For the Pugsleys success lies in determination with a healthy dose of blessingsWritten by Jennifer Womack
“My granddad and his brother Archie came out here and homesteaded,” says Jack. “They brought all their stuff by rail to Lusk and then brought it here by horse and wagon.”
What’s kept the Pugsley family in the Jay Em community all these years despite the vacant homesteads that dot the landscape around their ranch? “Determination,” laughs Jack.
“Blessings,” adds his wife Elaine. The couple’s ranch, which Elaine named “The Breaks” for the small rock outcroppings, is located just west of the small community. Jay Em is located in northern Goshen County.
Born during the Depression, Jack was raised on the family ranch. “I call myself Lincoln,” he jokes. “I was born in a little log home.” Jack’s father had the place leased and in 1941 purchased the ranch that the Pugsleys now call home.
“Going to town,” meant a trip to nearby Jay Em in those days, recalls Jack. At the time, however, a person could purchase most anything they might need in the bustling community. There was a rock shop, a lumberyard, a grocery store, a hardware store and more. Many of the buildings, some on the National Historic Register, still stand in the community.
“It was a varied agricultural community with chickens, hogs and dairy cows,” says Jack. “Jay Em used to be one of the cream centers of Wyoming. The farms separated the milk and the cream was shipped out by mail.”
“His family butchered hogs, made butter and more and took it to the Sunrise Mine to sell to the miners,” says Elaine. On their return trips Jack says his family would bring lumber and parts from the then abandoned Chicago Mine to build barns on their ranch.
Elaine was raised just down the highway in Torrington where she and Jack both attended high school. After graduation Jack attended the University of Nebraska studying agriculture on a football scholarship. Elaine spent two years at the Colorado Women’s College before transferring to the University of Nebraska where she earned her teaching degree. Fifty-three years ago, on Aug. 20, 1956, the couple married.
After graduating from college Jack went to work for the Nebraska Highway Department. “We were too poor to move away from Lincoln,” he recalls. He worked in the aeronautics division and soon joined the Air Force. In 1964 he went to work for the Bureau of Reclamation and he and Elaine moved to Farmington, N M. Jack did the soils work on a 197,000-acre irrigation project on the Navajo Indian Reservation.
From New Mexico it was on to different positions with the Bureau of Reclamation in Oregon, Washington, Idaho and Montana. In June 1974 he and Elaine headed for home, returning to the family ranch just days before Jack’s father passed away.
“I was a town girl. I didn’t think I’d like it,” says Elaine. “It took me about three years and now I love it.” Elaine says it was a great place to raise their two sons, Michael and Randall. Randall works on the family ranch in addition to working as a security guard at the ethanol plant in Torrington. Michael and his family live in North Carolina where he’s in the banking industry.
For the first 10 years after their return Elaine worked side by side with Jack on the ranch. Twenty-five years ago, however, she had the opportunity to acquire the job running the local Post Office.
“It’s the best job in town,” laughs Jack of the only job in Jay Em.
“When we celebrated our 50th anniversary we also celebrated the final payment on the place,” says Jack. The couple, along with their sons and their families, spent a week in Nisswa, Minn. to celebrate the occasion.
When they first returned to Jay Em, Jack says the ranch was a cattle and wheat operation. “We’ve got everything back to grass now,” he says. “Our soils aren’t the greatest and the cost of production is too high,” he says of growing wheat. The family does put up hay. Jack says 2009 was a great hay year.
With goals of improving the cowherd, now comprised of a Gelbvieh and Red Angus cross, Jack attended an artificial insemination school in 1976. “He has continually upgraded the herd over all these years,” says Elaine.
Pursuing other aspects of ranching with equal enthusiasm Jack says, “We use a deferred rotational grazing program, which I’ve been doing since I came back. It used to be that every seven years one pasture would not be used for a full year. During the drought we changed that so it’s now every five years.” Still recovering from the drought, Jack says the ranch is stocked at about 60 percent.
Water development, including two solar powered wells, has been done on the ranch. Jack says two of the solar panel systems are on a tracker while the other is static. “I can get three hours and 27 minutes more pumping time out of the ones with trackers,” says Jack of the panels that pivot to gain maximum sunlight. He tested and compared the systems.
Jack also took a quick interest in community service by running for the local conservation district board where he served 25 years. It was through that work that Jack learned about the Resource Conservation and Development Program (RC&D) operated by the Natural Resources Conservation Service. He’s now serving as president of the Southeast Wyoming RC&D, an organization that’s helped area landowners form associations for the purpose of leasing their wind development rights.
Beyond the economic potential for landowners, Jack says it’s easy to support the efforts of RC&D Coordinator Grant Stumbough. “I think it’s going to stabilize people on the land,” says Jack of wind energy development. That’s something he welcomes, he says noting that he believes in people with a stewardship ethic owning property. The Associations, he says, have brought small communities together for a common cause. In the years to come he’s hopeful the associations will use their new groups to accomplish other common goals.
As for the future of their own ranch, Elaine says, “We hope Randall takes it over and we’re trying to get that all set up.”
“We’ll let another generation go through what we did,” laughs Jack. If that’s the case Randall will enjoy many years carrying out his parents’ tradition of community service, innovation in ranching and an enthusiasm for the work he does.