Q: If memory serves, you and Darlene raised a pretty big family, huh?
A: Yes, we have five grown kids, including two sets of twins. At one time, we had four kids under 3 years old, then we had five kids under 5. Levi and his twin sister, Kim, are 48 now. Then we had Heide and Holly, who are identical twins and had a lot of fun with that in school. Darlene’s great grandpa was a twin, and three of her cousins had twins, so I guess that came from her side of the family. Ty is our youngest, and he’s 45 now. Ty is partners with Ty Yost on Rancho Rio in Wickenburg—the team roping capital of the world.
Q: Tell us about your ranching background and growing up in Arizona.
A: I was born in Phoenix, and my dad (the original Levi Grantham) ranched here forever. His family came to Arizona in 1900. My dad died when I was 19. I went to work for Hughes and Ganz Feedlot in Queen Creek right out of college. They fed 60,000 head of cattle, and we finished about 120,000 head a year.
Q: What happened to your dad that he died so young?
A: Same thing that about killed me four years ago. It’s called constrictive pericarditis, and it’s chronic, long-term inflammation of the pericardium, which is the sac-like membrane around your heart. My heart couldn’t beat very good, because that sac around it had calcified. I was down to 150 pounds from 200 and couldn’t saddle a horse or do a darn thing. They misdiagnosed it, like they did with my dad 54 years ago, as cirrhosis of the liver. Lucky for me, my daughters Heide and Holly both work in the heart industry in Phoenix, and know all the best doctors. Those doctors took a chainsaw to my chest and took my heart out of that sac. I joked with people that I was going to tack that sac up on the saddle-house door like a pack-rat skin.
Q: You had another surgery this summer, didn’t you?
A: Yes, I had my right knee replaced after Salinas. Jake Barnes told me it wouldn’t be much fun for awhile, but I’d sure be glad I did it after that. He was right, and I got back at it pretty fast.
Q: You roped calves and bulldogged in your younger years, too, right?
A: Yes, I roped calves, bulldogged and team roped when I was younger. When I was in high school, I headed for Roy Wales in the RCA (Rodeo Cowboys Association). When I started college—I went to Mesa Community College, then Arizona State in Tempe—I lived with Roy and his family in Queen Creek. That’s why (the late) Jimbo (Wales) was like a brother to me. A guy named Donny Nichols was working for Roy at the time, and Roy had seven head of calf horses there for us and would buy us 25 fresh calves every two weeks. Back then, roping calves cost $37.50 a head. I did take a three-year break from rodeoing when I went to work for Hughes and Ganz, because I was so busy in the cattle business.
Q: What are your favorite career highlights?
A: Winning the college (National Intercollegiate Rodeo Association) calf roping championship in 1967 was pretty cool. I didn’t have to beat anybody to win it, just guys like Phil Lyne and the Ferguson brothers. I’ve won money at about all of the major rodeos in Arizona and California, which was about the extent of my rodeo tour. I won the Gold Card year-end team roping title several years in a row, too, which was a good deal.
Q: Have you lived your whole life in Arizona?
A: Ninety percent of it. We lived in California’s Santa Ynez Valley when the kids were in high school. I leased Michael Jackson’s ranch in Neverland Valley for 20 years before Michael died.
Q: What’s the best part of Arizona living in the eyes of a native like yourself?
A: We’re up at 3,000-foot elevation—it ranges between 2,000 and 6,000 feet here at the ranch—so in the summertime it’s a little cooler than Wickenburg and in the wintertime it’s a little warmer than Wickenburg. We have mountains to the north of us, so there’s an afternoon breeze. And we don’t have to deal with the Phoenix traffic. Whenever you can grow citrus trees, it’s a pretty good climate. It can get a little draughty, like this year. We could stand some rain, but there are a lot of nice things about Arizona and we don’t have earthquakes or tornadoes.
Q: What’s your ranching operation like today?
A: I raise horses and run cows, calves and yearlings. I’ve raised Driftwood horses since I was in high school because of Roy Wales. They’re easy to break and make pretty damn nice horses, with lots of cow and plenty of speed. Rick Kieckhefer and I are partners on a ranch and run a lot of cattle together. Rick’s dad bought Driftwood Ike from Roy Wales, and has raised Driftwood horses forever, like I have.
Q: Who’s the best team roper of all time, in your eyes?
A: I’d say Jake (Barnes) and Clay (O’Brien Cooper), because they could beat you in any size of arena and with any size of horns on the steers. Dale Smith has to be one of the best there’s ever been, too. He’s one of the few guys who’ve headed and heeled at the Finals, and is one of only two guys who’ve been to the National Finals in four events (the other being Trevor Brazile).
Q: Who were your cowboy heroes growing up?
A: About all the guys from Arizona who rodeoed professionally. Dale Smith, Asbury Schell, John Rhodes, Chuck Sheppard—they all did a lot of winning and roped really good.
Q: How much do you get to compete now, and where do you rope most for money?
A: World Series ropings are where it’s at, and that deal in Las Vegas in December is a fabulous opportunity. If a guy can rope good and have a good week, he can win a lot of money there.
Q: Got any goals left as a team roper?
A: Sure. I want to go up there and win it all in Vegas, like everybody else. I also have a goal to win the Gold Card roping at Salinas. I’ve roped with Walt Woodard in that a couple times, and we’re going to try it again next year.