The Lindblom Legacy: Making a home on the Hart
January 24, 2017
For 55 years, the Lindblom family and the Hart Ranch have been synonymous. Three generations of Lindbloms have successfully leased the operation from two owners after managing it for the first. Running on the philosophy of treating it as if their own it has provided many opportunities to a family willing to take them on.
"When I was around 10, my grandfather took me on the train to the West Coast with him. All the way through Wyoming he commented on what terrible country it was, and I just couldn't wait to get back out this way. As a teenager, I pitched bundles and hauled grain and sneezed all the time. I never did like farming in eastern South Dakota," recalled Dan Lindblom.
Dan and his wife Bev's opportunity came following college graduation, and on April Fools Day, 1958 he took a position with Western Cattle Company (WCC) that brought him to the Hart Ranch for all of three months.
"We were there until July 1, when WCC moved us to a ranch about 20 miles north of Phillip, where we worked for three years. In 1961 we were sent back to the Hart Ranch and have been there ever since," said Dan.
At one time, WCC held more than 350,000 deeded acres in South Dakota, 84 grain elevators across the Midwest, and land holdings in multiple other states. The company came out of the Great Depression with an estimated worth of $200 million. It was the ranching component, which totaled 14 separate operations at the time Dan started, that initially caught and held his interest.
"I went out into life thinking I could get along with whatever I had to do. When I started with WCC, I realized there was a lot about ranching I may not have been exposed to. My attitude was to keep my head down, eyes and ears open, and ask intelligent questions if I had to ask any. That pretty well worked out," Dan said.
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Clearly Dan caught on, as he went on to become foreman of the Hart Ranch, then manager of four of the five ranches WCC ended up owning in South Dakota.
"I was the final employee of WCC. I drew a paycheck for 25 years, and the guy above me retired nine months before I did, saying they didn't need him anymore with me around. We had always gotten along well because I was the young guy who didn't question his projects and ideas too much when I started. When he wanted to try things like fertilizing strips of pasture ground, AI'ing cattle and buying purebred Charolais cattle out of Texas, I went along with it. He also sent me to several ranch schools in Phoenix and Calgary. He was a good complement to me as a young man," said Dan, adding that he was also okay with culling a few of those Charolais cows after Dan dealt with them a year or two.
In the late 1970s, Dan was able to buy a chunk off the south end of WCC he thought he could make work. At the same he began the process of buying all the cows on the Hart Ranch and leasing the entire operation.
"Then, in 1984, the Duinick family showed up looking for a place to buy and develop into a campground and golf course. They purchased the Hart, and I was able to continue leasing everything from them that wasn't developed. At this point we have leased from the Duinick family longer than we did from the Norris family, who owned WCC," said Dan.
During the same time, Dan's son Dave married Starla and became interested in returning to the operation full-time. The agreement was that Dave would earn a modest wage and insurance and could build his cow herd as fast as he could handle, and that someday Dan hoped Dave would extend the same opportunity should he have children of his own.
"That's where we are today – I just moved to town and have retired, and Dave had enough equity to buy the land I owned from me, which will cover my living expenses going forward," Dan said.
Dave is appreciative of his dad's foresight in planning the transition of the place, noting that while all the cattle were always run together, they were held separately. That made building equity much easier for Dave and Starla, putting them in a position to buy Dan out when the time came, and also created a much simpler scenario if the operation had ever been dissolved.
"I say I have gone from steering wheel to spare tire, but it wasn't that fast. I've never second-guessed Dave, and if he had an idea I was always game to try it. Confidence is important," Dan said.
The operation of the ranch has varied little in the 32 years since Dave became part of its management. His philosophy is that he got on a winning team, and consequently saw no need to make major changes.
"We are entirely a grass outfit, running cow-calf pairs and yearlings. We don't want a feedlot and we don't want to farm. Our cows are black and expected to raise a calf every year. We market some calves right off the cow through a private treaty sale, and have been fortunate to sell those to the same man in Iowa for nearly 20 years. We also purchase all our bulls private treaty, and have been getting our Angus bulls from Keith Perli for at least 15 years while our Charolais bulls have come from Eaton Charolais for several years. We purchase additional calves to run on grass to the degree the year allows," Dave said.
One change that has occurred is the transition from a Charolais/Angus cross cow base to a strictly Angus cowherd, with the reasoning that should the lease of the Hart Ranch ever come to an end, Angus cattle are more marketable. Another "big" change was transitioning away from loose stacking hay through buying a round baler.
"While I have not set hard and aggressive goals to improve things like weaning weights or carrying capacity, I believe my son Brad, who is also involved in the ranch today, will do that to a greater degree," said Dave. "He has really impressed me, and we are working to incorporate him in the same fashion my father did me."
With a grin, Dan added, "Brad payed more attention in college than his grandfather did."
While the future of a primarily leased operation lends a certain amount of uncertainty, the Lindblom men are grateful for all the Hart Ranch has offered their family for three generations and counting.
"The way you make it work is to run it like you own it. Run the other guy's place as near as you can as though you have to pay all the bills. We have taken good care of the Hart, and it has taken good care of us for 55 years now. You also need a lot of faith in God, which, thanks to Bev, this family has," said Dan.