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Meet the man behind iconic I-500 fur hats

The man behind the 'extravagant' I-500 fur hats, cozies, pouches, gloves, and more is Bob Leflar of Chippewa Fur Traders, located across the river in Sault Ste. Marie, MI

Photo galleries are shared each year to show off the iconic Yooper fashion only found at the annual International 500 Snowmobile Race. But this February, the source of many fur hats has revealed himself to be Bob Leflar of Chippewa Fur Traders across the river in Sault Ste. Marie, MI.

Leflar first started using animal hides to make fur hats about 35 years ago.

"I started trapping 70 years ago when I was 13 years old," he said, surrounded by fur gloves, earmuffs, hats, cozies, dream catchers, headbands, and pouches. "Trapping is a lost art."

Leflar retired from the City of Sault Ste. Marie Wastewater Treatment Plant (WWTP) in 1996, leaving time to do just that.

"I like being out in the woods," he said. "My favourite time is sitting out there on a snowmobile, one-and-a-half miles away from any road in the middle of March  with God."

Leflar legally raised fox in his backyard for many years.

"I started out with two wildcats," he said. "Some friends took me to Wisconsin, where I bought a silver fox. Then, I got a breeding pair in New Brunswick."

Leflar harvests the animals and sends their skins to the tanner. Animal hides could be that of coyote, fox, bobcat, raccoon, wolverine, etc. It normally takes two hides to make a single fur hat. Leflar designs and sews them together.   

"We donate scraps and anything we don't use to the Sault Tribe and thrift shop (St. Joseph Guild Thrift Shop)," Leflar said. "We do not to throw stuff away. We try not to waste fur. My wife, Diane, just tells me I am in love with fur." 

Unable to disagree, Leflar's heart lies with all the animals of the earth to ensure their value lives on. 

Chippewa Fur Traders customer Sam Caverly has possession of a mink coat that belonged to his late grandmother, Lucy Robinson.

"I want to have headbands made for relatives," he said, hoping to give them something special to remember her life by.

Longtime customer Brent Jaime approached Leflar's fur traders booth soon thereafter, wearing a thick, luscious fur hat.

"I bought it the year Ivan Hansen won the I-500," Jaime said. "That was almost 30 years ago. I take care of it. When it's cold, I throw it on."

Hansen and Rob Sass won the 26th annual I-500 Snowmobile race in 1994. 

Chippewa County Road Commission Superintendent Robert Laitinen has even recruited Leflar to help rid county ditches of dead animals. 

"We hire him to clean up nuisance animals," said Laitinen.   

Leflar stands by his word to not let "beautiful" fur go to waste. He sells his unique fashion apparel annually at the I-500 and Sault Area High School craft show.   

He is assisted by his wife, daughter Marianne Earl, son-in-law Steve Earl, and son-in-law Mark Erikson.

"I just enjoy what I do," Leflar said. "My wife is my moral support." 

"I have got to crack a whip just to get him out of the house," said Mrs. Leflar, looking back at 57 years of marriage and fur. 

"It's his life and true passion," their identically supportive daughter agreed. "He enjoys seeing people wear the hats. He has so many repeat customers, it is unreal."

Chippewa Fur Traders has shipped hats across the United States, as far away as Alaska and California. Leflar has also shipped to Canada and Germany.

He is certainly not done yet, and plans to be back selling Chippewa Fur Traders apparel at the 55th I-500 Snowmobile Race next year. 

You can reach Bob and Diane Leflar of Chippewa Fur Traders by phone at 906-632-8532. 

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Sara Eisinger

About the Author: Sara Eisinger

An award-winning journalist, Sara is proud to be a new resident of Sault Ste Marie, Michigan.
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