Making Old-time Hats and D Bar J Hat Company

Last weekend, I attended the Alaska 49ers’ Shootout Under the Midnight Sun. We had a grand time pretending to be cowboys and cowgirls and shooting at targets. We also had a few vendors, and I’m fascinated by the D Bar J Hat Company’s old-time equipment.


When Raphael pulled out the conformator and put it on my friend’s head, I had to know what that thing was, and when I learned it was made between 1843 and 1865, I was hooked. To make a hat, they measure your head by tape measure and conformator, take a rabbit or beaver fur hat form, and steam and shape it with a hat block and irons to get it just the way you want. They make hats the old-fashioned way, just like my characters could have seen in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Please check out the video to see this stuff in action. Go to their website, click on Newspaper and Media, then view the Video of David and D Bar J  done by Clark Country Parks and Recreation:


A little history about the company and their Master Hatter: David Johnson first became interested in hats for Western Dance competitions, and started restoring hats in 1988. While researching the traditional process, he learned that the original inventory from Michael Santa Lucia, owner of the True Hatters shop in New York from 1909 until his death in 1978, was available. He bought the whole stock and equipment, some of which dates back to the Civil War. David uses these tools to make every hat. It’s nice to know that the tradition lives on, and you can still buy a handmade hat if you want one.


If you’d like to see more about them and the kinds of hats they make, see their website above. Thanks to D Bar J, David Johnson, and Raphael Diniz for their cooperation for this blog post.

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I love to share my passion for Alaska and its history in my writing for young adults and their grown ups.

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