UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
ORAL HISTORY PROGRAM
Interviewee: Denny Rodebush
Interviewer: Marion Verheul
February 4, 1992
V: My name is Marion Verheul, and I am conducting an interview with Denny
Rodebush. [Today is February 4, 1992.] Let us start with your name and place and
date of birth.
R: My name is Denny Rodebush. My place of birth was in Frankfort, Michigan.
V: When were you born?
R: June 25, 1944.
V: Do you have any brothers and sisters?
R: I have two brothers.
V: Are they older than you or younger?
R: Jerry is two years older, and Bill is seven years younger.
V: How did you live in Michigan? Could you describe the place where you lived?
R: We lived in the country. When I say country, that means about four miles from the
nearest town, Frankfort, which was a town of about 2,000 people. It was on a lake
called Crystal Lake. The lake was nine miles long and four miles across and about
three hundred feet deep in the deepest part. It was all drinkable water. It was a
country setting. We lived in a house right on the south shore of the lake with a big
hill and a wooded area behind the house. That is where we spent most of our time
as kids--either swimming in the lake in the summer or climbing through the woods
or ice skating on the lake in the winter or building snow huts, igloos, and that sort
V: That sounds like fun. When did you move? How old were you then?
R: I was fifteen when we moved to Florida.
V: What was the reason that you moved?
R: My father worked for the railroad in Frankfort. He could see that the railroad was
coming to a dead end [and] that it was not going to go on and on. It is gone up
there now; there no longer is a railroad or car ferries. That is what the town existed
on: the railroad came into Frankfort, and then they loaded the rail cars onto car
ferries and took them across Lake Michigan to Wisconsin. With trucking coming on
and everything, that eventually ended. They do not have the car ferries coming out
of there at all or the railroad coming into that town.
V: Florida is pretty far to move from Michigan. Why did you come to Florida?
R: When I was about eleven my father started a summer business in Michigan, selling
boats and doing repairs on outboard motors. He did it part time, and it got to be
more of a business. By the time I reached fifteen, he decided to move to Florida
where there might be boating year-round. Actually, the original idea was to sell
boats and work with boats in Florida in the winter and then go back up to Michigan
and run our business in Michigan in the summer. But Florida is a year-round
business for boats, so it got us down here.
V: You stayed here.
R: We stayed down here.
V: How did you come to Florida? Did you drive? Did you fly?
R: We drove--several trips. We moved everything down with a trailer and in a 1950
DeSoto, which carried a lot of things. We moved down for the winter and then went
back for a summer and ran the business up there. That is when he decided that it
was a full-time thing in Florida, so we moved completely down the next fall.
V: Do you remember your first impression of Florida?
R: Yes. It was hot! We moved to Tampa in October, and it was already very cold in
Michigan. It was 98 to 110 every day; it was a very hot fall in Tampa. The house
we moved into had no air conditioning or anything. It was a small block house
without much ventilation.
V: That must have been awful.
R: It was hot. That was my first impression. Coming down I always thought that
Florida was going to be flat and swampy with very few trees. I was really pleased
and surprised when I saw what Florida looked like, to see some rolling hills and big
V: Can you point out some differences in the way you lived?
R: Yes. In Frankfort it was small-town living. One of the things that struck me most,
I think, was the schools. The school that I went to up there was about fifty kids per
class, making it probably 200 kids total in the school. When I moved to Florida,
there were 10,000 kids in the high school that I started going to. That was a real
shock to me. I got lost in the high school, totally lost. I never did recover from that.
That was the biggest change. Of course, the weather was a big change.
V: Did you find the people different? Different habits?
R: Oh, just in that there were city people and country people. Yes. The people from
Frankfort, Michigan, are very locked into Frankfort, Michigan. They are like that is
the only world. They do not know anything about the world around. It is almost like
the Appalachian Mountains where people live up there and never seem to reach
outside of that area. People [in Frankfort] thought my father was really kind of
strange to be moving away from Frankfort, Michigan. That is something you just do
V: People were born there and lived there and died there.
V: Did you find other differences, [such as] in the way people treated each other, or the
language? Did you have a problem with the accent?
R: No, no problem with the accent. Probably the idea of fast-moving city and slow-
moving country was the biggest change. You no longer got that individual attention
that you got in Frankfort, Michigan. Everyone knew us [there]. We came from a
long line of relatives up in Frankfort. My father was like the mayor, and he was very
involved with politics up there. I was the president of my freshman class. I moved
down here to Tampa and it was all big-city. Nobody knows you, nobody cares about
you. That was the big difference.
The other big difference, I would say, was I had never seen a live black boy.
V: There were no black people in Michigan at that time?
R: There was a black family, a man, a woman, and two girls. One of the girls was in my
class, and one of them was in my brother's class. But there were no boys, and I had
never seen a black boy. We did not have TV until I was about thirteen or fourteen,
probably, and even on the TV stations we got back then there were not black people
or black boys. So that was quite an experience. It was almost like going into
another world to see black people.
V: Do you think that the people in Tampa were already used to black people?
R: Oh, yes. There were a lot of black people who lived there.
V: So you really had to make an adjustment to living in Florida.
R: Yes, it was quite an adjustment [and] plenty of change.
V: Have you ever been homesick, [so] that you really wanted to go back?
R: Oh yes, for quite a while I was very homesick. I wanted to go back. My older
brother did go back in the spring and graduated with his class up there. But I was
young enough that I started in high school and finished school in Florida.
V: Does your brother ever come back?
R: Oh, yes. He graduated and spent that summer up there. Then he came back and
started working in Tampa.
V: When you were grown up and had your own life, did you ever think of returning to
Michigan for good?
R: No. Only to visit.
V: Only to visit.
R: It is a beautiful place to visit. It is a wonderland, as far as I am concerned. It is a
resort area, and that is what people go there for. I really enjoy going there to relax.
V: So what I hear is that the transition from a small town to a big city was bigger than
the transition from Michigan to Florida.
R: Yes, that would be true.
V: Before you moved to Florida had you ever been in other states so that you could
R: No. I had never been anywhere except maybe the upper peninsula of Michigan.
That was a big trip. Also, you have to remember that this took place in the 1940s
and early 1950s, and there were not any interstate highways. Travel was in the old
cars [in which] running fifty miles an hour was pretty fast. So you really did not go
very far usually. To take off and go to Florida was quite a trip. To go anywhere out
of the state was quite a trip. People traveled from the neighboring states--Ohio,
Wisconsin, such as that--but that is about it. That is all we knew up there.
V: So you think that if you had moved from Frankfort to Kalamazoo, Michigan, that
would have been the same experience as to Tampa? Would that have given you a
kind of culture shock as well?
R: That is a good question. It probably would not have. If I had moved to Detroit,
now, that is a big, big city. That would have been the same sort of shock. Maybe
[it would have been] tempered a little bit because it is still in Michigan, but certainly
it would have been the same sort of situation. Detroit is a very big city, and I would
have run into the same things with schools and all that. I think I had gotten very
used to knowing everybody and knowing that I could just walk up to the teachers,
that I had known them for years and years already, and that I could ask those
teachers for help. When I got to Florida I was taking classes that were [huge]. Some
of my biology classes had 300 kids in the class, and we would be taking it from a TV
monitor. You could not ask the TV monitor questions.
V: You could ask, but you would not get an answer. [laughter]
R: Right. That sort of thing set me back, and I never caught up again after that. It was
very difficult really and truly to catch up from that situation.
V: So in a way it really changed your life. Your life would have been different in
R: Very different. It really did make a difference.
V: Now looking back, are you happy that you moved to Florida?
R: Yes, even though it was very difficult. It made high school very difficult
academically. Socially it made a real positive change in my life. I got really involved
in work while I was in high school, working with my father. That is kind of where
I turned my lifetime energy--to work.
V: Suppose I ask you what is the worst thing in Florida and what is the worst thing in
Michigan and what is the best thing in Florida and the best thing in Michigan.
R: Now, today, or back then?
V: Back then.
R: The worst thing in Florida would have been the large impersonal schools. The worst
thing in Michigan would have been the attitude of the people that there is no outside
world, that that is all there is. So they never experience and I would never have
experienced life to its fullest in Michigan. The best thing in Michigan is the close,
personal relationship you have with the community, and probably the best thing in
Florida was the weather and the ability to work with boats and water sports and such
as I did year round.
V: Were you ever afraid when you moved to Tampa of criminality? Was that an
adjustment that you had to make, that you had to start locking your doors?
R: No. In the 1950s in Tampa--where we lived, anyway--you did not lock your doors.
Ever since I have lived in Florida crime has not been a problem in places I have
lived. Of course, [that was the case] also in Michigan. That was never a problem.
Where I grew up there was an open-door policy.
V: When is the last time you have been back to Michigan?
R: I think it was about two years ago. We went back up there for a summer visit for
a couple of weeks. We stayed on the lake right down from the road from the house
that we used to live in. My mother goes to Michigan every summer, and I do go up
there--I was up there last fall--to pick her up, and I spend a day or so up there.
Then I drive her back. So I get to see it every year.
V: Do you still know a lot of people there?
R: Yes, I know a lot of people there still. Everybody.
V: But still you have no regrets of staying here?
V: Do you think that if you would go back you could adjust there?
R: Yes, but if I went back I would not go back to live. It would not be an option. It
is not the kind of place I would ever want to live full time again.
V: OK. Thank you.
V: [Interview continues on March 4, 1992.] This is Marion Verheul interviewing Denny
Rodebush. [Denny was] born June 25, 1944, in Frankfort, Michigan. Denny, the last
time [we met,] we talked about you growing up in Michigan and then moving to
Florida at the age of fourteen and all the changes that came with it. Let us start
where we stopped the last time. Now, as a child of fourteen, you are living in
Tampa. Do you remember the name of the high school you went to?
R: When I first went to Tampa, I went to a high school by the name of Plant High
School. It was one of the biggest and oldest high schools in Tampa. I went to Plant
for one year. Then, the second year that I was there, we moved into a house that my
parents bought. (The first year, we lived in a house that we rented.) When we
moved, we moved into a new school district, and I went to Robinson High School.
V: Is that a big school, too?
R: Yes. It was a big school. It was a new school; they had just built it. So it was kind
of interesting and exciting to be in this brand-new high school and be the first class
to go to it.
V: How long were you there?
R: I was there for two years, and [I] got real involved in the school with sports and
everything. The school had a lot of school spirit, probably because we were a new
school and we were really trying to prove ourselves. The athletes had come from all
over town. We ended up with a good football team and track team right off the bat.
V: When we talked about you moving to Tampa the last time [we met], you said it was
quite a shock being in a big city and being a number instead of everyone knowing
you personally. But I can imagine that for a fourteen-year-old, the city is a lot of fun,
too. There were more places to go to, and it was probably easier to go out and meet
R: That is true. The city was exciting, and as soon as I got to be sixteen years old, I got
my own car. I had a job; I worked with my father at the boat dealership where he
worked. I made pretty decent money for a kid back in those days, so I always had
gas for my car. Living in the city, having a car as a kid, and having some freedom
like I had, it was fun. I got to act like a young man at a very young age. As long as
I acted responsibly, my parents always allowed me to do that.
V: So you were very free as a teenager.
R: Yes. I would go to school early in the morning. I was in a program that they called
DCT (Diversified Cooperative Training) where you go to high school in the morning,
and in the afternoon, sometime around noon, you get out and you go to your job.
I was working ten hours a day and going to high school.
V: Did that interfere with your schoolwork?
R: It did not interfere with my schoolwork, [but] sometimes it interfered a little bit with
sports, and I kind of had to work sports in because I always participated in football
and especially track.
V: When did you do your homework?
R: Homework slipped a little bit. What I did not get done in school, I usually did not
do. So my grades did not stay very high; my grades reflected that. I ended up with
about a C average.
V: Did you mind that, or did you care more about your job and the money it gave you
and your social life?
R: I cared more about my job and my social life than I did the grades. I was a good
outboard motor mechanic, and I felt like I really did not need the reading, writing,
and arithmetic that went along with it.
V: So you have always liked the boat business? Did you decide at that point that you
really wanted to go on in that?
R: No. As a matter of fact, when I was in high school, I really had no idea what I was
going to go on and do. I kind of planned to go into the service when I got out of
high school, and that is what I did.
V: What service did you go to?
R: I went into the Navy.
V: Right after high school?
R: Yes. I graduated in June 1963 and enlisted in September. I tried to join the
Marines. I was a real nut about physical fitness at the time. I liked doing
calisthenics, running, and exercising, and I did it all the time. I was just constantly
doing it, so that what I really wanted to do was join the Marines so I could go
through their boot camp. I thought that would be fun and a challenge. I was young
and really not even thinking about the consequences of going in the Marines during
the Vietnam war--where I would probably end up and what I would end up doing.
V: You did not think that you might have to fight in Vietnam?
R: I was not worried about it, I guess. It really never concerned me one little bit. I
think that is where kids get into joining the Marines. They get caught up in the
physical aspects of the Marines, and they do not really and truly think about the fact
that the Marines have to kill people by hand or maybe get killed themselves in
V: Did your parents try to stop you?
R: Yes. They tried to explain that to me, but it did not matter. I felt like I was really
strong, agile, and fast--all the things that are required to stay alive in the Marines--
and I would be just fine. Fortunately, the Marines would not take me.
V: So you did go ahead and apply for the Marines regardless of what your parents said?
R: I and four other fellows I graduated with all went down together and were going to
join the Marines as a buddy system. One of the four of us got in. Even though we
were at war with Vietnam at the time, the Marines were still that picky. They did
not take me because my eyesight was too bad. So when I left the Marine recruiter,
I decided I would go down to see the Navy recruiter and see if they would take me.
The Navy recruiter told me to take my glasses off and hold out my hand. When I
did that, he said, "How many fingers do you see?" I said, "Five." He said, "OK, you
will get in."
V: They were kind of desperate for people.
R: I guess more so than the Marines. It was a funny thing, though: I had participated
in a contest for physical fitness the last year of high school. (President Kennedy
started a physical fitness program in this country, and awards were given to the
person who won for the school, the state, and the nation.) I had just received word
in September that I won the physical fitness award for the United States for
R: I was the most physically fit eighteen-year-old in the United States in 1963.
V: That is great! And still the Marines would not take you. Did you send them a note
that you won that award?
R: I did not have to; it showed up in the newspaper. So two Marine recruiters came to
my house, and I was already gone. I was in the Navy. They knocked on the door,
and my father answered the door and invited them in. They sat down, and they said:
"We understand that your son has won a physical fitness award. We would like to
talk to him about joining the Marines." My dad stood up, got each of them by the
arm (these are two big Marines, remember) and just physically took them to the door
and almost threw them out the door. He said, "My son tried to join your GD
Marines [laughter], and you would not have him. Now you get out of my house."
V: Were they mad?
R: No. They kind of laughed.
But I went into the Navy in the fall of 1963. The Navy was a lot of fun. When you
are in the Navy, you will find people that like it or people that want to count the
days until they get out.
V: Both extremes and nothing in between.
R: That is about it. I just decided when I went in that I was going to enjoy it. If you
are going to spend four years at it, you might as well have fun. I did. I enjoyed it
very much. The first thing they did was send you to boot camp. Boot camp is kind
of a challenge to do all the things that they tell you to do. If they tell you to do
push-ups for twenty minutes, you do push-ups for twenty minutes. To me, that was
exciting and a challenge to try to do it.
V: Where were you stationed?
R: I went to San Diego, California, for boot camp, and I went to Great Lakes, Illinois,
for school. I studied diesel mechanics in Great Lakes. Then, when I got out of
there, they gave me a dream sheet to fill out. [It asked,] "Where would you like to
go and what type of duty would you like to experience?" I asked for the smallest
ship on the east coast. They gave me a minesweeper out of Charleston, South
V: Why did you want a small ship?
R: I do not like the impersonal big ships. For instance, I went aboard an aircraft carrier
one time just to look it over--I think I was picking up something for our ship off of
the aircraft carrier--and it is like a city. It is huge. You can get lost on them.
Sometimes people that are on an aircraft carrier hardly ever see daylight because
they are so many stories down inside the ship. On my ship, there were thirty men,
and we were like a big family. Everybody [was] looking out for everybody else. We
all knew each other and knew each other well. It was fun.
V: Do you know the name of the ship?
R: The USS Kingbird. I was on the USS Bluebird for a while, and then about halfway
through, I transferred to the Kingbird, which was right in the same group. As I
stayed on board, of course, I kept getting more promotions as far as rank. We
already had a second class engineman on our ship when I reached second class
engineman, and they needed one on the Kingbird, so they transferred me over to the
V: That was a small ship, too?
R: [It was] the exact same--same fleet, same group, [and] moored right next to each
V: What was the task of the ship? Was it always in South Carolina, or did you sail the
R: We went up and down the east coast from Massachusetts to Miami. But we also
went down in the Caribbean, and we did all of our exercises in the Caribbean. That
was a fun place to be.
V: I can imagine.
R: We would go down to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and that is where we would get all
of our supplies and get outfitted for "war," so to speak. When we left Guantanamo,
we would go to a place called Roosevelt Roads, Puerto Rico. Just off Roosevelt
Roads, we would have mock war; we would practice war. There is a ship that would
go out and lay mines all through a certain area, and then...
V: Real mines or mock mines?
R: They were real mines, but of course, they would not blow you up if you made a
mistake. Then we would have to go out and sweep the area for those mines and find
them all. Of course, the water down there was so clear that you could find some of
them just by standing on the bow of the ship as a lookout.
V: Were you excited about the idea that there was a war going on and you might have
to really sweep [for] mines?
R: Really, I always kind of wanted to go to Vietnam, but I never did. At that age, I
think it would have been exciting to go over there and go up down the rivers
sweeping for mines or something.
V: I guess your parents prayed very hard to keep you out.
R: I am sure. [laughter] As a ship, we got to be very good at sweeping for mines. We
never made a mistake. We never blew ourselves up. Every time you walk down the
passageway inside of a minesweeper, [you see] four or five pictures along the
bulkhead of minesweepers that are being blown up.
V: To remind you to do a good job?
R: Yes. I do not know how they got those pictures, but somebody took a picture of
minesweepers being blown up.
V: Did it give you nightmares every once in a while?
R: No. We were too young and foolish to think that it would ever happen to us.
V: Did you get a leave very often, or would you stay on the ship?
R: When we were in the Caribbean, we would go to different places like Puerto Rico,
Jamaica, the Virgin Islands, and Barbados for recreation in between these little mock
wars. We were also in Windward Passage for quite a long time, and they used us as
a patrol boat. Every time a ship came through the Windward Passage, we would
flash a message to them [that said,] "Who are you, and what is your business here?"
We would tell them who we were, and they would answer back and tell us who they
were. Here is this little minesweeper with practically no guns or anything, and we
are out there being the big bad guy from the United States [by] asking, "Who are
you, and what is your business?" Every once in a while, one of them would refuse
to answer us, so we would get underway and follow them for a ways and try to
V: They probably knew you did not have any guns.
R: Yes, and really, guns did not matter down in the Windward Passage. We were
patrolling the Windward Passage just trying to keep track of who was coming and
going. It is important during war, I guess, to always know who is coming and going
R: We would get a good visual. Being a small ship, we could move fairly quickly. But
while we were in the Windward Passage, we would shut down. We would shut down
our main engines; [we would] shut down as many things on board as we could and
just keep the generators running and the power going, and we would drift. We would
just sit out there and "lay to," as we called it, and fish for weeks.
V: From the deck of a minesweeper. [laughter]
R: Yes. One time when we were down there, we caught twenty-six sharks.
V: There were sharks there?
R: Yes. Lemon sharks.
V: So you could not swim.
R: Yes, we swam.
V: Are they not dangerous?
R: They would come around when we threw out garbage and stuff like that. I am sure
the Navy still does throw their garbage overboard.
V: [It is a] shame.
V: Was it not boring to be shut down for weeks and just lay there?
R: No. It was fun. We would kind of get out of uniform and just get real suntanned
and fish for sharks.
V: Were there other things to do? Did you have a library?
R: Yes, we had a library. We played games; we played a lot of cards. We made up
games. We took pieces of rope and braided them into a small circle about five
inches across. Then we made little cones and set them on the deck and we would
have a game of ring-toss. It would be sort of like the same rules as horseshoes, only
we kind of made up the rules as we went along until we got it all ironed out pretty
good. We would have a couple of those games going all the time. And we worked
on the ship. We would tear down an engine and rebuild it. We played a lot of
V: So that is what we pay the Navy for--to fish for lemon sharks and play cards.
R: That is right.
V: Did you get to go home to your family very often?
R: Yes. Whenever we hit shore, we would be back in Charleston for some period of
time. Sometimes we went into the dry dock to have repairs done, and when we did,
we would go home for the weekend. I could go home for the weekend. It was 500
miles, but I quite often would go home for the weekend.
V: That is quite a long time. Did you drive home?
R: [I would] hitchhike.
V: You probably did not have a car, then, probably.
R: No. I sold my car and everything before I went in. The last year that I was in the
Navy, our ship burned.
V: How did that happen?
R: We are not sure. It was just sitting alongside the dock. I was gone, and I came back,
and the ship was all smoky.
V: Do you think someone like an anti-war group set fire to it?
R: They never found out what happened. Of course, we had a guard on board. Nobody
could come on board without being detected. They have to come down the pier and
cross the gangplank. It could have been a short in the wires or something. We never
did figure out what did it.
V: Did anyone get hurt?
R: No, but a lot of it burned. It really gutted the entire inside of the ship--the galley,
the living compartments, officers' quarters, radio room, [and] pilot house. It was all
gutted pretty bad. It was all charred and burned up. So we had to go into dry dock.
They lifted the entire superstructure off of the ship. While we were in there, they
decided to put new engines in the ship. These ships had the old Packard twelve-
cylinder engines in them that were built quickly for war time by Packard diesel.
They were good engines, but they figured it was time to upgrade, so they wanted to
try some gas turbine engines. So we put two six-hundred horsepower gas turbine
engines on board, and they sent all of us enginemen to Canada to go to school to
learn how to work on them. Then they slowly put these ships back together.
So that whole year, I was right there in Charleston, and just about every weekend,
I would hitchhike home. I had a girlfriend then, and we were planning to be
married. I remember the weekend I got engaged, I hitchhiked home with ten cents
in my pocket for the telephone and a diamond ring in another pocket for my future
V: That is funny. [laughter] Did it take you a long time to get a ride from someone?
R: No. It was really easy. I could hitchhike home about as quickly as I could drive
V: I guess people were not really afraid at that time.
R: No. I had my Navy uniform on.
V: That probably makes a difference.
R: They see a sailor hitchhiking, and they just stop and pick you up. It was about that
V: That is real nice. How long were you in the Navy?
R: Four years.
V: And when was this year that you stayed in Charleston?
R: 1966 and 1967.
V: Was that your last year?
V: And they rebuilt the entire ship.
R: Yes. I got married in June, and my wife came up to Charleston and lived in
Charleston. We bought a mobile home. It is the same mobile home I still have
underneath my house. We lived in Charleston for June, July, and August, and then
I got out in September.
V: So you did not re-enlist?
R: No. They gave me a good option, too. Back in those days, they would give you a
good opportunity to enlist with good benefits. All you had to do was re-up for six
V: That is quite a long time.
R: Yes. I really did not want to do that. I was married, and the Navy is not a good
place to be when you are married. [It involves] going out for six months to a year
and leaving your wife at home. I saw a lot of marriages [that] did not survive that,
and I did not want to be part of that.
V: So you got out after four years.
R: I got out, [and] I came back to Tampa. We moved our mobile home to a little town
called Thonotosassa out in the country outside of Tampa. I started going to the
University of South Florida.
V: You went back to school.
V: And what did your wife do?
R: She was also a student. She was a graduate student in zoology. She finished her
master's degree, and I got about a year and a half done at the University of South
Florida. Then we moved to the Gainesville area to start in a program where she
could go to vet school. It was her desire to go to vet school, and in order to go to
vet school, we had to move to Gainesville so that she could get the animal science
courses that she needed.
V: It is a good thing you bought a mobile home.
R: Yes. We also moved one time in between. We moved from Thonotosassa to
Zephyrhills and lived in some people's horse pasture. They had a septic tank out
there, so we just set our mobile home right out there in the middle of the horse
pasture and ran a water line out. We lived there for a while before we moved to
Micanopy. We lived in a little trailer park in Micanopy. By then, I had bought two
horses and a donkey.
V: Were you able to keep them in the trailer park?
R: I always found a place to keep them. When I lived in Micanopy, I kept them at a
neighbor's. He was a really nice old gentleman. He had retired and come to
Micanopy and bought five acres and had a little barn that I helped him build. I just
kept my horses over at his place.
V: [You had no] desire to go live in the city? You really wanted to live in a smaller
R: Yes. I never had a desire to live in a city. The short time that I spent in Tampa was
enough city for me.
V: How long did you live in Micanopy?
R: About a year.
V: What year was that?
R: That was maybe a little bit of 1968, mostly 1969.
V: And you still went to school then?
R: Yes. I was going to school, taking some of the basic studies and kind of flipping
around, taking whatever I felt like, more or less.
V: Did you also have a job?
R: Yes, different jobs. I worked in a gas station; [I] pumped gas. [I] worked the night
shift, from eleven [p.m.] to seven in the morning or something like that.
V: That must have been tough, working at night and going to school in the daytime.
R: Yes, kind of. I also worked as a blacksmith at that time just to try to make some
extra money. I was doing a lot of horse trimming. Then I started a stable in
Gainesville called Golden Gate. It was out on 34th Street. I would keep horses for
people. I kept some of them in stalls. I built a few stalls out of an old dairy barn
that was there. [I] trained horses. Every afternoon, about three or four o'clock in
the afternoon, I would leave and go trim hooves and do blacksmith work. I would
take one or two classes at the same time.
V: Did the stable run well?
R: It was OK, but I was in partnership with another fellow, and I quickly learned that
partnership was not going to work out. He wanted to buy and sell horses, and I
wanted to build a classy stable and training facility and a nice place for kids to come
and ride their horses. He really had no interest in that; most of his interest was in
the blacksmith work and the buying, selling, and trading of horses. Horse traders
have kind of a bad name.
R: Yes. They are kind of frowned on. You go to the livestock market, buy four or five
horses, [and] take them to the stable. Some little kid comes along, and here is this
guy telling him this is a championship horse out of my stud. They do not ever tell
the truth. They make up a story about every horse that there is. [They are] sort of
like car salesmen: "[This was] driven by a little old lady and [was] never out of the
So I got out of that. We had a few horses that we owned and some tack. So I took
some horses and tack and left him with horses and tack. [We] kind of split
everything up and called it quits.
V: How long did you have that stable?
R: It seems like we probably had it [for] about a year. I became friends with a lot of
kids at that time. [I] trimmed their horses' hooves, took care of their horses, and
helped them learn how to ride. If their horse got colic, they quite often called me
instead of calling a vet. I became really close with a lot of these kids. So even after
I left I still continued to do their blacksmith work, take care of their horses, [and]
help them train their horses.
V: Do you know what became of the other guy?
R: He stayed there a little while, and then he went on to several other places where he
did his horse trading.
V: So he stayed in the business?
R: Yes. He was a diehard horse trader. He is one of just a few like that.
V: [He] had it in his blood.
V: And what did you do afterwards?
R: I was still living in Micanopy during the time that I had the horse stable. [I was]
looking for a farm. Sometime during the time that I had that stable, I bought forty
acres in the Newberry area, where I live now. That was in 1970.
V: Were you still in school then?
R: I was always in school there for a long time, just taking one or two courses whenever
I could find time. I always kind of fitted it in. It was one of those deals where you
register for one course or maybe two courses at a time. I always fit them in. Then
I went to work for Maas Brothers delivering furniture, and I liked that. I always
liked to work outside. Every job I ever looked for was an outside job. I have never
been able to stand sitting at a desk or being caught up inside. So when I applied for
a job at Maas Brothers, I asked them for a job either on the loading dock or driving
a truck. They gave me a job driving a truck and delivering furniture. So I did that
with another fellow for a while. [We] traveled all over central and north Florida
V: At that time you already had the forty acres that you have now?
V: What were your plans for it?
R: It was kind of funny. When I was looking for it, I had horses; by then, I probably
had about four or five horses. We were still living in that trailer park [and] keeping
the horses on that man's five acres. So all the real estate people would ask me,
"What do you want the land for?" I would say, "I've got horses, and I want to raise,
train, and sell horses, and make that my business." So they were always looking for
land for me by a highway because if you are going to open a business to train horses,
you need to put a sign up on the highway. I kept going and looking at these places
that they would call me about, and I never was interested in them. Finally, after
several months of looking, this one fellow got the idea that maybe I did not want to
be out on the highway and I wanted rolling land with big trees and that sort of thing.
Every time they showed me a flat piece of land, that was out. So when I bought the
farm, he brought me out and showed me this place, and said: "You probably will not
like this place; it is kind of back off the highway. It is about a mile from the
highway." He showed it to me, and I said, "It is perfect." It was all a cornfield, and
it looked horrible.
V: But you knew right away that this was for you?
R: Yes. You could see it. You could kind of visualize it with all the corn gone and
grass growing and horses grazing. So we bought it. I really intended to make a
horse business, part time at first, and hopefully work it into a full time business. I
was fairly good by then at training horses. I was able to do it; I was very physically
fit. I could ride all day and it did not bother me. I enjoyed it.
This was at a time when one of the presidents (I want to say it was Nixon or
somebody) somehow put a stop on all raises. He froze the wages in the United
States. That was supposed to cure whatever ills we were feeling at the time. I
figured the only way to get a raise in pay was to change jobs. So I went to the
University and applied for jobs there. I think at the time I was making two dollars
an hour or something like that.
V: That was 1970?
R: Yes. 1969 and 1970. I went to the University and they hired me at two dollars and
forty cents an hour or something like that.
V: From two dollars to two forty is quite a raise.
R: Yes. Maas Brothers at the time offered me more than three dollars an hour [to be
paid] when the freeze was lifted, if I would stay. Well, it made sense to me to go to
the University because I wanted to continue to take courses and try to get my degree.
I could do that while I worked. Also, working for the state, [I thought] you would
have maybe a better retirement plan. That is a foolish thought; that is not really
V: But I can imagine thinking that.
R: You would think that the benefits would be better and [there would be] more
security and all that sort of thing. It is really kind of foolish, because really and truly,
the way it works out, I think that the private sector has better retirement benefits and
all that, probably because there is more competition. It is a fairly secure job. Once
you get there, you are there. You stay there.
Anyway, I went to work for the University in their animal science department. [I]
did a little bit of everything there. My main job was to take care of the research
animals. We had hogs, horses, cattle, and sheep. I built barns, feeders, and facilities,
and did the daily care. There were usually two or three of us who did the feeding,
watering, and all that. Also, I was taught to do surgery, so we did ovariectomies and
hysterectomies and that sort of thing on the hogs and the sheep. I learned how to
do the anesthetic and how to do the cutting and the sewing and all of it. It was
interesting. I did that for thirteen years.
V: So you probably enjoyed it.
R: Yes. It was a really good job. There was a lot of outdoor time when I was out
riding the tractor, working in the fields, working in the pens with the animals, riding
horses, herding the cattle, and shearing sheep.
V: Were you still trying to get the horse business going at that time?
R: At that time, I was training and showing my own horses. I had a couple of horses
that I trained and showed all over the states of Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, and
North Carolina. That was really fun and exciting because I was kind of an amateur
at that. I was not a professional. There were professional trainers; that was all they
did. For eight or ten hours a day they would ride and train horses. They did it out
of very fancy facilities. There was a lot of money involved, where our operation [was
quite different]. You can imagine making three dollars an hour or whatever I was
making by then.
V: You could forget about the fancy stables.
R: Yes. Of course, my wife was working, and so we had the two incomes. She was
probably making three or four dollars an hour, too. So we were maybe making six
or seven bucks an hour. We did not really have the fancy facilities. We had, at that
time, one 12 x 12 stall that I built, pens that I worked out of, and a riding ring. We
bought the best tack that we could afford. We bought an antique buggy. We could
take this mare that we had to one of the shows and show right along with the
professionals and do really well. I had an old, beat-up 1958 Chevrolet pickup truck
and a homemade horse trailer, and I would put this antique buggy on top of the
pickup truck and my horse in the horse trailer, and I would go to Tampa and show
in the Sunshine circuit down there with people that would come in in $100,000 truck-
V: There is a lot of money in that business.
R: Yes, and a lot of politics. People can make a lot of money off of the horses if they
win, so they spend a lot of money, even to the point where they would politick with
the judges. They would get to know the judges, take them to dinner, [and] give them
things. [They would do] anything to influence them. So it was kind of disappointing
to work in that environment, too. I cannot remember the year, but there was one
year when I finally got that mare going really, really well. I had acquired some fairly
decent-looking tack, and we went on the Sunshine circuit that year, and I won, and
I won, and I won. When I got to Pompano, which was the last one, my mare won
grand champion mare. She won every single class she went into.
V: That is wonderful.
R: And she went in twelve classes. It is just amazing for one horse to go in that many
classes. Usually, it would wear them out. They would be too tired to participate in
more than about five or six classes. She would just keep going and going and going
and going. I would run her through a class that would be road hock, which was a
real strenuous, real fast-paced trotting class, and finish, and then some sixteen-year-
old or thirteen-year-old girl would ride her in an equitation class, and she would just
settle right down and be real smooth and calm, perfect for this little girl to ride.
After each class, she had quite a following. All the kids loved this mare. There
would be four or five kids standing around. I would just throw them all up on her
V: She did not mind?
R: No. I would just turn her loose and walk back to the stall, and she would just follow
right along like a little dog.
V: That is wonderful. That is a once-in-a-lifetime horse, I think.
R: She was a good horse. She was really a unique [horse].
V: What was her name?
R: Statuette. That is when I quit. I figured ...
V: [It] could not get any better.
R: Right. I had accomplished something. That is what I had been trying to do, win, and
I really did not see where I could go on from there. I did not have the money to
promote her any further than that. I quit showing. The politics were getting to me,
too. There was a lot of arguing going on.
V: It is a pity.
R: Yes. It will always be there in horse showing, I am convinced. Someday I would like
to own a hackney pony and go back and show a hackney pony just for fun. I would
not want to do it to try to win because winning in horse showing really does not
mean as much as it does maybe in a horse race. It is too arbitrary: however
someone happens to feel or who somebody knows more than it is the horse.
V: So after you won, you stopped?
R: Yes. After I won, I stopped.
V: You stopped totally with the whole horse business, or just with the showing?
R: I still bred and trained them, but it was shortly after that, too, that my first wife and
I got a divorce. When we got a divorce, she took Statuette and she took all the
mares. I kept the stallion and the geldings. So I was kind of out of the breeding
business. I kept the farm, however. It was an even deal. We really had a good
agreement when we got a divorce. I do not say that she took all the mares as
anything against her. That was something we agreed to: she would get all the mares
and I would get the farm. Of course, I paid her for her half of the farm as well. The
first time I bought my farm, I paid $350 an acre for it.
V: That is pretty cheap.
R: Yes. Then I sold ten acres of it for $350 an acre--what I paid for it--to my brother-
in-law because he wanted to move up here from Tampa. Then he got divorced a
couple of years later, and I bought it back from him for $500 an acre.
V: That is not fair.
R: Then, when I got divorced, I bought it from my wife for $1,500 an acre. [laughter]
So I bought this farm three times.
V: It cost you more and more each time.
R: Yes. When I got divorced, I really was not making the kind of money I needed to
be making to pay $1,500 an acre for a farm. I had the place that had been my
brother-in-law's, and it had a trailer on it--a real nice mobile home--and it was
rented. So I had rental property, so I had income from that, but things were really
tight. I was still probably making less than four dollars an hour.
V: You still lived in the mobile home?
R: Yes. I had started building onto the front of it. I had a structure out in front, but
it was not a livable structure at that point. It was just a shell with a roof. The
outside walls were done, and the windows were in, but the inside walls were not
done. I was putting up all the tongue in groove pine on the inside, and it took years
for me to get it all up.
V: So then you had to give up the horse business?
R: Yes. But I did not, either. I went to New York, where I knew there were some nice
horses, and they were priced reasonably. I leased a couple of mares.
V: I did not know you could do that.
R: Yes. A lot of people that have a lot of horses, [when] they get to be too much for
them and they cannot sell them, will lease them. It is kind of a loan. They loan you
the horse. You do not have to pay anything for the lease; you just take care of them.
Then, if they want them back someday, they will give you a call, and you give them
back to them. I had a stallion, so I could agree in the lease if I gave the horse back,
to give it back bred. I had a couple of mares that I got that way, so I got back into
the business a little bit. We had bred Statuette to a stallion and gotten a couple of
fine-blooded, real nice colts. So I took one of these mares and took her over to my
ex-wife's farm and bred her to the colts and got a couple of real fine mares out of
that breeding. I still have one of those; that is Statuesque that I have out in the
pasture now. The other one was Knick-Knack, which I sold. I eventually bought the
mother that I was leasing; I bought both of them and eventually sold them. Horses
have died along the way, and I have sold some along the way, so I am down to about
three horses now.
V: So your main interest was still with horses. You did not have the sheep farm yet.
R: Right. At that time, when I got divorced, I was still showing horses in 4-H shows
with the kids that I knew, and [I was] spending time maybe working as a judge in a
show. I was a ringmaster and that sort of thing--but no more serious showing
registered Morgans for all the glory. I was doing it only for fun with the kids. I had
a good friend who did that also. She was real involved with 4-H shows with the
horses and the kids. She had a 4-H group; it was called Horse Group.
V: When did you get into the sheep business?
R: That was kind of a long, slow process. I started out just bringing some home from
work, really. [That] is about what it amounted to. Every so often, you have a
V: What is that?
R: It is a lamb that the mother will not or cannot feed. [The mother] may have mastitis
or no milk for one reason or another. So that lamb is going to die unless you bottle-
raise it. I would bring those lambs home from work and raise them by hand on the
bottle and kind of make pets out of them. I ended up with two or three, and then
three or four, and then four or five.
V: It kind of grew.
R: I probably had about eight or ten ewes, and I was breeding them and eating the
lambs and selling one or two lambs here and there. Somebody came along and
asked me if I would raise sheep for them for research at the University. It was late
in the season for doing that, so I had to kind of hustle around and buy about a
hundred head of sheep. I had to kind of go out and beat the bushes through the
state of Florida to find sheep and then raise them for this person for research. That
is kind of how I got into the sheep, by doing that for that one person.
V: Do you know what year that was?
R: That was probably the early 1980s. I was remarried. I met Peggy in about 1974 or
1975, and we were married in 1978. Then it was probably about 1981 or 1982 before
I started raising any sheep. In between times, I raised dairy cattle. We would go out
and buy calves. Whenever dairy farms have calves born, they take the calves off the
mothers because they need the milk for people. So then those calves are raised on
the bottle. Almost all dairy calves are raised on the bottle, and quite often what they
do is sell them for twenty or thirty dollars as newborns. We would go and get them,
bring them here to the farm, and raise them on the bottle until they were of age to
wean. Then we would raise them on grain for a while. Then the dairies would buy
them back. We could either have them bred artificially or else we could sell them
back unbred, and they would breed them.
We would probably keep six or eight at a time, maybe a few more. It is really hard
to raise these newborn dairy calves.
R: They are almost like babies. You have to keep everything very sterile and clean.
You are feeding animals out in the dirt. They get scours really easily. [Scours] is a
stomach disorder. Whenever you are bottle-feeding any small animal, quite often
they get scours, which is a real bad diarrhea. You cannot stop it.
V: There is no medication for it?
R: Ruminants are animals that have poor stomachs, and the problem with ruminants is
that they need a certain amount of bacteria in the stomach in order to digest the
food and for everything to work. If they get scours, you can give them penicillin to
try to cure it, but when you do, you end up killing all the bacteria in the stomach of
these little babies, and then they cannot digest the food properly, and you end up
compounding the problem. So you try to deal with it by getting them onto grain and
off the milk. It is just a really tricky process that you have to go through once they
get this. Probably fifty percent of them get it, especially when it is something new
that you are trying. This was something new that we were trying, and we were not
real experienced at it, yet. We had an old gentleman who lived next door to us,
Charlie Shafsma, who knew a lot about doing this. He raised a lot of these dairy
cattle. He would come over and help me learn how to take care of them. When
they got the scours, he would come over and help me cure them. He would take raw
eggs, shell and all, and pop it in this little calf's mouth, and then physically take his
hands and make their jaws work, tip their heads up, and make them chew it up and
swallow it. Then we would take grain by hand, put it in their mouths, and make
them eat that. The egg was to give them some protein and vigor; the grain would
kind of get them off that milk and get them a little more steady on their feet.
V: Did it cure them too?
R: Yes. It would cure the scours.
V: Did you already have the barn then?
R: The first barn came with the help of Charlie Shofsma. I wanted a barn really, really
badly, and I had been talking to Charlie about building a barn. One day, he took me
down to Tampa to meet a friend of his, Pepe Martinez. Pepe was from Puerto Rico,
I think, and he had a herd of about 100 pasofino horses. Pepe was looking for a
farm manager to come down there and run his farm for him. Charlie thought I
might be interested in doing that. Running a big farm like that sounded exciting to
me, so I went down and looked at it. It was a joke. He had about 100 pasofino
horses, but they were in the worst possible facilities you can imagine, and they were
all skin and bones and horrible-looking. Pepe had no idea what to do about it, and
he did not want to spend the money to really fix these horses up and get them taken
care of. So I told him I could not possibly be interested in the job. I would have to
leave here and go down there and manage that farm, and I had no interest in it.
So a few months later, Charlie came to me again and said: "Pepe sold all but six of
those pasofinos, but he refuses to sell these last six because they are his prize
stallions. He is selling his farm down there, and he wants to put his horses
somewhere. Would you be willing to board them for him?" I said: "Charlie, you
know I don't have a barn, so I have no place to put horses like that. Stallions have
to be put in a barn and cared for. But if Pepe is willing to build me a barn or
furnish the materials, I will actually do the building. If he will furnish the materials
for the barn, I will keep his horses for him for a year for free."
V: [That is] a good deal.
R: Yes. I thought that was a good deal for both of us, and so did Pepe. He had the tin
and the poles already down there on his old farm, so all we needed to do was buy
some lumber and put it all together. Peggy and I were either just married at the
time or else we were dating. She and I started that barn by ourselves. We put all
the poles in and put the superstructure up, and then we had a barnraising one
Saturday. We invited all of our friends out, and we finished the barn that Saturday.
We had about twenty-five people out here. She ran a crew down on the ground, and
I ran a crew up on the roof, and we almost completely finished the barn that
V: [That is a] great idea.
R: Yes. It is fun. Some of the ladies who came who did not want to man a hammer
manned the kitchen and made a huge lunch. We all took a break and ate lunch.
Then they made a huge dinner, and we all took a break and ate dinner and partied
afterwards that night. It was a lot of fun. We got a lot done. Then I kept Pepe's
horses in that barn for about three months, and then he sold them.
V: So that was a good deal for you.
R: It was a great deal.
V: You could keep your dairy cattle and your sheep there.
R: Actually, I kept my horses there at the time. I boarded a few horses from time to
time for people, and then eventually, when I did get those 100 head of sheep, I kept
them in that barn and out in the pasture. That barn really was not a good barn for
that many sheep. It was not set up to hold a lot of sheep, but we managed for the
first year. Then the second year, the sheep business grew a little bit because some
other people came and said, "You are doing a good job for this doctor; would you
raise sheep for me?" I ended up with about three or four steady customers that I
raised sheep for. So I built another barn. This time, I got a friend of mine to come,
and the two of us just put it together. It took us about a week or two to build that
barn. It was built for sheep.
V: Was it separate from the horse barn?
R: Yes. It is the one further east there that is just about forty feet and catty-corner
from the other barn. [It is] connected to the other barn by a small, triangular work
area. Now I use the two barns together. I use the old horse barn for breeding the
animals and separating out small groups for one thing or another. I have a pen in
there now that I use for newborns when the weather is cold. I have it all kind of
blocked off so that it is warm in there. I put a heat lamp in one corner so that the
lambs can get in through there to get to the heat lamp.
V: [Do] you keep your horses outside?
R: [I] keep the horses out in the pasture. They just run around the pasture and eat
grass or hay. We do not do anything with them anymore. The horses have become
something that we look at rather than use. The kids are now nine and twelve. They
are old enough that they could be riding, but they are not. None of us ride much.
V: That is a pity.
V: What do you do exactly with the sheep? Do they have to be raised in a special way,
or do you just raise them and sell them anytime anyone wants them?
R: Each spring, I go to a sheep farm down in south Florida and buy anywhere from fifty
to one hundred and fifty head, depending on how many I need to replenish my herd.
I try to get young animals. Sheep are cyclic in that they have an anestrus and an
estrus period--a period of time when they do not breed and a period of time when
they do breed. In sheep--as in horses, cattle, and a lot of animals that are like this--it
is all regulated by the change of light. For instance, in June, your days start getting
shorter. At that time, when the change takes place, something takes place in the
sheeps' little minds, and they decide to start coming in heat. By July, sheep start to
come in heat, and you can breed them. For some reason, it is just the opposite with
horses. In December, your days start getting longer, and horses start breeding in
January. In June, I start checking heat on the sheep, and in July, I start breeding the
sheep. I check heat with a vasectomized ram. I have about four or five of those that
I always keep around. Each day, we take the vasectomized rams and put them in the
pens and keep records on everybody that is in heat. We breed six, eight, or ten--
however many I need--each week, and kind of spread the breeding out. We do this
all the way through December, and then in December, they stop breeding. Some
people buy them at 115 days gestation. Their research is such that they use the
animal when they are pregnant--at about 115 or 120 days gestation. The gestational
age for lambing is about 145 to 150 days. So they might buy them and do surgery
on them while they are pregnant, [and] maybe go in and put flow probes or
measuring devices in the lambs. Sometimes they even do open heart surgery on the
lambs in utero. Then they can study what effect it has on the lamb while it is in
utero. So they really learn a lot about babies and what happens to babies.
For instance, if a mother smokes, does that have any effect on the lamb? If the
mother drinks, does that have any effect on the lamb? Now they know that if a
mother drinks alcohol, it is harmful to her baby. The way they found these things
out is by doing research like they do with these lambs. Some of the lambs are
bought as newborns, and studies are done on them.
V: You do not have to raise them in a special way, like [with] special food? Did you
have to change feeding times to see what effect it has?
R: No, not [with] what I am doing. When I worked for the University, we did a lot of
nutritional studies that were like that. We would feed them at specific times; we
would feed them different foods. I remember when we fed cattle paper. We fed
cattle chicken manure.
V: And they survived on that?
R: Yes, they did very well on it.
V: That is funny.
R: As strange as this may seem, they have done studies where you put three hogs in a
row in pens. The first one eats food, and the other two eat feces of the first one and
the second one, and the third one still gains weight. They will actually do that. Hogs
are that way. If you put hogs in a pen, they will eat the grain, and then they will root
through whatever comes out and eat it again. [laughter]
V: Oh, yuck!
R: They do quite well on it. Nutritional studies are kind of strange that way with
animals. Ruminants are a different type of critter--the sheep, the cattle, horses
(horses are not true ruminants) and deer can get by on strange foods because they
make their own protein. If you feed them paper, the bugs in their belly turn that
paper into a protein source for them.
V: So you can basically feed them anything that is not poisonous?
R: That is right. [We can feed them] just about anything.
V: They are very cheap animals to raise.
R: They can be. But if you want to raise them properly, of course, you have to feed
them corn and grain--the proper foods--in order for people to eat them.
V: How many sheep do you have right now?
R: Right now I have about 175. In the spring, we usually start out with about 200 to
V: Is that a big sheep farm?
R: It is probably about the fourth largest in Florida. For Texas, New Mexico, and
Colorado, it is very tiny. When I was out in New Mexico this summer, I met a man
that had his sheep on sixty sections of land. A section is one mile by one mile.
V: How many sheep did he have?
R: Something like ten or fifteen thousand. That is not unusual out there. That is the
way farms are out there.
V: They are probably easy animals to care for if they eat grass and just graze outside.
R: Yes, they are. The problem that we have with sheep, however, is parasites. They are
very susceptible to parasites, so they need to be de-wormed quite often. However,
if you keep them on sixty sections, they do not tend to reinfect themselves with
parasites. You buy five hundred head of sheep to put into your herd, you run them
through your pens, de-worm them one time, then put them out on a huge piece of
land like that, and they will never reinfect again. [If] you put them in a more
confined area like my forty acres, and they are continually picking up the parasites
in the pasture. The other problem that is a big problem with all sheep farmers is
predators: dogs and coyotes. Out west, coyotes are the big problem. In Florida,
coyotes are getting to be a problem; they are moving into Florida quite rapidly.
Dogs have always been a problem in Florida because of all the people population.
Everybody that has sheep has somebody next door that owns a dog.
V: Have you had many problems with that?
R: I have been very fortunate. I think part of it is because my neighbors are very good
neighbors; they take care of their dogs [and] keep their dogs at home. Most of them
will not keep a dog that will chase or kill livestock. So I think that is a real plus for
the whole neighborhood here. The other thing is that every night, my sheep can
come into the barn. It would take a pretty brave dog to come right up by the house
and the barn. Most of them will not come that close. I have had one instance where
the neighbor's rottweiler got loose and came over and killed a couple of my sheep.
They got rid of the rottweiler and paid for the sheep.
V: That is really decent.
R: Yes. I had a dog one time myself that would not even look at my sheep, but one
day, he went over to the neighbor's and killed two of their calves.
V: A dog killed cows?
V: But cows are about twenty times as big.
R: A dog that knows how to catch a cow will catch them by the nose. He will run along
beside it, jump up, and catch it by the nose, and just hang on and use his weight. Of
course, if you pull on somebody's nose, they are going to go to the ground. They pull
them right down to the ground, and all you need to do is jump on them and cut their
throat, which they are very good at doing. So I had to buy a couple of cows.
V: Did you get rid of that dog?
R: Yes, immediately.
V: Gee, I never thought a dog would do that.
R: I used to have a dog that would catch chickens for me with his paws. My chickens
used to run around the farm loose. Every time I would de-worm the horses, the stuff
that I used would kill chickens if they picked it up off the ground, so I would have
to catch all my chickens and put them in a stall. I had about twenty or thirty
chickens and ducks. So this dog would go out and catch them for me. He would
actually hold them down with his feet until I could run over and grab them. He
would also catch a 250- to 300-pound sow (or pig) and pull her down and hold her
down for me. He would do that by catching her by the ear, pulling down on her ear,
and pulling her ear to the ground and just holding her there. Every time she would
try to move, it would hurt so bad that she would not move, and he would be able to
hold that hog for me until I could get there and tie her feet up or whatever I needed
to do to put her back where she belonged.
V: And he never hurt the chickens? He was careful with them?
R: He would not hurt the chickens.
V: [That is] amazing.
R: He would chase horses. If the horses were where they did not belong, he would go
out and chase them and nip them by the heels. He was a very useful dog.
V: Yes. The sheep farm is not a full-time job for you.
V: How many hours a week do you spend on it?
R: Probably not enough. On the average, [I spend] maybe fifteen hours a week.
R: Yes, throughout the year. I have a man who lives on the farm now who takes care
of all the feeding and breeding for me. The work that I have to do is building barns
and buildings. Yesterday we were castrating and docking tails and sorting sheep; [it
was] the sort of thing that takes two people to do. I help with other stuff, like de-
worming and trimming hooves. Somebody else does the every-day chores.
V: That is good. Your other job is being a sales rep for boat companies, right?
V: When did you get into that?
R: About eight years ago, I left the University, and my father was a sales rep for Cobia
Boat Company, and he was doing very well at it. Of course, he had been working
with boats in one way or another since the early 1950s, and he had been a sales rep
for about sixteen years. He really enjoyed it, and I was getting kind of burned out
on research and working at the University. So I called him and asked him if I could
ride with him for a while. My sheep business was doing fine. Peggy was working.
We had nothing come that I could [not] just go ride with him and learn the trade.
So I rode with him for about nine months. Whenever he went out on a trip, I would
go with him. He taught me the ropes and what all was involved in selling boats.
About 1984, I think it was, I got a job with a trailer company selling boat trailers.
Then I got a job with Glass Master boat company selling their boats in the Southeast.
I have been doing it ever since.
V: What do you enjoy more, the sheep business or the boat business?
R: I would say about equal, probably. If I had to do just the boat business and be gone
all the time (it requires an awful lot of travel), I would miss my family too much, and
the farm and the physical aspect of working on the farm and [with] the sheep. Yet
the farm cannot really make the kind of living I want to make, so I need to do
something else, and the boat business is a fun business. After all, boats are a
recreational thing, so people that build them and buy them and work with them are
usually fun-loving people. So it turns out to be a really fun business to be in.
V: You must know a lot about the technical aspects of boats, too, since you were an
R: Yes. [I know] enough to get me by. I have not worked with the mechanics of boats
for a long, long time. But I am a bit of a mechanic. I was a mechanic in the Navy
and a mechanic with outboards. I have always been handy with tools, so I know the
basics of boats.
How many weeks a year are you gone on a boat trip?
It gets [to be] less and less. When I first started in the business, I traveled 185 days
the first year. I have really cut back in the last three or four years because I was
gone too much, and I missed my family too much. Those first four or five years, I
got established as a rep and got a reputation. Now I can ride on that a little bit. I
do not need to travel quite as much as I used to.
So how many days a year do you travel?
Last year, I think I traveled about 90 or 100 days.
That is less.
And I do not think I will travel that much this year.
Even less this year?
But do you still like the boat business?
Oh, yes. I have cut my territory down. I used to travel all over the Southeast. Now
I travel just [in] Florida. So I cut my territory down a lot. Of course, I have just
taken on some new responsibilities with selling in the international market, so who
knows where that is going to go and what that is going to require.
You might have to travel all over the world.
That would be awful, wouldn't? [laughter]
No, it would not. You said you cut down on your territory, but not exactly. You are
in the international market now.
Yes. I might have to go to Spain and Holland.
Come visit me. I will do it for you. Where do you think it will all go?
The future for Denny Rodebush?
Right. Will you hold onto the sheep farm? Will you live in Newberry for the rest
of your life?
R: I will probably always have this farm. I have no intention of ever selling the farm.
I have a house here that I built myself, I have three barns now that I built, and I am
pouring the slab tomorrow for a fourth one. It is home, and it will always be my
home. I will always keep this place.
[end of side]
R: ... the sheep business at that point anymore, either.
R: Because I would like to spend some time maybe on the ocean. Peggy and I both
love the ocean. Maybe by then one of the kids would like to live on the farm and
take care of the farm. I would kind of like to build this as a business that they can
start with or have.
V: You have no intention to go back into the horse business?
R: Not unless one of the kids wants to. If one of the kids would get an interest in it, I
would love to help them train and show a horse. I would like to see my kids get into
gymkhana or 4-H shows or something like that where they do barrel races, egg races,
[and] that sort of thing. [They are] fun-type things that you do. If you win, you win.
It is not these type of things where you go and show your horse and a judge judges
you. If you have the fastest time on the barrels, then you win. If you have the fastest
time, then you win. So if one of the kids wants to do something like that, then fine,
I will help them do that.
V: In ten years, they would be a little young [to take over the farm]. So you would have
to hold on a little longer.
R: I was twenty-two when I bought it.
V: That is true, but Kathryn will probably still be in school at twenty-one.
R: Yes, but she could live here, and the farm manager could still do a lot of the work.
If one of them wanted to do it, that would be fine. If they do not want to do it, that
is fine, too.
V: So you do see a time coming when you will not live here anymore permanently.
R: Permanently, probably not. I will say it will always probably be my permanent home,
but I would like to have a place on the ocean or a place on the river or a place on
the Gulf, and Peggy would, too, I think, eventually. Although we have never really
made concrete plans to buy something on the ocean, we have started making plans
to maybe get a place on the river as a weekend place.
V: That would be great. It would have to be around here, of course.
R: Yes, for now. But eventually, if I retire, it could be over on the ocean, and I would
not have to be around here.
V: Would Peggy still work?
R: Possibly, unless I can talk her into retiring.
V: That would be hard.
R: Yes, with her being younger than I, she is going to want to work longer than I, so
maybe I will end up going over to the river and fishing all week or something like
that while she works.
V: That sounds pretty good. [laughter] So, although you enjoy the business, it is not
really your life's work.
R: No. My life's ambition is to enjoy life. I enjoy working on the farm, and I enjoy
selling boats, but I do not want to work all my life and then retire at sixty-five years
old and die at sixty-seven years old like my father did and so many people do.
V: Yes. That would be awful.
R: I look forward to some leisure time--some time when all that I have worked for can
kind of pay me back for ...
V: All the time and energy you invested in it.
R: Some leisure.
V: [It] sounds good to me.
R: Some relaxing time on the water. The thing that got me into selling boats was my
love for boats and the water, and I do not have time to enjoy boats in the water.
V: You sell it to people who are going to enjoy it. But you do have a boat yourself.
R: Yes. [I have] more than one, but we never have time to take them and use them.
I have a little fishing boat out there in which the steering froze up because I did not
use it. It was just sitting around, and I went to try it out one day, and the steering
was frozen up in it. I had to buy a whole new steering unit.
How long had [it been since] you used it?
It probably had been a year since it had been used.
That is too bad. Well, I think we are about done. Thanks a lot.