LAWRENCE, Ks. — From his front porch, Bruce Barlow works on his latest batch of customer orders.

“It’s all about the work,” Barlow said. 

Fixing shoes and making belts are just two things his work as a cobbler entails. “It’s kind of a dying art, I suppose. I mean, I know it is.”

A dying art to some but a lifestyle for Barlow, who, just three weeks ago, literally watched his life’s work go up in flames, hence the reason for his temporary workspace on his front porch.

A single photograph is the only image from that night. On Aug. 7 at 2 a.m., a fire started inside of his shop, BKB Leather, and quickly destroyed much of his equipment and customers items.

The photograph shows the small shop up in flames with a basketball hoop in the foreground.

“I came out in my underwear and grabbed that fire hose and tried to put it out,” added Barlow, with a laugh. “It didn’t work.”

The fire marshal later blamed it on an electrical issue involving a heat gun. Flames came just inches from Barlow’s home, which is right next door to his shop. His chickens, whose coop sits against his shop, made it out okay. 

Everyone else made it out fine, but it was a different story for the shop.

The community is helping though, since Barlow worked in a small, eclectic shop since the 1980s repairing baseball gloves and making custom leather creations. Many of his current customers started coming to his shop as kids.

Together, the local community has helped raise more than $18,000; most of that money will go back to his customers. “All of my customer’s items got burned up, and it wasn’t insured because I wasn’t thinking ahead of the game and didn’t have that kind of insurance.”

Whatever is left over will be used to replace or restore his equipment, some of which Barlow said dates back to the early 1900s.

Despite the loss, he’s looking at things from a positive perspective. “First you burn down, then you clean up, then you rebuild. Three simple steps.”