Back When they Bucked with Wick Peth
Wick Peth was born in 1930 at Mt. Vernon, Washington. “My parents were farmers and ranchers. We run cattle and raised quite a few peas […]
Dr. Jim Baker was born in Lusk, Wyo. His dad was a dirt contractor. “When I was a kid I thought if you didn’t play basketball and rope calves they’d send you away,” said the 78-year-old retired veterinarian. “I was too tall and skinny to play football.”
He graduated from Natrona County High School in Casper, Wyo., and went to Casper Junior College on a basketball scholarship when it was on the third floor of the high school. “I was the first pre-vet student that they had at Casper Junior College.” He was going to be an engineer, but changed his mind thanks to the encouragement of a teacher. “I was good in science and my physics teacher said that I should go into veterinary medicine. She pointed out my love for animals and scientific mind and that got me and it fit. I’ve been more content than most people with my chosen profession.” He was in the top ten percent academically in both junior college and veterinary school. “I wasn’t as smart as I was persistent – still am today.”
He transferred to Ft. Collins, Colo., and continued with their rodeo team, competing in calf roping, bull dogging, and ribbon roping. He had used up two years of eligibility at Casper College where he was part of the first Casper College Rodeo Team that consisted of himself and Bob Sager. He was the director for the Rocky Mountain Region for the NIRA. “My bulldogging was good, but I got hurt in the early 60s and that ended that. This old steer tried to get under the horse and I was in position. The hazing horse hit me with his stifle and threw my head around and I went end over end and that was it. T11 had a compression fracture. It was severe enough for 24 hours that I couldn’t feel my feet so I was in traction.”
Jim qualified to go to the college finals in 1955 but didn’t have enough money to go to Lake Charles, Louis. “I didn’t think my old Plymouth would make that trip. Besides that I had two kids and was working for the college grading papers for the chemistry class for $1 an hour.” Steve was born when Jim was in his second year of college in junior college. Dan was born 11 months later. He and Lynne were married for 20 years.
Jim graduated from CSU in 1959 and began his practice. “I did it all for about three or four years but the large animal side got so demanding that I stuck with that. Our generation of vets was responsible for the beginning of preg testing. Locally I did a lot of fertility and breeding soundness in bulls. As time went on I went to work for the True Ranches – preg checking their cows – the biggest year I had was 17,000 cows total.” Jim could preg check 900 head a day. “My record was 1,050 – I was a work horse testing cows – I had some really big clients.”
He and his partner, Dr. Keith Doing, had a general practice based out of Casper – Animal Clinic – a block and a half from the Fairgrounds. They worked together for 20 years, from 1959 – 1979. While was Jim lived in Casper and after he purchased the ranch, he served on the Central Wyoming Fair Board, Wyoming Pari-mutuel Board and the Wyoming PCA. When he sold the clinic, he rodeoed for a year and a half before buying a place called the Split Rock Ranch out of Muddy Gap Wyo. “We spent 22 years up there – it was a lifetime dream.” Jim continued his rodeo competing mostly in steer roping, making the finals four times 1967, 68, 74, and 77. “I’ve never been a real champion – I’ve just gone and nipped at their butts. I roped along pretty good, but never up in front. Work always came first – rodeo is a hobby. I’m truly a part-time rodeo hand.”
Jim and Shirley bought the Split Rock Ranch in 1980 which consisted of about 200 sections. While he was at the ranch he constructed 52 miles of water pipeline for livestock and wildlife. “One spring I put in 30 days and figured if I’d ridden in a straight line, I’d be in the Pacific Ocean.”
With his hard work and improvements on the ranch, he and his wife, Shirley, won the environmental stewardship award in 2000. “I got old too quick and got tired of fighting the state, BLM, and age all at the same time. You know you can trick Mother Nature but you can’t outrun Father Time. I sold the ranch because there were some things I wanted to do – I wanted to rope some more and travel a little bit.” Jim recognized that about every 20 years he’s switched saddles somehow. “It’s my personality – I’m involved in the growth phase but to maintain it, I’ve got to move on.”
The other business that Jim started with his partner Bud Howard, was the Budweiser Distributorship in Casper. “We went from leased property, one pickup and one truck, and ended up with a business that sold 420,000 cases a year,” he said. “At one point in my life, I was involved in seven sets of books.”
His biggest accomplishment is finding Jesus Christ. “When I sold the ranch the Good Lord sent me down to Leota, Kan. We had 144 heifers I didn’t want to sell and they were too good to give away. So I went down to Kansas and had two guys look after them. They were two good Christian men and they led me to the Lord.”
“I’ve had the privilege and pleasure of doing things and living at the right time. There’s a girl or two I should have danced with longer, a whiskey or two I should have put down, and a fellow or two I should have whipped, but I think God is behind this whole thing and He’ll send you the people you need when you need them. I’m not going to tell you I don’t worry, because I do. My goal is to spend the rest of my life trying to feel good.”
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