Steve Gramith considers himself a “foot soldier” in the sport of rodeo. The humble man was involved as both a contestant and a pickup man, […]
Written by: Siri Stevens< Back to Articles
Jim Watkins was born in Fairfax, Missouri. His dad was a tanker driver for Farmers for MFA oil company. After getting his start in Little Britches, Jim competed in bareback, bull riding, steer wrestling, and calf roping in high school rodeo in Missouri, graduating in 1963. He was National High School Vice President from Missouri in 1963 and qualified for the high school finals in the bareback and calf roping, adding bull riding to that list his senior year.
He went on to college, graduating from Sul Ross State University in 1968, and rodeoing on his PRCA card in the summer. “I rodeoed full time after college,” he said. Jim made the big ones across the country from Cow Palace to Cheyenne. “I was in the top 15 and tore a groin – that finished that year,” he said. His wife had been calling him about a job offer in Odessa as an Industrial Technology teacher. “I was going to teach for one year, just until I got healed up, and I ended up teaching and coaching for a total of 40 years,” he said. “I’ve never done anything I’ve enjoyed more. My wife says I never had to grow up because I got new kids to play with every year.” He kept rodeoing, weekends and summers, until 1984. He also judged a lot of rodeos including Cheyenne Frontier Days, Pikes Peak or Bust, Pecos and Odessa for several years. He was also the chute boss at Deadwood, SD, after Jack Buschbaum.
Jim and his wife, Katherine Carol (KC), met in college. They have three children, two boys and a girl in the middle -Todd, Jamie, and Ty. “My wife was a teacher of chemistry and biology at Crockett Junior High – she taught for 31 years. When I started teaching, she stayed home with the kids and went to school part of the time.” They built a place north of Odessa that included an arena. “We built a bucking barrel and roping dummy at school the second year I taught and the kids would get off the bus with rigging bags and rope cans and we’d ride the bucking barrel and rope,” he recalls. In 1974, Joe Turner, with El Torro Bucking Machines, found out what Jim was doing and donated a brand new bucking machine to the cause. “We bucked that thing until we wore it out,” he said. He charged $.05 to ride during the week and then had trophy days on Fridays – the winner got the trophy. “We had a lot of fun with that bucking machine.”
Jim supplemented his income as a teacher by making bull ropes. “Booger Bryant and I were rodeoing together in the summer of 66. He was building bull ropes and I was braiding the tails. I braided tails for him all summer. During the spare time during the rodeos that’s what we did. Come time for me to get a new bull rope, I asked Booger to do it and he said for me to make it myself. He taught me how and I’ve made them over the years for several world champions – Harry Tompkins, Freckles Brown, Benny Reynolds, Bobby Steiner, Larry Mahan, Cody Snyder, Jim Sharp – he was still wanting them when I quit in 1993. That was the best insurance policy I had.” The first ones he made he charged $35 each, when he quit they were $175. “I’d work after supper 11:30 to 2:30, and in three nights I’d finish a rope. I’d start the next one the third night. Then I’d get up at 6:30 and go to school. I’d do that three nights a week. School teacher didn’t make a whole lot of money and making ropes saved my bacon more than once.”
All three of their kids started in junior rodeo and worked their way up. “Both boys rode steers and roped calves, my daughter did everything. And long story short, they were all three several times AJRA world champions, Texas State High School Champions, national high school go around winners and my oldest son held the record for highest marked bull ride at the high school finals.” Ty went on to be the PRCA rookie of year in 1991. One arena turned into two at the house and in 1983 Dr. Miles Eckert from Odessa College got in touch with him to see if he would be interested in putting together a rodeo program.
“They had a rodeo club and they had two kids that college rodeoed. Dr. Clara Willis was the rodeo club advisor,” said Jim, who accepted the job, and started the program in 1984. “They used my facility because the college didn’t have anything. The first year was very lucrative for me. I got $5,000 for the whole year – that included my coaching and the use of my facility.” Jim recruited some great rodeo athletes including Jim Sharp (two-time bull riding world champion), who won Rookie of the Year in 1985, and the college championship in 1986 and 1987. “We hauled Jim to the high school finals – the same one Lane Frost won.” He also coached nine-time world champion and seven-time all-around champion Ty Murray, the late Shawn McMullan, Jerome Davis, Adam and Gilbert Carrillo, Cimmaron Gerke, and Ryan Gray, who won Jim’s last college championship – bringing the total to 11.
Jim taught public school and coached the Odessa Rodeo Team from 1984 – 1998. “I’d teach all day, get off at 4:30. The team would be at my house and we’d start practice at 6 and be out there until 11 at night.” In 1998, his 4.5 acre place with two arenas, was also home to 28 kid , 20 calves, 20 steers, five goats, and ten bucking horses. “We had panels put up and horses everywhere.”
All that changed in 1999. “Herbert Grahm called me at Thanksgiving – he owns Grahm Central Stations across the country. He said ‘Jim, looks like you’ve outgrown your place. I came by there the other day with Kenny Carr, a promoter who put on all the top gun PBR in Odessa, and we both agreed that you can’t grow anymore.’” Herbert gave credit to Odessa College for a lot of his success and after talking it over with his family, they decided to donate the West Texas Stud farm (120 acres) to the rodeo program. There were no arenas, but lots of horse stalls (400). “I could see where the arenas could go and that’s what became a reality.” Jim convinced the board and Dr. Vance Gipson (president of the college) that he could do it and when they agreed, he went to Butch Pinkerton with WW Arena. Butch improved on his schematic of the layout which included three arenas. “$59,000 is what it cost for everything – now something like that would be more than $500,000. In 11 days we had the whole thing done.”
Jim retired in 2009, and was honored as coach of the year for the NIRA and was inducted into the Texas Rodeo Cowboy Hall of Fame in 2010. “I loved teaching, rodeoing, and coaching – It was a great way for my wife and I to raise a family and we did it all together. She was my best supporter and critic. Now we stay busy on our place taking care of her mom and dad. My goal is to get to team rope a little bit and travel more in Europe. We’ve raised three great kids, have wonderful daughters’ in law, a great son in law, and four fantastic grandchildren. We are all doing well. We’ve been blessed all the way around. What more could we ask for?”