By Phil Latham
If there really is more than one way to skin a cat — a bobcat, that is — Billy Marburger surely knows how to do it.
In fact, it is hard to imagine an animal Marburger couldn’t skin other than a unicorn — but more about that later.
Skinning isn’t art, though, merely the first workmanlike task necessary in the process of taxidermy.
The art comes after the hide is tanned and Marburger begins the slow and exacting process of capturing the full beauty of the animal as it existed in nature but in a mounting that will last for generations.
“We want to make it look as natural as possible,” Marburger said. “We have close-up photographs of the shapes of eyes, the eyelashes, lips, everything. We try to be as precise as possible.”
In the case of East Texas Truck Equipment Taxidermy the “we” is Marburger and Jonathan Davis, who handle a consistently growing workload for the business, now in its third year.
It was an inspiration from above that led Marburger into taxidermy. No, not God, but his boss at East Texas Truck Equipment, who one day asked Marburger if he might be interested in doing taxidermy out of the same building.
Marburger gave an emphatic affirmative.
The creation of the business this way led to its unusual full name: East Texas Truck Equipment Taxidermy.
“It kind of goes together. People who like to hunt usually drive trucks,” he said.
Born in Kilgore, Marburger has lived in Ore City for a number of years, and the outdoors has been his home about as much as his actual house. He hasn’t lost his love of that and is bringing up his son in the same manner. The boy killed his first deer at age 4. His wife joins in as well.
These days, Davis handles the mounting of most of the white tail deer heads while Marburger focuses on birds and exotic animals. When it comes to large animals, such as an eland hanging on the wall of the workshop, both men are required.
Birds, especially those known as strutting birds, present the biggest challenges that rely on Marburger’s greater experience and training. He spent six weeks at the Central Texas School of Taxidermy learning craft initially.
“But you are always learning. That never stops. The evolution keeps on and on,” he said.
While the white tail deer hunting season brings the busiest time, Marburger said the taxidermy business is steady all year long and that he works almost full time at taxidermy. In a pinch, he can also sell truck parts, though.
The taxidermy process is not a quick one. Most projects take between six and nine months — depending on the time of year — to complete, and he wants to keep all his orders from taking no more than a year. When the timeline stretches beyond that, he says it will be time for he and Davis to add a third helper to the mix. That also might be the time when they will need more space for the business.
It is a problem Marburger clearly would like to have.
Outside the shop, Marburger participates in Combat Warrior hunts, which takes combat veterans into the woods for relaxation and healing from war. He is also involved in Challenged Outdoorsmen, which takes youth who have difficulties of different types into the woods where they would not normally be able to go.
Marburger will take on almost any project, but he does have some limits. He doesn’t mount pets, reasoning that most people who are sad when Fluffy dies will have a new cat by the time the job is done and might be reluctant to pay.
He also won’t do unicorns.
“I had a woman call me and want me to mount a unicorn. She had a picture of a horse’s head with a horn coming out of it. I declined. I want to keep it real.”
However, don’t give up hope, unicorn lovers.
“I figure if I ever see a unicorn on the hoof, then I will do it, but not until then.”