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Craftsman makes the shoe fit

Robert Hutton Jr. can help the lame walk, his customers say.

They come to him limping from maladies like rheumatoid arthritis and diabetes. Then they strap Hutton's creations to their feet and walk out in a little less pain and with their heads held a little higher.

Hutton, 25, is an orthopedic shoemaker of the old-fashioned sort. Given time, some leather and a few other simple tools, he can create a pair of shoes to fit a person's foot exactly _ even if that person has flat arches, collapsed ankles, or no toes.

"Basically, I can do anything with a shoe," he said.

Hutton also learned his art the old-fashioned way: as an apprentice.

He worked at shoe shops repairing shoes during high school. Then, at 17, he met Franz Schuh. Schuh owned Orthopedic Shoe Center in Holiday and was looking for someone to learn his craft and then buy his business.

Hutton took Schuh up on his offer. For 13 months he trained at Schuh's side, listening to the old stories about how Schuh learned his craft in the Black Forest of Germany.

"For two months he wouldn't let me touch anything," Hutton said.

Schuh made him watch, listen, and practice cutting straight lines and skiving _ using a knife to shave the leather thinner in spots so it can be folded and sewn.

At 19, Hutton finished his apprenticeship and bought the business from Schuh. Since then he has stayed busy.

Recently, he moved from a shop he shared with a shoe repairman on Ridge Road to a shop of his own on State Road 54.

"I am usually backed up by 24 pair," Hutton said.

He gets referrals from all over the country, he said.

The cost is about $450 for a pair of "molded" shoes, made from a plaster cast of a person's foot and ankle, to $650-plus for a custom shoe, crafted around a last _ a wooden model of the person's foot.

It takes about 18 hours to make a pair of molded shoes and 24 to 32 hours for a pair of custom ones, he said.