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The Adventurebilt Story

 

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From a gearhead who admittedly didn't know how to properly tack on a ribbon, to an international company responsible for supplying the hats in the latest chapter of the Indiana Jones saga, the story of the Adventurebilt Company is one deserving its own dedicated section.

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 Steve Delk. Photo courtesy of J.D. Schwalm for The Clarion-Ledger.

"Mississippi Boy" Steve Delk learned how to sew as a Boy Scout, but hadn't used that knowledge since he was a kid. In his search to find "the" Indy Fedora, he found himself re-learning and honing the skills he had forgotten, using his cabinetmaking skills in ways he'd never imagined and partner with a like-minded fan in Marc Kitter. Together, the Adventurebilt fedora would go global and have a grand impact on "The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull," making Adventurebilt a lauded company among the gearhead populous.

After seeing a pure beaver hat, Steve wanted nothing else but this very high quality felt on an Indy fedora. It seemed logical to him that Indy would have used a beaver felt, having grown up at least part of his life out West, where beaver hats were the traditional favorite of cowboys.

"Plus, beaver felt is the most durable of all fur felts and that fit with the idea of a hat designed for adventures. But, what drove the quest was wanting to make an Indy fedora that was worthy of his name, in so far as materials was concerned." —Steve Delk

After Steve found the material he long sought after, he started on the quest for the correct hat shape. He felt most vendor offerings were too tapered for the correct "Raiders" style bash. Putting his carpentry skills to work, he set about first modifying existing blocks with Bondo, then trying to create a block that he thought would give fedoras the proper shape to avoid tapering. During this process, he started conversing with Marc, a German-based gearhead with just as fanatical an interest in the fedora.

"Steve sent me pictures of reblocked vintage and modern rawbodies every few days after he had modified the block. Then we started discussing the transition point, the dome curve and the front and back taper again and again and again…man, I lost sleep over this. Steve then modified the block yet another time to the specs that we had discussed, so he could block the hats again and send some more pictures. This was extremely time consuming, but fun times. Steve and I basically spent an hour on the phone every single day and the friendship grew on us, due to us being that fanatical about the block in the same way, among other similarities." —Marc Kitter

Having thought they finally had the shape down, Steve started offering reblocking services to members of COW, free of charge, in order to enhance his skills and help out forum friends in the process. At this time, word was beginning to circulate that Mike Marosy had a Herbert Johnson (purchased through Lee Keppler) that was thought to be left over stock from the films, even though it was purchased in 1989. Steve asked Mike to send it to him for inspection as there were some who thought it would provide clues to correct felt color. When Steve received the hat, he discovered something more important than a shade of brown.

"After looking at Mike's fedora, I immediately saw that HJs I had been getting in from customers to reblock were totally different hats than what his was. I felt reasonably sure that I was looking at the original blockshape, although it had tapered a bit with time, but I could still see the film hat in it. It also had an excellent dimensional cut brim, one of Swales' hand cut brims. I traced it out, and still have it to this day. I used it as a template for my own dimensional cuts. I immediately tweaked my block after working with his. So, it figures in the AB block shape more than any other hat." —Steve Delk

Steve revised his block shape yet again and orders continued to pour in for reblocks. With that service in full swing, Steve decided to create a hat from scratch and thus "Adventurebilt Hats" was officially born. Sourcing 100 percent beaver felts, and offering them at cost to IndyGear members, work logs piled up quickly.

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 Marc Kitter. Photo courtesy of Isabell Kitter.

"In spring 2005, when speaking to Steve on the phone, he said that this was about to become more than he could handle and if I'd like to join AB. I was completely floored and honored. Steve said that I would be the only guy who's as anal as he is, so this would be a "nobrainer" for him." —Marc Kitter

And so Adventurebilt became international.

The process started with Steve sending Marc all the materials he would need, so the hats would be exactly the same. The only issue still left to be resolved was the ribbon. At that time, Steve had bought up the last of the stock on a coffee brown ribbon, and supply would soon start running low. This started Marc off on a six month search that bore no results. He did in the meantime find another source for felt and sweatbands, thus planting the seeds for the AB Deluxe. Thinking that the ribbon issue would never be resolved, Marc got an unexpected letter in the mail that changed everything.

"One day I came back from work to find a letter with a 30mm ribbon sample in THE color. The supplier had heard through references that I'd be searching for this color. It acted EXACTLY like the one in Raiders: black when exposed to direct sunlight, otherwise dark brown. I called them up and they confirmed that it s available in 38mm too. That morning I called Steve out of bed at 7 a.m., to tell him that I found THE ribbon. We ordered 100m for each and I could FINALLY start offering the hats, ten months after Steve made his generous offer to me." —Marc Kitter

Things were progressing nicely for Adventurebilt at this point. While continually honing skills and improving on block shapes, Steve and Marc continued to take in orders from a growing list of loyal customers, most of whom were gearheads from the Indy community, but also included an anonymous movie star who wished to remain private. Steve has kept that word to this day, no small feat for a Mississippi boy who has a gift for gab. As if they weren't busy enough, a fateful phone call would soon send demand for an "AB" hat into high gear.

On April 30th, 2007, Peter Botwright called Marc to inform him that he had mentioned Adventurebilt to Bernie Pollack, Costume Designer for Harrison Ford who had just been brought on for the new Indy IV project (as it was known at the time). Bernie spoke to Marc the next day and arranged to have a sample sent for consideration. Not having one handy, Marc asked a customer of a recently finished hat to forward it on to Bernie for consideration. At this point, Steve also came in as a point of contact to Bernie who found it easier to deal with someone stateside, with less of a time difference. This is also the point when near disaster struck for AB, almost tossing them out of the running.

The hat sent was a replica of a Raiders style pinch, which unfortunately was viewed as a 'caricature of the Raiders hat' by men who preferred the more relaxed pinches of Temple of Doom and Last Crusade. A phone conversation between Steve and Bernie was able to keep Adventurebilt in the mix of vendors. Steve promised Bernie he could blend a Last Crusade pinch with a Raiders block to come up with THE look that they were looking for. A rushed hat done during long, sleepless hours was quickly sent off to Mr. Pollack, and Adventurebilt was back in Bernie's good graces.

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Encouraged by the latest offering by Adventurebilt, Bernie ordered six hats for testing purposes as there was a difference of opinion between Ford and Spielberg over the crown heights. At one point, it was discussed that a smaller crowned hat with more taper be considered. Steve knew this would be sacrilegious to most die-hard gearheads.

"Marc and I talked it over and both agreed that if they wanted tapered 5" open crowned hats from us, we would make enough to get the film started, but we wouldn't supply the 36 hats plus gray ones. We didn't want to go down in Indy fan history as the hatters who ruined Indy's fedora. We wouldn't want to change his hat that much and take credit for it. They needed to realize we weren't just hatters, but Indy hatters that have lived with the good and bad for years. We wanted to be proud of our hats and wanted to make the film hat, but if they looked horrible, neither Marc nor I wanted to be involved. The hat has always been important to us."
—Steve Delk

Even with his trepidation, and yet another tight deadline, Steve put his nose to the grindstone and filled the order and sent the order off to Hollywood, fingers crossed that they would 'choose wisely.' It should be said here that Bernie and company were being very particular to get every nuance of the hat perfect with each sample sent having to match exactly to all the others. Such attention to minutiae that was overlooked in previous films would not slip by on this production.

So particular was Bernie that when the hats arrived and had lost some of their shape, as they usually do, due to being jostled around in shipping, he took the samples to Baron Hats in Los Angeles to have them reshaped by owner Mark Mejia. Steven Spielberg filmed the test hats, along with other prototypes, to see what looked best on celluloid. After seeing how each hat flimed, Steve and Marc could once again breathe easy as the hats tested extremely well. So with everyone's backing, Adventurebilt was chosen as the film's hat supplier.

"It seems to me that this film is more detailed oriented than any film to day. I think they wanted to get it right for the movie goers. What seemed simple for me in the begining turned into a much bigger job, but I enjoyed each call from Bernie. We actually had input on the hat too, which was great. Not only did we make the hats, but were consultants as well." —Steve Delk

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Prior to heading off for location shooting, the first batch of AB hats arrived and again needed to be reshaped a bit again by Baron's to match the prototype that Bernie fell in love with and tested so well. A few also needed to have headbands adjusted. While this was happening, he also ordered hat boxes to keep them safe and to store them in on location shooting. Once on set, and for the remainder of the production, Bernie found the understanding and confidence in skills to reshape the hats himself.

Throughout production, Bernie placed additional orders for various reasons, be it stunt performers falling out of the production, new sizes needed and a gray travel hat for Harrison. This is when it was discovered that the long argued "clipper hat" from Raiders was indeed gray as Steven Spielberg wanted another "travel hat" for Indy just like in Raiders.

"It seemed that Spielberg had a thing about a travel hat for Indy which dated back to the first film. When Indy travels, he's meant to wear a gray hat and would do so in the new film. Steven wanted it gray just like Raiders, but wanted it to look like when he climbs out the window in Last Crusade and is met by Donovan's thugs. I just wonder why he didn't have a gray hat when he traveled to Venice. The gray hat made for Kingdom of the Crystal Skull was tall! Taller than the brown hats, having a 5 3/4" crown. They wanted it to have a different look than the brown hat. The brim is also larger at 2 7/8" by 2 5/8", but the creases are the same as on the brown." —Steve Delk

Worried that there not be any variation in the multitude of hats to be supplied, Bernie first wanted to have all hats come only from Steve. This troubled Steve who told Bernie that the two men had made a pact when first approached that no matter whose pattern was chosen, both hatters would work on hats that ended up in production. Luckilly this didn't remain an issue for more than a day when Bernie called the following afternoon to say that it would be alright to have both hatters work on the hats provided they be sent to Steve first to make sure all pouncing and shaping were identical throughout. Having the same blocks and felts, this process went rather smoothly, with Steve sending the remainder of the order to Bernie throughout the shoot.

It should be stated that the film hat differed from Adventurebilt's previous fedora offerings in a few key areas. The liner and the sweatband. Afterall, it probably wouldn't suite to have Indy donning a hat with the Staff of Ra insignia that donned AB's first fan made hats.

"The film hat has plain white liners and a chocolate sweat. I had to order the sweats in that color and will use this color from here on out instead of the antique roan." —Steve Delk

KotCS posterSince supplying the hats for Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, Adventurebilt has redesigned their logo from the headpiece to the striking, and more elegant piece of art shown at the bottom of this article.

To the right is the promotional poster given away at the 2007 San Diego Comic Con, prominently featuring the Adventurebilt fedora. Steve was extremely proud of the image, even though Bernie first had some misgivings about it.

"Bernie was bothered by the promo poster for the fact that the top crease was not perfect. He said one side got pushed in. So I said 'well, that's good. It looks like Indy just pulled it off his head and it was used." Bernie immediately said 'Yes! I never thought of that!'" —Steve Delk

In total, 36 hats were made for “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull,” with some hats going as gifts from Spielberg and a few others going to production members ordering directly. To quote the Grateful Dead's oft used phrase 'what a long strange trip its been'…from a fan searching for what he considered the ultimate "Indy hat," to an international company given the distinction of making an iconic piece for one of the most anticipated films of 2008, our hats are off to the men of Adventurebilt, respected members of the IndyGear community that all are proud to call 'friends.'

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