A Austrian Tailor Keeps Dying Craft Alive

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Side Roads
Austrian Tailor Keeps
Dying Craft Alive
By Pam Blair
lfred Planatscher has a
passion for music, but
he was born to sew.
The son of a tailor,
Alfred—who now makes
his home outside Anza,
California—is keeping old
country fashion alive,
handcrafting authentic
German leather pants
known as lederhosen.
Ironically, playing the
bass and tuba in German
bands led him to the craft.
“When I had my band,
I was dressed in lederhosen,” explains the native of
Innsbruck, Austria.
He was bothered by his
band mates’ attire.
“We need German
clothes,” he told them.
“This is a German band.
I’ll make you all pants. I’ll
make you look nice.”
It was a natural progression for a man who
has spent most of his life
sewing—even though that
occupation wasn’t his idea.
Alfred’s father was a
tailor back in Innsbruck.
His older brothers found
other jobs, so that left
Alfred to carry on the
family trade.
“My old man said, ‘You
are going to be a tailor,’ ”
Alfred says. “So, I started
sewing. You get used to it.
It’s a trade.”
In the old country,
trades are passed on
through apprenticeships.
“It’s the only way to get
a job,” Alfred explains.
Fueled by his father’s
expectations, Alfred went
to Munich, Germany, and
learned how to be a tailor.
Celebrity Look-Alike
Odds Are Many People
Mistake Him for ‘The Gambler’
onnie Stringer can’t help it if he looks
like a star.
People tell him all the time he resembles
country western singer Kenny Rogers, who
also is known as “The Gambler.”
“At Disneyland, while waiting in line, a
crowd was starting to form before the attendant convinced everyone Lonnie was NOT
Kenny Rogers,” says Lonnie’s wife, Carla.
Photo by their niece, Lynette Huss. ■
Do you know someone who could pass for a
famous person? If so, send a picture to: Celebrity
Look-Alikes, P.O. Box 558, Forest Grove,
Oregon 97116.
Alfred Planatscher shows off a pair of handcrafted lederhosen
he made in his shop near Anza, California.
Following his training,
Alfred immigrated to
Canada, intent on work-
ing as a tailor and patternmaker. That was in 1957,
at the age of 21.
Sept. Side Roads.qxd
“But I couldn’t make a
living at that,” he says,
noting immigrants were
not particularly welcomed.
He says it didn’t help
that he and his friend,
Paul—who came over on
the same ship—couldn’t
speak the language.
Ultimately, Alfred managed to land a job designing ski jackets for a large
company in Montreal.
When Alfred saw an
advertisement for master
tailors, he jumped at the
opportunity to move on.
“I interviewed in New
York, and was sent to San
Diego,” he says. “I was
paid $250 a week in 1967.
Every six months I had to
be given a raise. I worked
there five years.”
When the company
opened a factory in
Tijuana, Alfred began
making unisex leather
jackets. After two years, he
moved on, becoming general manager at a large
company in the Los
Angeles area. He lasted
there just one year.
“I got tired of working
with these big shots, so I
opened my own shop in
Ramona doing upholstery
and lederhosen.”
His newly attired band
mates were walking advertisements for his business.
“When we played at
Big Bear Mountain, people asked, ‘Where’d you
get those pants?’ ” he says.
Alfred found an eager
customer base.
“I just started making
pants, and would take 25
with me when we played,”
he says. “Sometimes I
made more selling pants
than playing.
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Page 3
Tweet of
By Audra Villarreal
lthough Cliff Perdell
has never considered himself a woodworker, he has found an
outlet for creativity in
building homes for his
fine-feathered friends.
He builds fanciful
“I just go out to the
shop with sort of an
idea,” he says. “They
never turn out the way I
think they will. They
just come together.”
At times, Cliff utilizes
an idea book and the
Internet for inspiration.
People also custom
order birdhouses to fit a
particular theme or
He works from one
hour to two days on
each birdhouse, depending upon its complexity
and detail, and sells
them for $10 to $150.
Cliff enjoys adding
special touches to the
houses, including sagebrush, branches, birch
bark, waterwheels and
chimneys. He adds
detail work like framing
on doors and windows.
“I try to fix them so
you can clean them out,
too,” Cliff says of his
outdoor birdhouses. To
do this, he installs
screws at the top of one
side, which allows that
side to be lifted from
the bottom, making
cleanup efficient.
He named his favorite
birdhouse “Gnome
Cliff Perdell of Benton City, Washington, has built more than
200 unique birdhouses in five years, including his favorite
creation known as “Gnome Sweet Gnome.”
Sweet Gnome.” It was
featured in the
April/May 2003 edition
of “Birds & Blooms”
magazine. He sent in a
photo almost a year ago
and had forgotten about
doing so. He was surprised to receive a copy
of the magazine and a
sun-catcher gift in the
mail. A picture of the
creation is shown in the
magazine’s “Home
Tweet Home” section.
After friends learned
of Cliff’s new hobby and
skill, they furnished him
with a blown-down
fence as well as wood
and shingles from a 50year-old barn.
“I very seldom buy
wood, unless I want to
paint it,” says Cliff.
He says most people
prefer the unpainted,
rustic-looking birdhouses. The older wood
gives the creations character and helps them
blend in with nature.
Cliff and his wife,
Marie, display at least
30 birdhouses on posts
surrounding their lawn
near a rock wall.
He also has crafted
wooden garden benches
with birdhouses perched
on top of the four posts
supporting the armrests.
A favorite birdhouse is
located under an archway—a miniature he
crafted special for his 2year-old granddaughter.
“It’s a fun hobby,”
says Cliff. ■
(Continued on page 13)
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Page 4
Electric Car Wins Respect
On Racing Circuit
By Walt Wentz
ace cars line up
four ranks deep
along the starting line.
The drivers are
hunched in their
cramped cockpits,
tense and waiting.
The green flag
sweeps down and the
race starts with an
eerie whine, a faint
grinding noise—no
thunder of engines, no
screaming of tires.
It’s a long way from
the Indianapolis 500,
but to the high school
students from Ukiah,
Oregon, the Electrathon America Cup was
a big race.
The meet at
Portland (Oregon)
International Raceway
(PIR) during Memorial
Day weekend is the
national event of electric car racing for high
school teams.
The Ukiah students—who built their
car in two years of
matching their sweat
and ingenuity against
other student teams
from much larger
schools from around
the nation.
The rules of
Electrathon racing are
ironclad and unforgiving. Each car may be
powered by 64 pounds
of lead/acid batteries—
not an ounce more.
Each car must continue
racing for a full hour.
Its standing in the race is
determined by the distance
it travels in that time.
Most of the cars can
reach speeds of more than
50 miles an hour. But if
you start too fast, you will
drain your batteries and
be stranded ingloriously
along the track. Play it too
safe, and you will end up
back among the also-rans.
The last 10 minutes of
the race tell the story.
Sixty cars from across
the nation—some fielded
by high school teams, others by adult builders competing in the “open”
class—were scattered
around the blacktop “pit”
area of the 1.9-mile track,
as team members tinkered
feverishly to get them
ready for the next race.
Number 55—the sleek
white car from Ukiah—
was one of only three that
started and finished all six
races during the event.
Shane Harris, a substitute teacher at Ukiah
School, led his industrial
arts students in building
and racing their car.
Shane and his students
designed their vehicle literally by the seat of their
“We had one guy sit on
the shop floor,” Shane
explains. “Then we measured around him, and
built the car to fit.”
The first step was creating the streamlined car
body. They built a form
and molded the body
halves from Kevlar fabric
saturated with resin.
They welded up the
frame from steel box
beams, bought special racing wheels from a supplier—and started running
out of money.
“The school had a
total fund for the class of
$1,800,” Shane says.
Businesses and townspeople helped out with
donations. But an up-todate electric racing motor
would cost $1,000, and
they simply couldn’t afford
it. For $500, they got an
outdated motor—“about
10 percent less efficient
than modern ones,” Shane
says—and installed it.
Now, after a year and a
half of work, they had a
car, but they still had to
build a racing team. The
students had to think of
the car and the team
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Page 5
Preserving a Dying Craft
(Continued from page 11)
Above, Number 55 looks somewhat out of place on the backroads around Ukiah, Oregon.
Photo by Walt Wentz. Left,
Shane Harris, second from
right, and other members of
the Ukiah team prepare for the
start of another race. Photo by
Thad Sells.
rather than personal glory.
They also had to learn to
think fast and work
together in emergencies.
In an early-season meet
at Mapleton, Oregon, a
crash wrecked the car’s single front wheel. They had
no spare. They couldn’t
afford it.
With only half an hour
until the next race, the
crew hunted up a mismatched wheel, Shane
modified it to fit and the
crew had it installed just
in time for the next race.
Those local races—and
the many miles of empty
roads around Ukiah—gave
the students plenty of time
to get used to the tiny
racer and build a team
for the America Cup.
“By the time we left
for Portland, we probably had driven the car
500 miles,” Shane says.
The crew camped
with other students on
the grassy, tree-lined
infield of PIR, tinkering on their tiny, lightweight vehicle between
Number 55 did well
on all three days, making it through every
Its tires—kept at high
pressure to minimize
rolling resistance—were
wearing thin.
“I wasn’t sure if our
tires would make it
through the last race,”
Shane says, noting the
team had no spare.
Through the sixth
and final race, Shane
and his team were confident they were ahead
in laps—the deciding
factor of the meet. But
after the meet was over,
the judges decided the
Hawaii team had finished one lap ahead.
Now, a new school
year has begun, and the
members of the Ukiah
racing team are busy
with other pursuits.
Some graduated and
are headed for college,
hopefully preparing for
studies in engineering
and other technical
Meanwhile, Number
55 rests in a garage,
waiting for improvements, modifications—
and another young
team. ■
“I made pants because
of the need of the band.
Then I saw the market.”
Alfred—who personally
attends to each and every
detail—discovered he had
no competition making
lederhosen from “scratch”
in the United States.
He starts by cutting
pieces for the garment out
of split cowhide.
Alfred is a picture of
concentration as he nimbly guides the leather
under the needle of his
old, well-used sewing
machine, deftly stitching
the pieces together.
“It probably takes me
about four hours a shot,
from cutting to sewing,”
Alfred says, noting that also
includes adding leather
accents and embroidering
decorative designs.
The finished product is
a handmade work of art.
“The first year I sold
400 pairs,” he says. “Now,
it’s 50 to 75 pairs a year.”
The pants are designed
to last forever—good for
his customers, but bad for
his future market.
Alfred used to sell
lederhosen through the
Society in San Diego.
“But they preferred to
buy more expensive
imports,” he says, shaking
his head in disbelief.
He recalls proudly
stitching in “made in
America” tags, only to have
a purchaser insist they be
removed so it would appear
the lederhosen had been
manufactured in Germany.
Alfred and his wife,
Trudy, attend Oktoberfests
in Texas and Oregon, taking lederhosen with them.
But the market isn’t
what it used to be. That has
forced Alfred to diversify.
In recent years, he has
earned a reputation for
making colorful custom
Renaissance pants.
He hit upon the new
business while selling food
at Renaissance fairs
throughout the country. ■
To inquire about lederhosen
or Renaissance pants, contact
Alfred Planatscher at P.O.
Box 390969, Anza,
California 92539, or call
(909) 763-2557.
Alfred stitches together a pair of lederhosen. It takes him approximately four hours to make a pair.