillmer and his wife, Ruth, have lived by their entire lives. Born and raised in South Dakota, the Hillmers have known each other since they were children.

"We started with nothing, absolutely nothing," Ruth said. "When we were first married, we had $5 to live on for two weeks. We made the most of our opportunities."

They worked on a ranch for awhile, and Hillmer even tried his hand at rodeos. But in 1947, they moved to Laramie, Wyo., where they went into the motel business.

"We bought an older motel and fixed it up and sold it," Ruth said. "Then we bought another one and did the same thing.

"We kept that up for awhile, and then we built the first overnight trailer park in Wyoming," she said. "We sold that in 1966, then we did a housing development with some partners."

Eventually the Hillmers went into the bar business, opening a place called Snorts Liquor and Lounge.

"Snorts was my nickname," Hillmer said. "I got it when I was about eight years old, but I don't remember why," he said with a snort.

"We brought the big bands in out of Nashville, including Mickey Gilley. It was a very popular spot."

After a stint in the Western wear business, the Hillmers decided to retire to Arizona where they had spent many winters. But after awhile the Valley heat got to them, so they moved to Payson.

"We had been driving through Payson between Phoenix and Wyoming, and it always seemed like such a nice little town," Hillmer said. "Besides, I missed the mountains."

Driving is something the Hillmers have done a lot of. They are avid RVers who have traveled to every state and many foreign countries.

"Staying active is the key," Ruth said.

Feb. 28, the Hillmers will celebrate their 60th wedding anniversary. The secret to a long marriage is simple, Hillmer said.

"It's to have a hell of a good wife and be a good man," he said. "We work together constantly. A lot of people say you can't work together, but you have to have the same goals."

And from Ruth's perspective, she said it keeps it interesting to be married to an inventive guy.

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