Artist Creates Texas Rangers Badges by Hand - NBC 5 Dallas-Fort Worth
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Artist Creates Texas Rangers Badges by Hand

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    In the Texas Panhandle, an artist creates badges by hand for the oldest state law enforcement agency in North America -- the Texas Rangers. (Published Friday, March 3, 2017)

    Kevin Johnson’s hands are used to make history, and they are used a lot.

    “Oddly enough, I’d rather sit in here and work on something than I would go on vacation somewhere. I spend more time in this shop than I do my house,” Johnson said with a chuckle.

    He said he’s in his Clarendon workshop creating various pieces for up to fourteen hours a day.

    The project that brings him the most pride involves re-purposing Mexican coins.

    His secret process can’t be replicated by anyone, “not even my kids,” Johnson said.

    It’s a secret because he’s making a custom badge for a Texas Ranger.

    “Now, for every one of these badges I do I have to have authorization from the chief of the Texas Rangers himself. And I receive a letter to say that I can do each one,” Johnson said.

    He began making the first cuts into a silver coin. When it’s done, he said it will be worn by a lieutenant out of Amarillo.

    “This will be a personal badge so it’ll have a name at the top . . . and it’ll have a rank in the middle,” Johnson said.

    He’s cutting a minimum of 72 characters into the coin with perfect precision.

    “To me it’s very important to be historically correct with what it’s supposed to look like,” Johnson said. “It’s not only important to me, it’s important to the guy that’s getting their badge because they wear it every day and it shows their authority.”

    His craftsmanship for the Texas Rangers is extensive: tie clips, rings, and weapons just to name a few.

    Using a different piece of custom machinery, he starts cutting away tiny pieces from a pistol’s copper overlay.

    “I think that if they’re proud of the firearm that they carry, it’s more reliable for them,” Johnson said.

    His most coveted carved piece is a pistol with sterling silver mounted and carved throughout. “Five Rangers have used it over time and carried it,” Johnson said. He spent more than 100 hours carving the roughly 8,000 cuts that create its detailed design.

    “About the only one like it in the world,” Johnson said.

    While Johnson continued carving, his friend Sergeant Alvin Schmidt, a retired Texas Ranger, offered a great deal, “If y’all want to buy one of these guns I’ll sell it to you for about 10 cents.”

    Schmidt owns the very first pistol Kevin engraved. “When I first got the gun it was just a gun,” Schmidt said. But now he said, “it sits on the mantle at the house on a special stand, let’s put it that way,” Schmidt said.

    Johnson etched Schmidt’s name and the Texas flag onto the gun. “But it also has a cross on there that I had put on because my dad always played the guitar and he sang “The Old Rugged Cross.” And to me it’s . . . I mean it’s worth a million dollars to me now, so it’s very, very, very special,” Schmidt said.

    That heart is what fuels Johnson to keep creating, and his service was recognized when the Former Texas Rangers Foundation Association made him an honorary captain.

    “When they called me up there to get that certificate and a badge, you know, I felt the blood leave my face,” Johnson said with a laugh.

    He was honored for contributing to a nearly 200-year-old tradition that doesn’t stop at retirement,

    “Because when I’m an angel in heaven, I’ll still be a Texas Ranger,” Schmidt said to Johnson.

    Along with his work for the Texas Rangers, Johnson said he also enjoys doing work for the everyday cowboy that comes into his shop—anything to help honor Texas’ western heritage.

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