When I found my Grand Pappy’s Boot Duffel, carefully folded and tucked away in the corner of a cedar chest in his garage, I was ecstatic.
I’d been working at Duluth Pack for almost a year then, and the initial excitement of owning a product made by my company had not yet subsided (two years later, it still hasn’t). As I lifted it from what was sure to be its final resting place, I marveled at the richness of its cognac hued leather, still supple and soft despite years in a de facto coffin.
This particular Boot Duffel was adorned with an embroidered patch, designating it as a Safety Award from the Great Lakes Fleet, my Grand Pappy’s sole employer over his 65-year professional career as a maritime laborer. “When did you get this, Pops?” I inquired. Surely, he must have obtained it recently. My Grand Pappy is a man of few words and even fewer possessions, and I fancied myself privy to the entire catalog of his belongings. Never before had I seen this one.
“Oh, ‘bout 40 years ago” he replied, punctuated by the chuckle that follows almost every statement he makes. This bag was my senior by perhaps 20 years and had accompanied my Grand Pappy on Lakers across all five of the Inland Seas. It saw him safely to dozens of ports across thousands of nautical miles. This bag was well-traveled. Despite its age, it was in remarkably good shape. The canvas was clean and the leather conditioned. Some small holes had developed in various places; rodents, to be sure. “Can I take this into work, Pops? Everyone would love to see it! I’ll even get it fixed up for you.” I asked, anticipating an answer to the affirmative. “I reckon you’ve got more use for it than I do. It’s yours”. And just like that, I became a proud, second-generation Duluth Pack owner.
As the customer service manager here at Duluth Pack, I hear almost daily from customers with stories just like mine: an avid canoeist parent gifting their cherished Monarch Pack to their children, an older sibling hand-me-downing their Standard Backpack before heading off to college. It seems to me that carrying things is the secondary function of any Duluth Pack. First and foremost, a Duluth Pack is a vessel for memories– a literal canvas for which a life well-lived can be painted upon, and one day shared with others.
Those small holes I found in my Grand Pappy’s Boot Duffel turned out to be dry rot, a nasty fungus that eats away at the organic compounds that make canvas fibers strong and durable, ultimately reducing it to dust when handled. The very moisture that must’ve kept the leather components in good condition turned out to be a detriment to the canvas. The bag was no good, and I was devastated.
Our production team called me with the bad news and said they’d save what they could, but there wasn’t much they could do. Two weeks later, an unexpected package arrived at my desk. Before me was a Small Safari Duffel, the runt cousin of the Boot Duffel. Inside, a note from Tracie, our expert craftswoman tasked with the restoration and repair of every Duluth Pack. In so many words, she offered her condolences on the passing of my Grand Pappy’s pack.
Her consolation was simple; a pack of my very own, stitched together with care from the salvageable pieces of its predecessor. The new canvas was married with the original leather straps, handles, and bottom, and my new bag wore its heritage with pride, as, beneath its original Duluth Pack logo, I found the very Safety Award patch that my Grand Pappy had earned in 1973. Admittedly, I was reduced to tears.
The bag that had seen my grandfather through so much now had a second life. With any luck, its second go would be as grand as its first. Since then, my bag has been along for the ride everytime I hit the road. My adventures are a longshot from the sea-bound ones my Grand Pappy and his Duluth Pack enjoyed, but then again, I’m sure my grandchildren’s antics will be far different from mine when they get their hands on their Grand Pappy’s Duluth Pack.
By Trevor W.