President Bush will receive many mementos leading up to Thursday's inauguration. But what do you give the leader of the free world that he doesn't already have -- and that he might actually use during his second term in office? The National Cattleman's Beef Association hopes their gift -- from a craftsman in a small Colorado town -- will go straight to the President's head.
The present will renew the connection Mr. Bush has with Greeley, Colorado. The President made a campaign stop there in October, and explained to the crowd that it was long overdue. "I'm told the last sitting President to visit Greeley was Franklin D. Roosevelt," he said to wild applause, "who came right before he won his second term."
Now the city has another association with the President – “a twice in a lifetime opportunity," according to Trent Johnson, a local man with a passion for making hats. Mr. Johnson, 33, worked as an apprentice at Greeley Hat Works for four years, before buying the business in 1996. After passing a Secret Service background check, he made his first "Presidential" cowboy hat in 2002, when Mr. Bush attended a meeting of the National Cattleman's Beef Association in Denver.
"The President stopped right in front of me," he recalls, "and said, 'Thank you for that awesome hat.' I was floored. I know I said, 'Thank you.' But it all seems like it was so slow motion. And he got the White House staff to come over and they took pictures of us. And I had that 'Oh my gosh I think I'm going to vomit' smile on my face in those pictures…but it was with the President!"
Mr. Johnson labored for about 20 hours on this latest project -- about three times as long as he would spend on any other hat. Just before applying the finishing touches, he showed off the result. It is a sand-colored beaver felt hat with a cattleman's crown and a roll to the brim, topped off with an antiqued sterling silver buckle with a 14-carat gold "W" in the middle. “The sweatband has been sewn in and we're just getting ready to trim out the hat and sew on the hatband,” he says. “And that will all be done by hand. We have the George W. Bush logo in there in metallic red and silver. And then my right hand man, Jared, hand-laced the back of the sweatband. Normally they're just sewn together. This was hand laced together with kangaroo."
It is not so easy to create the perfect fit when you can't personally measure the President's head for what Trent Johnson refers to as "irregularities.” The only detail he received from the White House was a hat size -- which, the hat maker confides, is classified. “If I said the President has a really big head, people would say the President is full of himself,” he remarks. “And if I said, ‘Boy, he's really got a small head,” they'd say he doesn't have any brains. So I'd just as soon not get in the middle of that fight."
Trent Johnson's presidential hat is valued between $1,500 and $1,800. It will be given to Mr. Bush during a meeting with members of the National Cattleman's Beef Association before the inauguration.