As recreational team roping has been on the rise, so have opportunities to capitalize on its popularity. From event production to cattle, rope horses, trailer manufacturing and beyond, the opportunities are available to anyone willing to work for it.
Tommy Morrison, Blanket, Texas, has been an avid team roper all his life. Originally from Ozona, Texas, he was raised by his aunt and uncle, RC and Ruby Solomon, on their ranch in Falfurrias. After the 10th grade he entered the U.S. Army where he did three years of service. As a young man he settled in Brownwood, Texas, and set out to continue his family’s ranching legacy.
“I was in the ranching business back in the 70s. It got rough so I went to work,” he recalled. “I started a welding shop. We started small and then worked our way up. The last 10 to 15 years, as team roping has really taken off, we started concentrating on roping arenas and that’s about all we do anymore.”
From the ground up, Morrison designs and builds indoor rodeo arenas for individuals and cities, or “anyone who wants one.” With teams of specialty contractors, metal workers and welders and a passion for designing functional facilities his customers include some of the best in the business. Some of his better-known facilities include the Circle T Arena in Hamilton, Texas, the JLK Arena in Llano, Texas, and the arena at Dripping Springs Ranch Park in Dripping Springs, Texas. He’s built state-of-the-art arenas for some of the industry’s top ropers including 2015 WPRA World Champion Header Lari Dee Guy and Wrangler National Finals Rodeo qualifier Jim Ross Cooper.
“I’ve known Tommy a long time,” said Cooper. “He’s a hard-working guy and I knew the quality of his work was excellent. When I was ready to build, he had an opening. He did it all, and did it on time.”
For the past year, Morrison has been near Brenham, Texas, working on one of his favorite projects to date. An immaculate 92,000-square-foot facility and indoor roping arena for Don Imus—of the nationally syndicated talk show, Imus in the Morning—and his wife Deirdre. Their son, Wyatt Imus, is an avid team roper and tie-down roper with multiple regional Texas High School Rodeo Association titles. He also trains with World Champion Joe Beaver.
“Joe B. is the one who introduced me to Imus,” Morrison said. “We’ve been on this job almost a year now. But it’s been well worth it.”
Aside from the Imus Ranch, the Circle T is a close second for Morrison, who finished the original arena in 2006 and completed the second last December.
“With the kinds of numbers the World Series ropings are pulling, you have to have the two arenas,” said Circle T arena manager, Dell Trailor. “Tommy is well-known in the equine industry for building great arenas. He built the first one here and was immediately the go-to person for the second pen. It was important to us that the second arena have the same dimensions as the first. Often times the second arena is just that. At the Circle T, you almost don’t realize you’re roping in a different pen and that’s what we wanted.”
For Morrison every job is more than just a building or an arena—functionality is key and he takes it all to heart.
“It’s all about the flow,” he says. “When Troy Shelley shows up at the Circle T it’s everything from the ease of cattle coming off the truck to being able to run 100 teams an hour. If you have something that doesn’t work right, it’s difficult for your chute help, the ground isn’t right, or whatever, its really hard on that producer.”
Morrison likes to spend as much time as he can on his job sites and because of that tries to finish one before starting another.
“I want to be sure it’s built the way I want it to be built, and it’s hard to do that if you have more than one going at a time. Generally, I try to finish one before I start another.”
He’s roped in every arena he’s built and each opportunity has led to long-lasting friendships.
“Every arena I’ve built, I’ve come out of there with some really good friends,” he said. “You really build a relationship with those customers.”
Morrison has three sons, Tohma, Tanner and Tory (two of whom still rope). All three boys worked for Morrison at some point but have gone on to their own careers. He also has a stepson, Tanner Jones, who’s 15 and still living at home. He lost his other stepson, “little” Billy Jones in early 2014. His wife, Sabrina, helps him with the construction business, doing paperwork, hauling materials or anything that needs to be done and always travels with him to the ropings whenever she can.
Morrison loves to compete. Last year, he finished 10th in the #10 Finale with Chad Decker, Stephenville, Texas. He has picked up paychecks at multiple World Series qualifiers in the last three months and will rope at Finale X from the #12 down thru the #9.
“I truly get to do what I love for a living,” said Morrison. “It’s what I know. At least I think I know—I better by now.”
Tommy Morrison is a lifelong team roper who turned his passion for the sport into a lucrative career. He has built state-of-the-art team roping arenas and rodeo facilities all across Texas and surrounding states. It’s been quite the ride, but he’s not finished yet.
When I first started roping there were no numbers. You put your money in a pot and you just roped if you wanted to rope. It’s changed for the better. It’s really something to see. The amount of money in it is incredible.
Ninety percent of my business is done at ropings, so I can’t not go. But it’s where I want to be. Larry Coats is one of my best friends and we always say, “Going to a roping is one thing and having to be there is another.”
Chad Decker and I started the Jeff Sewalt Iron Man Invitational Rope-N-Stroke. We had our third-annual event this year. My youngest son, Tory, and I won it. Jeff was a real good friend of mine so that was pretty special.
I actually quit high school in the 10th grade and went into the Army. I was stationed in El Paso as a tanker for three years. When I got out I moved back to Brownwood, and I’m still there, right down the road from where I used to live.
Before we started building arenas we built schools, churches, dairies, all kinds of stuff. I have to say; I think working with ropers is a great deal. We’ve built a few big cutting pens and those were fun too.
I’ve never advertised much. It seems like once I get one job done I’ve got another one lined up. The last few years we’ve been so busy it takes away from my own practice time. I still want to be able to go home and work my horses and rope.
I’ll be 59 in December. I don’t see myself retiring any time soon. We work six months to a year out. Right now I’m booked through next year. I’ve been very fortunate.