Roper Review: Gary Mefford
Written by: Lily Weinacht< Back to Articles
Gary Mefford found his vocation as a sophomore in high school in 1974, working part time at King Ropes in Sheridan, Wyoming. He started out tying knots and rapidly expanded to tying burners and picking up orders. Nearly 43 years later, he knows the shop like one of his favorite four strand ropes, and co-manages it with Dan Morales. “My brother grew up with Bob King, and they got me the job here,” says Gary. “It was just going to be part time while I was going to school, but I went to college in Sheridan and kept working here. I got my degree in mine maintenance – hydraulics and welding – but by that time, I was close enough friends with Bobby that if I needed some extra time off to go down the road, I could get my work done ahead of time and then take off. There’s not a lot of jobs in this world that allow you to do that. You get to enjoy what you do, and you’re working with the public a lot. We get a lot of walk-in trade here, especially in the summer months. We get Europeans in here all the time, and a lot of Argentines, Canadians, and South Africans. We ship ropes all over the world, like Brazil, Australia, and Europe. It’s a world-wide operation, but percentage-wise, the majority of our business is in the states.”
An average day for Gary at King Ropes starts with picking out ropes for the latest orders, giving the knot tyers ropes to work on, tying hondos, pulling grass ropes down, and working on stock. From June through August, they’re stocking trailers for 3 – 4 weeks to go to the NHSFR and Cheyenne Frontier Days, followed by the WNFR in December. “I’ll start working on trailer ropes 6 to 8 weeks before they leave for Vegas,” says Gary. “We take 1,500 to 2,000 ropes and we might sell 700 to 800, but we’ve figured out over the years what we sell a lot of. When we have 500 variations of ropes, you never know what people will ask for, between different sizes and materials and stiffnesses and lengths. It’s such personal preference on what people like in a rope. Team ropers are always looking for the new fix, but the rope only does what the hand tells it to, and the hand only does what the mind tells it to. We’ve stayed pretty much with the old style ropes we’ve had for fifty years.”
The YouTube television series How It’s Made created a documentary four years ago on how ropes are made, featuring King Ropes. “I like the four strand ropes. We buy all our four strands in bodies and put them through our stretching process, and they feel quite different when they’ve gone through the stretching process,” Gary explains. “The rope is stretched at a field outside of town. The rope comes in 600 feet coils and we tie it off at the end of the field and roll it with the tractor and pull it to the other end. It might take several days or three weeks or three months before they’re straight. The poly grass ropes that calf ropers like to use we do in a hot room in the basement that’s 130 degrees. But the Nylon comes out better if it’s stretched outside in the natural cooling and heating – the whole process makes them better than if we were doing them in the hot room.”
While Gary grew up in town in Sheridan, his grandparents homesteaded on the Montana/Wyoming border in the early 1900s. His dad worked on ranches and later did highway construction. Gary was given an old rope horse by his older brother Dick when he was 9 or 10. “I high school rodeoed my junior and senior year, and college rodeoed locally. I jackpotted and team roped after that,” says Gary, who prefers to heel. “It’s such a challenge to do it well.” He competes in mixed team roping with Miff Koltiska, and competed several times with Mark Moreland at the Reno Invitational. He’s also roped at the WSTR Finale in Las Vegas at least eight times. “I cut my thumb off at the Reno Invitational in 2011 – I did it on the biggest stage,” says Gary. “They tried putting it back on, but it didn’t take. I just reach for stuff differently – I don’t even think about it. That was in the spring and I’d only won a few hundred dollars at some winter and spring ropings. After losing my thumb, I won $3,800 and three buckles. I’d been in a slump, and after that happened, I relaxed and things fell in place. I guess my thumb was just getting in the way.”
Gary also puts on roping jackpots and contracts roping steers to high school, college, and cowgirl rodeos. He has 100 head of longhorn cows and raises his own roping steers at his home outside of Sheridan. His wife, Sara, helps put on the jackpots, works as secretary, runs chutes, and moves steers. She worked at King Ropes for several years, and enjoys team sorting and team roping. Their four-year-old daughter, Londyn, competes on her pony in barrel racing, pole bending, and goat tail untying.
“My mind is always working on what I have to do after work,” says Gary, who works six days a week at King Ropes, along with hauling steers and putting on jackpots and team sortings. “I just make sure everything is prearranged in my brain on what I need to do. This doesn’t leave me very much time to practice. While working at King’s Saddlery over the years, I have met a lot of team ropers and have become friends with several them such as Bobby Harris, Rich Skelton, Mike Beers who are some of the best heelers in the world. They all have offered me a chance to go rope with them. I just don’t know how I would ever fit it in, without my wife having to do all the work at home. But there would be nothing better than to take the time and go rope with them for a month.”