The trend began when Jesse Gonzales, now 62, heard Cactus Ropes was hiring back in 1998. He didn’t have any experience in rope making, so he hired on to do what he could, powdering ropes and keeping the place clean and tidy.
“He was there maybe a few months,” explained his wife, Margie. “Then, they put him in the wax room, waxing the ropes. From the wax room, they moved him into the rope room and Barry [Berg—Cactus Ropes’ GM] taught him how to make ropes.”
In the years that followed, literally every member of the Gonzales family joined the Cactus team for at least a while. Margie joined her husband in 2000 and became a burner and sewer after her oldest son signed on in 1999, setting the tone for his three younger siblings. Gabriel, who hired on in 2000 with his mom, is now the lead rope machine operator as the two near their 20 anniversary with the company, and daughter Pam, who hired on in 2004, has worked side by side with her mother for the past 15 years.
“I did the rawhide—the burners that you sew on the ropes—for a lot of years,” Margie said. “Then I stopped doing it when my other daughter got the job. I’ve been sewing ever since.”
Jesse and Margie’s oldest son left Cactus to work for the police force, and their other daughter worked on the team until she became pregnant with twins. But what the Gonzaleses lost in terms of immediate family coworkers, they gained through their extended family.
Joe Luis Martinez began working at Cactus just two days after he graduated from high school in 2000. Like the Gonzalez men, he started as a powder boy, and planned to work there for the summer before pursuing a career as a corrections officer. But, by the end of the summer, he began having a change of heart.
“I liked the people here and I thought, ‘You know what, I’m going to stay another year.’ It just clicked. They took care of me and I was happy. I went from working hourly in the shipping department and powder boy to making ropes and waxing. I was happy, and Barry pretty much treated me like a son, too, and it was cool. There was no reason for me to leave, so, I’ve been here since.”
When Martinez married Jesse and Margie’s daughter, Pam, his fate was really sealed.
“I knew her before then,” explained Martinez, who is now a floor supervisor and rope coiler. “But it wasn’t like we hung out or anything. Here at Cactus, I spent more time having conversations, so yeah, you could say Cactus Ropes brought us together.”
The third married couple in the family who works for Cactus is Gabriel and his wife, Pamela, who was hired in 2014 to work in the shipping department. And another son-in-law, Elizar Vegar—the father of the twins—has been doing tail tags for Cactus since 2013, making for a current grand total of seven family members who can build hundreds of ropes from start to finish, fix the machines and get the ropes out the door over the course of a workday.
If you’re wondering how moms and dads and sisters and brothers and husbands and wives and in-laws manage as coworkers for nearly two decades, the Gonzales family says it’s pretty simple.
“If we have misunderstandings,” Margie said, “we leave them at home. We come to work and do our work. The way I see it, the better we get along with each other in here, the better the work is.”
Martinez agrees, and gives a big nod to his bosses for doing such a good job of accommodating the family after so many years.
“The main deal I love about it is the work schedule,” he said. “Say, for instance, I have to leave for my son’s field day; I can leave. We’ve earned the privilege of coming back and finishing our job. Or, you never know when one of the kids is going to be sick, so, if my wife has to stay home, we’ll alternate. She’ll work the night that day, and I’ll work the day. It’s cool.”
The other cool part of making ropes, according to Martinez, is seeing them in action.
“We don’t rope,” he admitted, though he knows ropes inside and out. “I like to come in here and get the job done, but I like going to the rodeos and seeing it. I like to sit in the stands and say, ‘Hey, I coiled that rope and they won first, and I was hands on with that.’ It’s kind of the thrill I get out of it.”
All together, the Gonzalez and Martinez families comprise more than 250 years of rope making experience and, according to Martinez, they’re nowhere near finished.
“They treat us good. I ain’t going nowhere.”