Longtime biker trades old life for new
Cold water from the horse trough in which he was dunked left Robert “Steelhorse Cowboy Bob” Pena nearly breathless. In a moment, though, he was on his feet, squinting into the pale February sunlight, dripping wet and surrounded by cheering cowboys at the Williamson County Cowboy Church. Bob smiled broadly at those standing around him as they shook his hand and slapped his back in congratulations.
“I had shown up there the week before,” explains Bob, “a rough looking outlaw biker with my vest with all the bad word patches on it and my knife, chaps, and cowboy hat. They were talking about God and Jesus and all that, and before the morning was over, they had laid hands on me and prayed for me, and then they gave me a Bible. That’s when I gave my life to God, right there and then—and boy, did that feel good.”
Two weeks earlier, the last place Bob thought he would find himself was in church. The longtime biker had a reputation for hard living—from drinking and drugs to moving outside the law. Then, in early 2008, already cut off from his children and their mother, he found himself fired from a job he loved. For the first time in a long time, he didn’t know where to turn.
“I called my mom, and she told me that I needed to pray and to go to church,” Bob says. “I told her that I didn’t believe in God and didn’t even know how to find a church. But God had other plans for me. When I finished talking with her, I smoked a joint and took a ride on my Harley toward Liberty Hill. There, at the stoplight at the corner of Highways 29 and 183, I saw a big billboard for the Williamson County Cowboy Church.”
The next Sunday, Bob showed up at the church. Before the morning was over, he had abandoned his old life and committed to living a new one for Christ. A week later, he was baptized. “I hadn’t been to church in 30 years, and I had never even read the Bible in my lifetime,” says Bob. “I was an outlaw biker, and I was hell-bound. I was lucky that I didn’t go from jail to the graveyard. Now I tell people, ‘Look what God did to me—he saved me.”
Giving Up the Old
Although the bedside clock showed a time well after midnight, Bob found himself wide awake. “For the next three mornings in a row after my baptism,” he explains, “I woke up around 2:30 a.m. to God talking to me and telling me to change my life, my business name, my vest and my clothes, and my nickname, as well as to stop smoking cigars and Willie weed. So I did just that. The new nickname God gave me was Steelhorse Cowboy Bob.”
The nickname and changes stuck. A veteran leather craftsman, Bob had decided to start his own shop specializing in handcrafted motorcycle seats. Along with his new nickname, he needed a new name for this business, which he had called Bitchin’ Stitchin’ by Bob Bitchin. After prayer , he decided on Texas Steelhorse Saddles.
“I think of my Harley as a horse made of steel,” chuckles Bob. “So the name’s a good fit. God has given me a talent like no other—I can create a motorcycle seat from nothing, and all the glory goes to him. God has given me this ability to work with my hands, and he uses me to make custom leather goods so that bikers can see what he does through me. When they see what I can do, I tell them about God and that all the glory goes to him.”
As he describes what God has done in his life, Bob has seen customers, friends, and fellow bikers come to share his faith in and passion for Jesus Christ. “Customers will ask me about my vest that has all my God and Jesus patches sewed on it,” Bob explains, “so I’ll tell them about my cowboy church and invite them to come. I hope that people can see how God has changed me and that they will want that kind of change in their lives, too.”
Over the past four years, Bob has seen many of his biker friends become as close as brothers to him through a shared faith. “I invite them to my cowboy church, and some come back the next Sunday,” he says. “We also have Bible study at my shop on Sunday afternoons. I try to surround myself with good friends who don’t drink or do drugs—I bring them in, and God cleans them, just like stinky fish. So many of these men have become my brothers in Christ.”
Embracing the New
Bob watched as the visitor to his shop snapped pictures of everything from welding tools and leather seats to a certification for upholstery customization. The official with the Fort Hood Department of Veteran Affairs in Temple, Texas, peppered Bob with questions, asking about his work in leather as well as his training and background in upholstery, welding, woodwork, paint and bodywork, and motorcycle and auto mechanics.
“I asked him what it was all about,” Bob says. “He explained to me that that the government is looking for people like me to teach trades to disabled veterans. All of these veterans who are coming back from the war don’t have any kind of trade or skill, and the government needs people who can teach them a trade. When I heard that, I knew I wanted to help, and I knew I couldn’t do it myself.”
Bob enlisted the help of a brother in the faith, Jim Harris. “I called other friends, too, who are the best of their trade, and I asked them if they would like to work with us to teach trades to disabled vets. We now have a shop set up for classes in upholstery, welding, leather and woodwork, and auto and boat paint and body work.”
Bob hopes that helping disabled veterans is only the beginning. “I want to open the biggest custom shop in Texas and hire veterans to work in it,” Bob explains. “I want to help kids in prison to learn a trade, too. We can teach them how to customize cars and trucks, and help them have a future beyond gangs and drugs. I don’t have the capital to start something like this, but I have faith in God—I have big dreams, and I know God will help us with this.”
Texas Steelhorse Saddles