Bob Barnes and Harry Vold have one thing in common that sets these rodeo greats apart -- they are the only two stock contractors who have had stock at every Wrangler National Finals Rodeo since it began 51 years ago.
He attributes his success to his family. "Especially my wife (Donita); we've been blessed," said the 80-year-old stock contractor from Iowa who grew up as a farm boy. "I don't remember my dad but in Bluebell overalls. I milked five cows by hand a day and walked two miles to school," he said.
"My sister, Marjorie, was two years older than me. We broke horses for the neighbors for five dollars a head and that figured out fifty cents every time we got bucked off. We didn't mind that. We heard there was some kind of a buck out in southern Minnesota. We both went and got on a bareback horse, each one of us. She won first, I won second and we were hooked."
Bob graduated from high school at just barely 17. "I rode horses for a man in Iowa for the rest of the summer and then I helped at home on the farm." He enlisted in the Marine Corp in 1951, during the Korean War. "The war got over and I got out," he said. "I went back to working on the farm and breaking horses."
Bob raised the feed for his stock, so when he wasn't rodeoing, he was farming. "It was a challenge," he admits. "Not everybody could do it."
Bob married Donita on Ground Hog Day in 1958. She was a farm girl and Bob knew her dad. "I saw her leading a club calf and I told my buddy that I was going to marry her someday. I didn't have the nerve to talk to her for three or four years. We had a rodeo in our pasture in the afternoon, at night we had the Indians and I got the nerve to ask her to go to the Indian thing with me and she went." They dated for six months and married.
Donita kept a diary of their early years. "We pulled a single axle house trailer and the fist summer we lived in it. When we got to the last rodeo, the guy took our trailer and we lived with his folks until the trailer got back."
"When I figured I was going to do this with my life was in 1958 when I married my wife because I knew I'd have help," said Bob. "All my information was on the dash of that old car and everything we owned was in the trunk. We had two horses we owned."
Donita knew her future was going to be spent on the road. "When I agreed to marry him, I knew I was going to be in the rodeo business," said Donita. "Both our sons and their wives help in the business. Marty's wife, Kendall, she rides in the grand entry, and helps with the saddle horses and times. John's wife, Cindy, is a timer at the WNFR. She is very efficient. Mitzi makes all our grand entry blouses and when we're within a 200 mile radius of where we are she comes and times and rides in the grand entry."
"We couldn't be in the rodeo business if it wasn't for our family," said Bob. "There's a lot of work involved and they all work hard."
Some of the PRCA contract personnel that Bob gave a start in the PRCA include but not limited to the following: Jerry & Fern Olson, Phil Gardenhire, Don Endsley, Quail Dobbs, Boyd Polhamus, Jerry Wayne Olson, Duane Peters, Duane Reichert, Johnny Pope, Andy Seiler, Kelley Kenney, Lucas Moore.
"We may have given those people a start, but all those people helped us along the way too. It's a two-way street," Donita said.
One of the many challenges the new company faced back in the 50s was providing the entire arena. "We don't have over four permanent arenas in our country. We have to put them up -- the whole deal," said Bob.
Barnes has the set-up down to one semi and two hours. "We can haul enough chutes and panels for a complete rodeo arena, including holding pens. It takes eight people about two hours to unload and set up the arena," he said."
One of the first, and longest contracts the Barnes Rodeo has is with Spooner, Wis. "In 1953 a guy from Wisconsin went through Cherokee Iowa on his way home. My brother had a filling station and he stopped there to fill up gas. He had a red Barnes Rodeo jacket and he talked us into going to Wisconsin to put on a rodeo. We had our first one there in 1954 and last year we had been there for 56 consecutive years. It's a mammoth rodeo. It's like my second home."
Nobody has started on the ground with nothing like the Barnes have done in the PRCA rodeo business. "We get the contracts, borrow the money, make the press deals and things like that. When the phone rings at midnight, we answer it. It will always be like that."
Bob served on the PRCA Board when the rodeo was moved from Oklahoma City to Las Vegas. "I was on the board for two years and served every deal in the PRCA - the Executive Council, on the big board, NFRC board. Now it's kind of nice, John's on the Big board -- just got elected for two more years."
The Barnes name has supplied stock for as many as 50 rodeos a year in 18 states, including the Wrangler National Finals. The Barnes stock consists of about 200 bulls and 350 horses, all run on the cornfields of Iowa.
Between rodeos, Bob and Donita enjoy watching the grandkids -- they have 10.
Retirement is not in Bob's vocabulary. The 80-year-old has lived through a broken leg (several times), the first which occurred when he got bucked off in 1955. The doctors thought they were going to have to amputate, but thanks to pins, Bob' s leg was saved. He had both hips replaced in 1990 and 1991. He had one redone two years ago. He also had quadruple bypass surgery in 1994.
Beginning with eight horses that were bought on credit, the Barnes family has worked for 60 years to improve their stock.
They brought 24 head to Cheyenne Frontier Days this year and Chet Johnson, Gillette, Wyo., tied the Cheyenne Frontier Days saddle bronc riding arena record of 90 points on Barnes' Cat Power to win the final round. They had eight head at the Justin Playoff in Omaha and their mare, Little Stone, helped Isaac Diaz win the bronc riding. "We had horses that won their cowboys $26,000," said John Barnes.
"We are a family deal. We raise ours from the ground up," said Bob. "If we have a good year next year we'll have them paid off.
Every one of the horses they raise has a name, and the name comes from the personality, the bloodlines, or the rodeos they go to. "We had a mare named Blue Gill -- and every colt she had had a fish name," said John. "We have a lot of fun with our names.
Bob likes horses and rodeo was a novelty in Iowa when he started. "He had rodeos close to home at first and never traveled very far," said John about the beginning years. "He leased bulls from people. It was kind of primitive at first. He'd pound posts in the ground to make arenas and it just went from there."
"The horse that got us on the map was Crystal Springs, the 1997 Horse of the Year. Dad was trying to raise spotted horses (Appaloosa) and one came out black. We kept it and it was Crystal. The next step after that point was to buy horses, like from Miles City and other stock contractors and build the herd from there. In 1979, at the NFR sale, the Barnes gave $400 for Cat Ballou's stallion colt. XI Boy Ballou became the herd sire. They bought Big Stone, a mature mare with a colt on her side from the same sale. Her background was the Brookman Ranch in Montana. She cost $600. For $1,000 we're in the breeding horse business."
"We're very fortunate with the bloodlines we were able to buy. Every time you buck an animal it's a gamble, and those have really panned out for us.
The Barnes are slowly trying to become self sufficient within the bucking horses and bull business. "We want to raise everything. We've got the horses in several generations built up and now we're working on the bull side of it," said John.
Steve and Cindy Gilbert, with the Diamond G Rodeo, are very helpful with that. "My Aunt Marg (Bob's sister) didn't travel like my dad did. The neighbor's bull got over to the cows at her place and that produced Neighbor Boy #86. He went to the NFR."
Another of the early bulls, Link, was used by Wrangler for displays with Ty Murry aboard.
Voted Stock Contractor of the Year in 1983, Bob Barnes sums up his program. "I like to see our good horses buck. I'm a horseman."