The Rancher’s Millwright |

The Rancher’s Millwright

Rhonda Sedgwick Stearns
for Tri-State Livestock News
Most of the year Shaun Pitts builds fence, sheds and other practical items. But during the holiday season he caters to customers' requests and creates artistic iron pieces. Courtesy photo

Fourth-generation South Dakota rancher Shaun Pitts knows the front side of making a business work as well as the back side, and everything in between.

After growing up ranching in the rugged Black Hills along the South Dakota/Wyoming border and receiving his high school diploma at Newcastle, Wyoming in 1994, rodeo and academic scholarships took him to the University of Wyoming to pursue Ag Business and Economics, and claim a bachelor’s degree in 1998.

First National Bank at Fort Pierre, South Dakota soon made him an ag loan officer and his next step was Branch Manager for them in McLaughlin, South Dakota where he worked a lot with ag loans. “Trying to work my way home,” Shaun grins, “I moved on to Lead and Deadwood, until a door opened with Investment Centers at First State Bank of Newcastle in 2000.”

“After a few years I went chasing the money,” he admits. Coal miners were earning twice his income, so in 2005 Shaun “went overnight from a three-piece suit to a welding hood at Jacobs Ranch Mine.” Arch Coal made him the millwright there, and afte seven and one-half years of trying to juggle rotating schedules and lengthy commutes with a young daughter and challenged marriage he decided to go into business for himself.

“I loved banking and looking at guys’ business plans and playing with numbers…and I liked the mine, but it left me no time for life and family.” Shaun likens his leap into self-employment five years ago to “takin’ off in a rusty plane without a propeller,” but has found his multi-faceted life training, experience and natural talents fit the job description. Titling himself “The Rancher’s Millwright” he jokes, “I’ll build your fence, repair your roof, or unclog your toilet.”

“Seriously, ag fencing is the backbone of my business,” Shaun says, citing miles of highway and railroad fence, ranchers’ electric fence, extra-tall game fences, and most recently a lot of decorative wood fencing on Black Hills retirement properties in his portfolio. The oil field loves him for his treater sheds almost on demand; ranchers love him for his calf shelters the same way, and he also builds loafing sheds for horses, storage sheds, carports…whatever a customer wants Shaun can custom build or weld.

Underneath the hardworking handyman exterior Shaun Pitts is and always has been an artist. “I’ve always done pictures, but never showed them to anyone,”he admits.

Plasma-cut ranch signs and décor which evolved by request into horseshoe and barbed wire art have changed that. After he “posted a few pictures on Facebook” Shaun’s phone started ringing with orders. Today his unique artistry decorates a lot of homes and ranches. One of his favorite things about that kind of shop work is how involved his daughter Madison has become. “She’s the fifth generation on this ranch, now. Seven goin’ on 45,” he quips – and she loves helping paint his art. She’s also part of the reason he creates welded minions.

Ever pursuing a bigger challenge, Shaun, his welder and odd pieces of iron are now at work creating “a European-mount elk skull with a 400-point rack.” If you live near Custer, South Dakota or Upton, Wyoming you can check out his art at Christmas bazaars in those towns. Or visit or