LaTonne Sewalt remembers the first barrel race she was in at Comanche, Texas. She was 9 years old and was riding her horse, Little Joe, […]
Back When They Bucked with Ralph & Helen Rand
Written by: Siri Stevens< Back to Articles
story by Kyle Eustice
In the early 1950s, Ralph and Helen Rand used to frequent the Calico Rock Café in their hometown of Dolph, Arkansas, and the pair quickly grew fond of one another. The only problem was Helen was just 14 years old and Ralph was 24. Understandably, the age difference caused a lot of controversy in the family, but they were undeterred. They started seeing each other anyway, even though Helen’s father, Homer Pat Sanders, was adamantly against it. Despite his resistance, they fell in love, ran off together and got married in 1953.
After a whirlwind romance, the couple is still going strong 63 years later. Their eldest son, Tommy Rand, 57, was born into the cowboy way of life, along with older sisters Rema and Judy, and younger brother Tony. Ralph started producing rodeos in 1969 when they were all young children.
“I was 10 years old when dad started producing rodeos,” said Tommy. “The hardest part for me was catching cattle. There are 310 acres where the arena is, so it was a full day.”
As a child, Tommy helped his father raise horses and bulls. Several of them have been bucking bull or horse of the year. It started with his grandfather, Owen Rand, who bought and traded horses for a living.
“My dad basically turned it over to me when I was 12,” said Ralph. “I’ve always been a horse trader.”
Ralph started riding bucking bulls and horses at a young age, too. He loved the rodeo lifestyle from the first moment he was exposed to it.
“He’s always had horses as a kid,” said Tommy. “He just loved being around the rodeo and the people he met.”
In 1969, the Calico Rock Lions Club wanted Ralph to put on a rodeo. At that time, he didn’t have any bulls. Instead, he had bucking horses that weren’t broke yet. In fact, Ralph would regularly have his kids ride the unbroke horses and then take them to the local horse sale.
“If they sold and made money, the kids got to stop at the local truck stop to get something to eat, which was a real treat for them,” explained Judy. “But if the horses did not make any money, they didn’t get to stop. They would just drive by.”
At Ralph’s inaugural rodeo, instead of using bulls, he used cows to buck, while Helen would work the gate. His longtime friend, Paul McCarson, showed up to help him and essentially produced the first amateur rodeo along with Ralph.
“It didn’t require a membership,” said Judy. “It followed typical rodeo rules, but there was no rule book.”
Word started to spread that Ralph was producing quality rodeos on his property and soon people were asking him to produce rodeos in their town. That’s when the traveling began. Ralph had an old Bob Truck that could haul five horses and five bucking bulls. At one particular event in Ravenden, Arkansas, they ended up having the rodeo by moonlight after all of the lights were shut off. They did whatever it took to keep the rodeo going.
“In Imboden, Arkansas, the arena was a T-ball field, so it was not typical square arena,” said Judy. “This guy got in there with a bull and it knocked him completely through the fence. We had to fix the fence to finish the rodeo.”
With his unwavering dedication to producing the best rodeos in the area, Ralph dove head first into the production side, where he could be behind the scenes. While he’s not as involved as he used to be, he still raises several bucking bulls and horses on the Rand farm, where he hosts a “Born to Buck” program.
“We keep about 100 horses and 50 bulls,” said Tommy. “We put on junior rodeos, too. There’s always something going on.”
As a member of associations like the ACA, Arkansas Family Rodeo and Great American Bull Riding Association, Ralph has amassed countless accolades over the years. He served on the ACA board in the ‘80s, earned the GABRA Bucking Bull of the Year Award in 1994, and was named the ACA Cowboy of the Year in 1996. In 2013, he was the ACA Cowboys Choice Producer of the Year and two years later, earned the ACA Bareback Horse of the Year and Ranch Bronc Horse of the year. The Rand family’s most coveted award, however, is the 1998 Izard County Farm Family of the Year Award.
“I was shocked when I found out we got it,” said the now 78-year-old Helen. “I wasn’t expecting it. I came home from work and there were 70 or 80 people for a surprise potluck. There were six or seven photographers there to take pictures. Ralph and I were shocked. We had no idea they were going to do this surprise dinner.”
Every August, the Rands recreate the very first rodeo they had in 1969. Called the “Old Timers Rodeo,” they replicate the initial hand bill from 1969, when attending the event was only $2.50. It’s a huge spectacle and captures the hearts of their entire community. At 88, Ralph can watch the event unfold and soak in the magic of what he’s created over the years.
“It’s unreal how many people show up,” said Tommy. “About 1,100 to 1,200 people usually come. We give out buckles and just have a great time.”
Ralph is proud to watch his son take over the family business. He knows Tommy won’t stop until it’s the best rodeo it can be.
“He’s that kind of person,” said Ralph. “He’ll fight to get to the top. I tried other people in the past, but Tommy really does it the way we have always done it. He loves the rodeo.”
Ralph still checks on the cattle on a daily basis while Helen is content staying at home and spending time with her family. After such a long, fruitful career, they can look back with pride at everything they’ve accomplished, including Ralph’s biggest goal.
“I always wanted to be a cowboy,” said Ralph. “That was what I wanted to do as a young boy in school. The number one thing I said I wanted was a big ranch and I did it.”