Jeff Smith is a USTRC original. He’s produced USTRC ropings in Kansas since the start, and also provides a lot of the steers roped across the country. Smith goes so far back that he served on Denny Gentry’s ground-breaking home team nearly 30 years ago at the first USTRC National Finals of Team Roping ever held, in 1990. Smith, who just turned 58 on September 27, lives in the part of Small Town, America called Peabody, Kansas. Jeff lives within an hour of his mom and all five of his siblings; is dad to one son, Brandon; and grandpa to Bronson and Jerri.
Q: What’s it been like to be a ground-floor USTRC guy?
A: The USTRC has always been for families, and people always wanted to be a part of it. I helped Denny and Connie with that first US Finals—I worked on the crew, and had cattle there—and have enjoyed being a part of it ever since. I’ve put on ropings all my life.
Q: How wide is your reach with the ropings you produce?
A: We produce USTRC ropings in Kansas, Nebraska, Missouri, Iowa, Oklahoma, and Colorado. We go pretty much everywhere in the central United States, and every once in a while we put on a roping in two different states at the same time.
Q: Since you can’t be two places at the same time, what’s the key to success there?
A: To have a good roping, you need good cattle and good help—announcers, flaggers, secretaries, timers, stripping-chute and head-gate help. If you don’t have good help, you aren’t going to make it. Everybody’s got to have a fair chance. It’s unbelievable how good the cattle have to be now that they rope for so much money. They have to be even, and give everyone a shot.
Q: Talk about your cattle operation.
A: Ike Cox of Bethany, Missouri, is my partner on all the cattle. C-S Cattle Company is the name of our business, and we run about 2,500 head of roping steers in Kansas and Missouri. I use them at the ropings I produce, and also lease them out to other producers. I’ve always had cattle at the US Finals, and will again this year.
Q: Describe the perfect roping steer.
A: A Mexican steer that weighs about 425 pounds, is in good shape, with six to eight runs on him, that runs medium to strong, runs straight, and has no tricks would be about perfect.
Q: How tough is the roping-steer business?
A: It’s very tough. As everybody knows, the sales on the back end are not very good on steers. It’s not quite as bad now, when we’re buying steers for $600, as it was two or three years ago, when we were having to give $1,285 a head for roping steers. That was the craziest thing in the world. I’m not sure I’d want to get started in this business today, if I wasn’t already in it. You can take a bath on roping cattle pretty easy. It’s a tough business, but it’s what we’ve always done, and the combination of producing the ropings and owning the cattle helps it make a little more sense.
Q: Do you ever find yourself in a love-hate relationship with the roping business?
A: We try so hard to make everybody happy. We take a lot of pride in what we do, and do everything in our power to do things right. That’s the best you can do. I have hundreds of thousands of friends all over the United States that I wouldn’t have without team roping. That’s why I do what I do. I love the people, and I love the lifestyle.
Q: How have you seen the roping industry change in your lifetime?
A: I’ve seen some ups and downs, but mostly a lot of progress overall. There was a time when there were 2,000 teams everywhere we’d go, but with so many more ropings now, you naturally aren’t going to see as many teams all the time as when events were fewer and further between. This industry is really booming. Horses, trucks, and trailers are expensive now, and not everybody’s day job is being a doctor. The people who live around me are farmers, or work in town during the week and rope on the weekends. I do notice that the roping business basically tends to follow the economy on a state-to-state basis.
Q: You’ve been a dyed-in-the-wool USTRC man, but you’re also branching out into the World Series of Team Roping, right?
A: The USTRC has been unbelievable to me, and everybody I’ve worked for over the years has been top shelf—the best. I’ve been a US guy from the start. I just had a World Series roping in Loveland, Colorado, over Labor Day Weekend, which was the first World Series roping I’ve produced. I’d sure like to do both.
Q: You’re obviously most at home among your people. What is it about this cowboy community you love so much?
A: I like to go because of everybody I know. It’s a lot of hard work, but it’s been a good business for us, because most ropers are good people. And they become good friends of mine. They’re people you want to sit down and visit with. I look forward to going, because I know I’ll get to see a lot of old friends everywhere we go. They might be a doctor or a dentist during the week, but they put their jeans on like the rest of us on the weekends.
Q: How hard would it be to talk you into another line of work?
A: You’ve basically got to be married to it to successfully produce ropings. Thankfully, I’ve got good help, and I’m surrounded by people I trust. That’s the only possible way to produce ropings in two different states at the same time without a wreck. We put on ropings 31 weekends out of 52 in the year. It’s what we do.
Q: You make it possible for a lot of other people to rope. How often do you get to saddle up and have a little fun yourself?
A: It comes and goes. I’ve roped forever (he’s a #6 at both ends), and it seems like I’ll get to rope a lot one year, then not so much the next year, if we’re really busy. I headed forever, then the last few years I’ve heeled. I got to enter quite a bit a couple years ago, but not as much this year. I still enter a few of the USTRC ropings, and I still love to rope every chance I get.