2017 Black Hills Stock Show Agribusinessman of the Year: Bob Anderson
He has dedicated his life’s work to helping livestock producers get the most for their cattle. For his work as a field man for more than 30 years and volunteering spare time at the Black Hills Stock Show and Central States Fair, Bob Anderson is being honored as BHSS Agribusinessman of the Year.
Anderson officially retired from his sale barn fieldman position, yet has found himself with the job yet again.
“I started in 1988, at Belle Fourche [Livestock Auction] as a fieldman and been a fieldman ever since. I retired when I turned 65, and there’s a guy that runs the Philip sale barn. He called me up and said, ‘I want to talk to you,’ and I thought, ‘Oh, boy.’” Anderson was offered a job at Philip Livestock Auction, to which he replied, “‘No,’ I said, ‘I got some things I want to do before I get so old I can’t, and I’m going to plan on it.’ He said, ‘Go ahead and do it, we’ll work around it, plumb fine.’” Anderson was once again a field man.
Anderson was born and raised on a ranch on the Belle Fourche River northeast of Sturgis. “I spent the first 37 years of my life there, raised my kids and the whole bit on the ranch.”
Family disputes ended Anderson’s family ranch, he said, and he had four mouths to feed at the time. He filled the need for a job by working for Tri-State Livestock News from 1981 to 1983.
“I went to TSLN, and spent three years there. That opened a lot of doors to a lot of things,” he said. “Morris Hallock was a man that didn’t know the first thing about a cow and would be the first to admit he didn’t, but he taught me a lot about talking to people, getting along with people, and sales. That kind of stuff was tremendous.”
“At that time we had moved to town and I had my cattle all out on shares. I was in sales and advertising, and I used to do all that by hand. You had a page and you filled it. You had to build your own ads in those days,” he said. “You went to the bull sales and if a breeder spends so much money, then they got a full page sale report, and you took all them pictures. Then you had to build them picture pages with a story on how the sale went. Once in a while you’d get camera ready ads.”
A friend by the name of Milo Rypkema gave Anderson advice he’s never forgotten.
“We were heading into Dodge City to look at bulls, Milo was driving and he said you’ve got to surround yourself with good people. Good people will make you or break you,” Anderson said. An editor at TSLN during Anderson’s stint is one example of this.
“I had an editor there by the name of Bob Lee and he had worked as press secretary for Governor Foss. He taught me a lot about how to do it and what to do. He said, ‘Get you a book, you go to a guy’s place and you go to his sales. You write down his name, his wife’s name, and if he’s got seven kids you be sure you write down get all the kids’ names. Keep that book.’ He said, ‘The next time you think you’re going to run into him or think you’re going to see him or call him about advertising, you say, how’s Marietta or whatever her name is and go from there.’”
Anderson covered four states during his time as an ad salesman.
“You meet a lot of people. I really got in contact with a lot of different people, auctioneers, breeders in the purebred end of it,” he said. “The only reason I left Tri-State was I had four kids and I was gone so much; I wasn’t home. It was not really for a family man. It made it tough.”
Working for TSLN offered Anderson opportunities to take memorable photos.
“I took a picture of a Gelbvieh bull for Dave Lensegrav. I’m up at Dave’s sale, out taking pictures of bulls before the sale that are going to be high sellers or thinking they will be, and here comes Dave. He said, ‘That red bull, did you get a good picture of him?’” Anderson said. “We stepped in the pen and here are about four or five bulls in the pen and he sorts him off, put the others ones back behind us, and that bull kind of walked over there, and he just went, ‘Hiyaaaa,’ and the bull just squared up and looked, and I just took the picture. The Gelbvieh breed used that picture for a long time. He was a good bull, and it was a picture that really worked.”
Once Anderson shifted his work from advertising to a field man for area livestock sale barns, he stayed in that field. Anderson spent many years working for Belle Fourche Livestock Auction, and when his current employer, the owner of Philip Livestock Auction, bought it, it was like returning home.
“When I went back to Belle, here they all come: customers from Wyoming, Montana, North Dakota, and South Dakota, through Belle Fourche. And so I got a jillion good buddies and old buddies I sold cattle for for years, and you pick these up again,” he said. “I never put in a year like I have this last fall. There are so many cattle moving all over. We’ve taken two days off since the first of August that we didn’t go somewhere to look at cattle. We was rolling all the time.”
As a field man, Anderson covers an expansive area, usually three to four states, sometimes in one day.
“I left home one morning at 5:30 in the morning this fall and started out up by Buffalo, got cattle there; went to Bowman, North Dakota, got cattle there; turned around and scooted over into Montana and got cattle there; and down into Wyoming and was home at 10:30 that night. We were tired when we got home, but we were flying runs,” he said. “You don’t do that every day, but I enjoy what I do. You know the people that you work with, it’s a lot of really tremendous people.”
Throughout his career, Anderson has witnessed one major change within the cattle market: video auctions, but the tech transition doesn’t affect him.
“The video deal came in, and it’s there to stay, and it’s not a bad deal. The video is fine and there’s people it works for and there’s people it won’t work for,” he said. “I don’t do the video deal, I’ve just stayed plumb away from it, they got other guys that can do that. I get away from that. Basically it’s still pretty much the way it’s always been.”
Anderson’s advice for the next generation is to be adaptable in this technology-based world, but the basics still apply.
“I guess probably stick with not so much tradition as being able to use all the things that are available to you today: the facts, the figures. It’s a lot different than when I was growing up. People have got to be into computers. The information is available to you, use it. That’s the big thing I really do believe,” he said. “It still takes somebody, there’s an eye for cattle. Some people got an eye, some people don’t. You’d really be amazed at people that really got an eye for cattle. The purebred breeders, I learned a lot from them over the years. Length is one of the hardest things to breed into cattle and the hardest to hold. I learned that from Pat Goggins; I never forgot that.”
The caliber of cattle Anderson is selling has improved during his more than thirty-years in the field.
“The quality has gotten better; it really has really, really improved. The younger generations are maybe more prone to doing a better job of selection,” he said. “There are so many more things involved anymore in the purebred industry, they got so much more to work with. It used to be, years ago, it was birth-weight and weaning-weight and bingo, on up, you went to buy a bull and that was it. Man, they’ve got everything in the world on a bull now. It’s made buying a lot more bullet-proof, you might say.”
A story about Anderson and his dad exemplify the black-and-white method of buying cattle from days of old.
“I can remember my dad sent me to Belle Fourche to the sale and he couldn’t go. I was a freshman in high school, and I took the day off school and went to Belle Fourche. He said, ‘You buy calves. They gotta weigh 400 lbs. I don’t want anything under 400 and I don’t want anything much over. Don’t you dare give anything more than $85 a head for them,’” Anderson said. “And I’m scared to death. I ain’t never done this before, I’ve been with him a lot buying cattle. I went and got it done. I’ll never forget when they come off the truck, he looked at them and said ‘Yeah,’ he said, ‘They’ll work.’ He never said ‘good job,’ nothing. He said, ‘They’ll work,’ so I was home free.”
Anderson fell upon the position of one of the founders of the Black Hills Angus Association
“We had a group of Angus breeders and they called me up and said, ‘We’re going to form BHAA and you come. We want you at the meeting,’” he said. “I’m the only commercial man there. They said, ‘Well, we want you on the board.’ I said, ‘Yeah, I suppose you do because I’m the only commercial man here and you think you got to have a commercial man on there,’ and that’s how that all started. I spent a long time doing that. In fact, my daughter was BHAA queen.”
Working within the same career for three decades requires passion.
Anderson said his favorite part of the job is “when you have a good market and you can sell stock and you know the people are making money. I’ll give you an example. When I was in Belle Fourche for years, you get in a tough market, and you start out in the morning thinking you have a yard full of cattle and you’ve got a few buyers, and you’re thinking how are we ever going to sell these cattle? It always worked. When it’s a good market and you’ve got a good product to sell, that’s really fun to me. That’s really worth it all and you have more of that than you do bad.”
Gauging the reaction of his customers, he is able see who is more financially-invested within a couple.
“You’ve got people setting there and you watch your customers and there will be a guy and his wife and you can tell if the wife does the bookkeeping. One of them does, either the man or the woman, and if the woman runs the books, she’s setting there looking at you like, ‘Can’t you get any more out of these cattle?’ and he’s kind of ho-hum,” he said. “It might be the other way around. The guys’ setting there and she’s just crocheting.”
They’ve known each other for much longer, however, Anderson and wife Mary Lynn have been married 11 years.
“When I was married [to my first wife] and on the ranch, we were neighbors to Mary Lynn and her husband. She had four boys, and I had three boys and a girl. Mary Lynn would haul the kids to judging schools and we just neighbored back and forth the whole time,” Anderson said. “I was too busy to even think about having a wife, or thought I was anyway, then her husband passed away. We were good friends; we worked cattle and everything together. One time, she said to me, ‘Boy, I hate going to funerals alone,’ and I said, ‘So do I.’ I don’t remember how it started, but we just kind of started going out and that was the way it was going to be. Got married and it’s been great. She’s a godsend. She knows the business and loves it. She goes with me all the time. She goes to just about every sale. It’s good to have someone along.”
Anderson’s favorite memory from BHSS revolves around a country star.
“Remember the auctioneer song? Leroy Van Dyke he was here performing and I was at Tri-State at that time. I knew his father-in-law because he was an auctioneer and did purebred sales to the south, Colorado, Nebraska, down that way. Leroy and I get hooked up at a sale. He had a little boy,” he said. “When he found out I knew his father-in-law, we hit it off just like that. Anyway he had that little boy and he had a beautiful wife, and I haven’t had any contact with him since that time. I think about him, I’d give anything to see him again. He’s getting some age on him now, like we all are.”
Continuing a career after retiring from it once is evidence of passion.
“I wouldn’t trade what I’ve done,” Anderson said. “It’s quite a thing to do what I’ve done and travel. It’s not for everyone.”
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