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November 2008
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Clothing Company Creates Civil War Era Garments

photoGerald Durbin is an avid Civil War re-enactor and former truck driver.  During a downturn in his trucking business in 1990, Durbin’s life changed forever when he decided to make a replica shirt for himself because his wife was too busy to sew it for him.  He found the pattern he wanted in a book, cut the striped fabric and sewed it up himself.  “It was a fluke,” Durbin says, “but every stripe matched up.”

Durbin (pictured at left with wife Linda) wore his new shirt to the next event and a woman in a small tent store near the make-believe battlefield asked him where he got it.  She ended up ordering 50 of his shirts, which inspired the launch of a new business that reportedly now earns about $500,000 in annual sales.

Coon River Mercantile now employs seven people, including Durbin’s wife Linda, two daughters, Durbin’s stepson and a grandson.  “When they were younger, they all went (to re-enactment events) and dressed up and all that,” Durbin said. “Then it became a business, and everybody just started working here.”

Production occurs at Durbin’s Des Moines, Iowa home, but Coon River Mercantile’s uniforms are available nationwide at stores that cater to re-enactors, as well as through their website at http://www.coonriver.com/.  The Durbin family is proud that their uniforms have been worn on battlefields across the country, as well as in the feature films “Gettysburg” and “3:10 to Yuma.”

Andy Fulks, owner of an Indiana store specializing in Civil War items that also sells Coon River clothes, says that Durbin is “one of only two or three people who produce real high quality Civil War uniforms in this country.”  There are approximately 40,000 to 50,000 Civil War re-enactors nationwide, who each spend an estimated $1,200 to outfit themselves with a uniform, tent and gear.

Durbin hasn’t looked back since he sold his last truck in 1991.  “In the trucking business, you blow a tire and it’s $300.  Here, if I blew a belt on a sewing machine, it’s 12 bucks.”

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Author, Instructor & Pattern Designer

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