Meeting a Remarkable Man – The Cobbler Miracle Healer of Vernal, Utah

Randall (Randy) Ivan Merrell is one of those rare healers who lives in a remote, isolated “wilderness” part of the world, hidden away from the world, and yet helping all those who seek him out.  On June 27, 2022, podiatrist Shane Draper in Elko, Nevada said, in no uncertain terms, that if I did not get new orthotics and custom-made shoes, I would start to lose circulation in my toes, and eventually the feet.  He used the dreaded word “amputation”!  I have very tiny feet – size 4 and 4.5, with bunions and hammertoes despite wearing orthotics and flat shoes or boots since 1979.  It’s genetic.  Everyone on my mother’s side had bad feet and osteoarthritis.  I also had developed a blood blister under my middle toe on my right foot and was in agony.  As I would tell everyone that would listen, it felt like fire ants were eating my toes.  That’s not an exaggeration and it was constant*.

Dr. Draper wrote a prescription to a chain of stores called Hanger.  I called them and learned they did NOT make custom shoes.  I had once researched the Davis Therapeutic Clinic in San Francisco so I contacted them and made an appointment for July 19.  The cost was going to be $3,000 and the shoes were going to be made in either the Netherlands or the Philippines!  I’d have to make at least two trips because they had to make the orthotics and make adjustments.   I booked a hotel and made a detailed hour by hour itinerary.

My friend, Eva, saw the itinerary and blew a gasket!  NO, YOU’RE not going to San Francisco!  There must be somewhere else.  I’ll shorten the rant.  When she hung up, to prove her wrong, I googled for an hour, and FINALLY I found Merrell Foot Lab in Vernal, Utah a good 90-minutes shorter drive and no ferries nor Covid passports to deal with.

I looked on the website for Merrell and saw Randy’s photo and bio.  I get downloads from photos and the download I received blew my mind.  A MEDICAL INTUITIVE?  A NATURAL HEALER?  AN ADEPT?  NO WAY?  Really?  And I can drive?

I called and Preston Barker, Randy’s apprentice at the time, answered.  A kinder voice could not have answered.  He immediately said I could see him on July 19 – same date but instead of 3:00 p.m. Pacific Time when I was supposed to be at the Davis clinic, I had to be in Vernal at 9:00 a.m. Mountain Daylight Savings Time.  I leapt at the chance and drafted a drastically different itinerary, booked two nights at the Dinosaur Inn, and started packing up all of my footwear to see if any of it was modifiable.

When I got to Vernal, on the 18th, I learned that Preston had decided not to pursue a career in boot making and I’d get to see Randy, himself!  And that is how I shook hands the next day with a man whose touch took all the pain out of my right wrist where in March 2021 I had injections for Game Keeper’s Thumb (  Randy does not consciously do this.  He is one of those exceedingly rare humans whose very touch can heal SOME ailments.  I can take away pain for short periods of time but not by touching someone.  This is different.  It’s not “energy medicine”.  It’s “healing touch” and it’s rare.  From all of my research it requires a person to be so humble as to be almost invisible.  The person must also be a “servant of God”.  Many will claim this ability and if they do, they are fake as plastic pearls.  Despite the belief and conviction that divine light resides in every sentient being, that light is so dim as to be invisible.  If you ever meet a soul that shines, you will know it instantly.  Or you should.  I’ll skip my rant on that.

Now for Randy’s story.  It’s incredible.  It’s sad and pain and suffering and great heartache seem to be a catalyst for healing ability to emerge.

Randy’s father, Ivan A. Merrell (1922-1982) owned Jiffy Pawn Shop where I sold the Notorious Doc’s rings oddly enough.  He also raised Arabian horses for 27 years on 40 acres.  (The Notorious Doc told one of his patients that he raised Arabians – we didn’t even own a pony!)  Life’s strange sometimes.    The poor man died from injuries sustained in an accident.  Randy’s father was hypercritical of the young man, but Randy still worshipped him, so losing his dad in 1982 was rough. 

Worst was yet to come.  Randy’s own wife, LouAnn, and grandson, Jackson Standefer, would die in a freak accident in the Grand Canyon in 2017.  Great loss is often associated with kind hearts.  It seems to cement one’s relationship with the Divine. 

LouAnn’s grave:

LouAnn’s memorial page:

International News about the Accident in the Grand Canyon:

Before the tragedies, Randy was already a remarkable individual.  Thomas Curwen, a staff writer for the Los Angeles Times, sought out Randy in 2019 suffering from several foot problems that dwarf mine.  He DID have to have shoes made.  Randy said I can get away with the extra extra super extra wide deep toe boots I found from Mt Emy and save the $7,000 – $8,000 that he charges for custom-made.  Curwen, I trust, felt the investment was life saving and if I really needed them, I would too.

Curwen wrote that when Randy was a teenager he had to go into town each month to get his father’s shoes repaired because Ivan had a clubfoot.  Back then and now and amongst many cultures, a birth defect was a sign of a sin – ancestral or parental.  Ivan, was conceived before his parents were married and in 1922 that was a badge of shame.  My father’s mother’s mother had a clubfoot and she was ostracized for it her whole life.  I was mocked and shamed for having tiny feet because I could never find shoes so I was forced to wear boy’s boots.  Kinda kills any chance of looking sexy when you walk.  All of the rock stars and fashion models make spike heels ingrain in men’s heads that a woman should have a certain stride.  Me, I was told, had a distinctive stomp. 

And it was a pair of shoes that Randy saw in a window in Salt Lake City that changed his life.  It was a $67 pair of Tony Lamas — “brown-lizard wingtips, pointed toes, buck stitching, burgundy uppers and one-and-quarter-inch heels”.  Ivan Merrell refused to buy them and made his son earn the $67.  I bring up the Notorious Doc again because when he died he had over 40 pairs of shoes – most were Louis Vuitton and Tom Ford but some were imported Italian designs.  Harry Leo Duran ran out of money before he could rival Imelda Marcos.

Los Angeles Times

Los Angeles Times:  10/19/2019

Randy’s family are members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.  Most young men spend time as missionaries and Randy was sent to Brazil.  It was there that he met Pedro Barrato who made shoes by hand. It was also in Sao Paolo, where Randy discovered that he could never live in a city – I will explain later.  When the mission ended Randy went to Boston to attend the Lynn Independent Industrial Shoemaking School where he learned pattern making and machine maintenance. 

Randy told me that we forget today just how awful polio affected children.  There were shoemakers/cobblers everywhere before the United States mandated everyone get injected with the inactivated polio vaccine (IPV) in the upper arm.  It left a scar and I remember it hurt as well.  By the mid-sixties we all lined up in our respective town centers – I remember standing at the train station wrapped around the horseshoe parking lot, and were given liquid drops on the tongue with sugar.  My parents were ahead of me.  It took several days for everyone to get the vaccine.  It worked.  Allegedly.  Polio was said to be eradicated – it’s re-emerged – and shoemakers, Randy said, all decided pretty much to retire.  He said most were a cranky orney lot. 

My friend, Christy might remember because she grew up in Rahway, New Jersey.  My mom used to take me to a cobbler in Rahway to get shoes.  Sample shoes back then – the ones in the windows in storefronts, were all tiny.  They weren’t meant to be sold except to the rare few with tiny feet.  Randy asked me if I could have any footwear what would I want.  The shell pink pair with white heels that I wore in 6th grade.  I wore them much longer but I distinctly remember walking home one day with older kids behind me remarking about my legs and shoes.  For a brief moment in time, I had that WALK apparently.  I was able to wear a nice pair of shoes in 1979 but only for a brief time.  Then never again.

Randy could not make those for me and at my age I think they would look ridiculous but he did ask.  I settle for him modifying the Mt Emey boots.

After leaving Boston, Randy settled in Vernal but he told me he would travel all over the country to study or to “shadow” an expert.  Yes, he had spent time at the Davis clinic in San Francisco.  He spent time in Grand Junction, Colorado with a German immigrant who is the one who taught him how to make the cast for an orthotic by examining gait, posture, and anatomy.  Instead of stepping and out of the mold, the “German” showed Randy how to have the patient sit and the pedorthist correct the ankle and foot and push into the mold.

But it would take years before Randy would decide to make orthotics.  He just wanted to be the best boot maker ever and that is what he did.  Randy “began developing hiking boots better suited for the American terrain. In 1981 he wrote a seven-page article on selection and fit that found its way to two men in Vermont who wanted to back Merrell Boots. Within two years it was a multimillion dollar enterprise. At one time, Backpacker Magazine named the boots “the most comfortable and functional boots in North America.”

When I started calling my friends to say I met THE MERRELL of Merrell Boots, each one gasped. 

Randy’s family takes priority and the company started eating into his time with his wife and sons so he sold the company and started Merrell Foot Labs.

“Rather than using digital scanning technology common today, Randy uses a foam box to capture an impression”.   The podiatrist I saw in Elko used one of these foam boxes.  I remember a different way the podiatrists made casts in the past but it’s a dim memory.  By pressing the foot by hand Randy is able to capture the foot “walking” so to speak the way God intended not the step in and step out which does nothing more than capture the deformity.  The orthotics I’ve worn since 1979 were nothing more than expensive pillow inserts.  They did nothing to fix the fact that my left leg is shorter than my right which only one doctor I think ever noticed.  My gait was all screwed up causing back and hip and thigh pain.  Not to mention foot pain.

Randy said that the German taught him that if you fix the gait, you can even fix trigeminal neuralgia – aka jaw pain because the nerves run up the side and into the jaw.  Headaches, etc.  Although pedorthists aren’t “into” reflexology – the two do seem to compliment one another. Fred Coen in New Mexico has done just that.

When I left the Dinosaur Inn, I had my IPHONE plugged into the late Notorious Doc’s 2019 Ranger so I could listen to the Google Maps voice guide me out of town to a winding road that I knew next time I would have to film using a Go Pro.  It was a magical drive.  At a bend I spied a rock welcome sign and gates.  I paused to take a photo.  Then I drove down a step curve and arrived at your standard medical looking plaza parking lot with handicap signs and two buildings built into the earth.

I just made my second trip.  The first was a 3 hour evaluation and Randy made the casts.  Last week I returned for the fitting and modifications.  In two weeks, I need to have Dr. Draper film me walking so they can have a Zoom or Facetime consultation on what modifications are needed if any.  I’ll probably be asked how many pounds or ounces I have lost.  The orthotics are made for one’s current weight and height.  Any change in anatomy and you need new ones.  I never knew that.  EVER.

When I return in October for a follow up after I lose weight, I got permission to film the 25-acre paradise nestled at the base of a very barren mesa.  I had never been in a quonset hut that I can recall and certainly not one covered by concrete, rebar and 3 feet of earth and grass!  There were steps down into the lab which extended many feet further.  The lab was state of the art with exam rooms and a lovely waiting area.  Steps led to upstairs where Randy’s new bride works.  I didn’t get to go up there.  I was lucky I was able to hobble down the steps to get in.

**  Thinking I was going to San Francisco I wanted to visit the shrine to John (Maximovitch), Archbishop of Shanghai and San Francisco (1896-1966).  St. John was referred to as the WONDERWORKER.  There are vials of holy oil you can send for.  I had written to the church and asked if I could have a tour?  No, but I was told they were sending me three bottles of the oil for FREE!

When the oil arrived I was so desperate, I mixed it with chamomile oil and put it on the blood blister.  I watched a video of St. John and prayed and cried my heart out.  I couldn’t tolerate the pain another day.  I put hematite on my foot.  I prayed.  Three days later the blister was healed enough that I could debride it.  I had not returned.  BUT what Randy did was take the pain out of BOTH feet that I live with all the time!

I have a lot more amazing things to say but I will wait until I go back. There is such a thing as information overload and I don’t want to spoil the suspense. Suffice it to say, you will be happy to read more. I promise.


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