Though I now reside in the state of Georgia, I’m a “Florida Cracker” through and through. I spent most of my childhood and teenage years living on the cattle ranches of my grandfather J.L. Judy, and my great-grandfather, L. R. Bronson. I’m very proud of my “cracker” heritage. Making the Florida cow whip, in particular, is my way of staying connected to my heritage.
I was just a young guy when my grandfather bought me a 12 ft Florida cow whip. It was made by a plaiter named Richard Clark. It wasn’t long before I became interested in making whips myself. My grandfather had Richard to come over and show me.. Richard taught me a 4 plait, told me a few things, and gave me a sheet of handwritten instructions; I took it from there and practiced like crazy. By 1991, at the ripe old age of 13, I was a bona fide plaiter of Florida cow whips!
In the years following, I mostly made whips for working cowboys. In 1996, I moved to southeast Georgia and married my high school sweetheart, Diana, shortly thereafter.
By the year 2000, I got tired of working so much overtime at my job, so I decided to pursue making some whips for extra cash. Not many of the local cattlemen use whips here in Georgia, so I didn’t have very much success selling the whips at the local stockyards and feed stores.
Everything changed when I bought a computer and took my whip business online. After a couple good online reviews of my whips, I had more orders than I could handle coming from all over the U.S.A and around the world. In 2001, I began making nylon bullwhips; nylon snakewhips would follow shortly after that. In early 2009, I developed my own line of nylon Australian stockwhips.
When I first took my whips online, I was surprised to find that nylon whips were frowned upon by lots of people and few had even heard of the cow whip. It was a lonely world for a nylon plaiter. I didn’t let that hinder me and have been fortunate enough to see many minds and attitudes changed in this regard.
While I’d never try to claim all the credit for that shift in attitude, I think it’s safe to say that I helped pave the way for the acceptance of synthetic whips around the world. Since 2001, I’ve also seen an exponential increase in the number of internet based plaiters who use nylon. This tells me that synthetic whips now have a permanent place in the worldwide whip cracking and whipmaking community.
May 2012 would bring the biggest change of course for me as a whipmaker as I left my 16 1/2 year career with Walmart Stores Inc. and began making whips full time. In July 2012, I formed Rhett Kelley Whips, LLC. and the rest of the story is being written each day as I get out of bed and seek to support my wife and 5 children, literally with my bare hands.
I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledged the hand of God in this venture. Were it not for His grace in my life, I would not be where I am today. To God alone belongs all the glory for whatever good that is found in me.