Miracles happen every day and Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA) bareback rider, Zach Curran is absolute proof of it. Only four short years ago, Zach […]
Back When They Bucked with Rollie Gibbs
Written by: Ruth Nicolaus< Back to Articles
Rollie Gibbs has played several different roles in the sport he loves. He was a bull rider and bulldogger, competing for thirty-plus years, served as chairman of the Helldorado Days Rodeo in Las Vegas, president of the Wilderness Circuit, president and advisor for the Nevada High School Rodeo Association, and chairman of the Old Timers Reunion.
It all started in 1935, when he was born in Las Vegas, the younger son of Bert and Cecilia Gibbs, on the old Miller Ranch, which is now Sunset Park on Eastern and Sunset Roads, back when Fremont Street was gravel.
He was a year old when he was in the Helldorado Days Parade, in the back of a little cart while his older brother Delbert drove the cart with a pair of goats. When he was a kid, he and his brother would ride their horses to Bonanza and Second Streets, where they would watch the rodeo and the horse races.
In high school, he rodeoed, riding bulls. One Monday morning, he was up in slack and had to cut school to ride. His parents did not approve of his rodeo; they didn’t want him to get hurt and they did not know that he competed. That evening, he was working with his dad in the front yard, when his dad said, “I hear you can ride bulls.” Father Kenny, from the local parish, had seen Rollie ride and reported it to his dad. The cat was out of the bag.
After graduating from Las Vegas High School in 1954, Rollie went pro. For a while, he didn’t have to buy his Rodeo Cowboys Association card; Chuck Shepard, a judge, would waive the fee for him at the rodeos Chuck was at. One time, in Salt Lake City, June Ivory cornered Rollie, telling him Shepard wouldn’t be there, so he’d have to buy his card.
In his high school days, Gibbs rode bulls. It wasn’t till ’55 that he started steer wrestling, and he won the first rodeo he entered. Wide World of Sports was televising that event, and “I was twenty feet tall and bullet proof,” Rollie laughed. He competed at rodeos from Cheyenne, Wyo., to Denver, Salt Lake City, Ogden, Spanish Forks, Prescott, Phoenix, Scottsdale, and more. And when steer wrestling greats like Willard and Benny Combs hazed for him, he was on top of the world. “I thought, man, I was King Kong.”
He competed, on and off, for 36 years, and won his hometown rodeo, Helldorado Days, in 1977. A year later, he was asked to be the chairman for the rodeo. Rollie also served three years as chairman of the Helldorado Rodeo Queen pageant. During his year at the helm of Helldorado Days, he had a midnight performance for the workers on the graveyard shift.
Gibbs served as president of the Wilderness Circuit from 1979 to 1982, and helped with the Nevada High School Rodeo Association as an advisor and as president. He worked to bring the high school state finals to Las Vegas. The first time, it was hosted at the Star Dust arena. But when the arena was turned into an RV park, there was no other outdoor facility in Vegas to host it. Rollie went to the county commissioners and worked with them to build Horseman’s Park. Gibbs, in his ingenuity, used local supplies: drill stem pipe from the Nevada Test Site (now the Nevada National Security Site) for posts, leftover lights from the airport, and more. The high school finals was televised for several years by the PBS station, and Rollie secured a Las Vegas High School alumnus; Pam Martin Minick, to serve as commentator. Supporting youth was a big part of his life, whether it was in rodeo or through high school scholarships.
During this time, Rollie had been working for a crane company, with an understanding boss who allowed him to rodeo. When the company passed to the son, he decided to form his own company: the Rollie Gibbs Crane Service. After 26 years with the first company, he took many of his customers with him. He worked on many familiar buildings in town: Caesar’s Palace, the Mirage, the Riviera, the Stardust, at the Nevada Test Site, and more. His skills and dependability were in high demand; when Rollie did a job, it got done quickly and it got done well. “I was working seven days a week, around the clock,” he said.
An example of his hard work was the Landmark Tower. The tallest structure in Las Vegas when it was begun, he and his crew built 26 concrete floors in eleven days, pouring a foot an hour.
As owner of Rollie Gibbs Crane Service, he donated much of his time to charities, helping build the Ronald McDonald House, a Salvation Army warehouse, and more. He’s volunteered his time with Habitat for Humanity, and served as Cub Scout leader, receiving the Meritorious Service Award.
Rollie worked as a pickup man for Cotton Rosser and Flying U Rodeo, and served as a judge as well, judging rodeos from the 1960s into the ‘80s. He was on the board of the Miss Rodeo Nevada organization, produced a Little Britches Rodeo in Overton, Nev., and a high school rodeo in Pahrump, Nev.
Since 2008, he’s been president of the Las Vegas High School Alumni Association, and with his guidance, the association has paid out nearly $100,000 in scholarships for high school youth.
Rollie is currently on the board of directors for the Original Cowboy Reunion, begun by Buster and June Ivory and Liz Kessler. The group meets every year in Las Vegas during the National Finals Rodeo.
He built his own home in the early 1980s in a prestigious part of town, Section 10. He and his wife host parties and events at their home, weddings, memorials, Rollie’s high school reunion, church gatherings, and, each year, their rodeo friends when they are in town for the Cowboy Reunion.
A few years ago, he ran into a classmate from high school. Naomi Lytle had been a Helldorado Rodeo Queen, but after marriage, had moved out of town. Her husband died, and when she visited Las Vegas, they reacquainted and got married five years ago. “She dearly loves the same things I do,” Rollie said. Together, they’re spending their retirement days traveling the world, visiting Ireland, Scotland and England; Alaska, the Caribbean, Montreal, and more.
Rollie has had tickets to the NFR since it moved to Vegas in 1985. Four seats in the fourth row belong to him, and he goes to all ten performances. He also loves to visit the Gold Card Room, where the PRCA’s gold card members visit.
Looking back on his life, he recalls the good days. “I can’t say I’ve had a bad part of my life,” he said. “I’ve lived in the best of times.” And at the age of 82, he’s not done. “I’m not dead yet. I’ve got plenty of other things to do.”