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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Casimiro “Ike” Laumbach was born 102 years ago today on his father’s La Cinta Ranch at La Cinta Canyon in San Miguel County.
He doesn’t remember that – his own birth, I mean. But there isn’t much else he has forgotten. As I talk to him in his room at a retirement community in Rio Rancho, I can feel the memories crowding in around us, kicking up dust like so many horses milling around in a corral.
• La Cinta Ranch school, established by his father and attended by Ike’s family – six girls, 11 boys – and other local kids.
• His cowboy days at New Mexico ranches such as the Bell, the CS and the OX.
• That rough lot of 108 horses he broke for the YNB Ranch in Harding County.
• A bitterly cold February day in the 1930s when he rode 50 miles looking for missing steers.
• The sorrel horse he rode to first place in bronc riding at the 1936 Fourth of July rodeo in Mosquero.
We’ll start with that rodeo. Laumbach said the entry fee was $2.50 and prize money was $5 for first place, $3 for second place and $2 for third.
“So the guy who took second made 50 cents, and the guy in third lost 50 cents,” he said. “I just happened to get a good horse, a big sorrel. I got lucky and took first place.” And thereby doubled his money.
Laumbach needs a hearing aid and uses a walker to get around, but he looks to be 20 years or more younger than he is. Longevity runs in the family. A brother, Andreas “Red” Laumbach, was 101 when he died two years ago. His mother’s brother, Uncle Leopoldo Andrada, lived to 103. Ike has outlived two wives and both of his daughters.
He’s sharp, articulate and seems more like your favorite high school or college history teacher than he does a man who spent his youth as a cowboy and much of his working life in the freight business. He had his share of schooling, attending the ranch school, then high school at Albuquerque’s Menaul School and studying at the University of New Mexico in 1936 and 1937. He played tackle on UNM’s freshman football team.
“I was tall and skinny – 6-foot-2 and 152 pounds,” he said. “These days tackles weigh 300 pounds.”
In 1934, when Laumbach was 21, the country was in the throes of the Great Depression and New Mexico was in the grips of a drought. His father, Peter Joseph Laumbach, was forced to turn La Cinta Ranch cattle – 1,200 head, more or less – over to the First National Bank in Raton.
With no cattle on the place, Pete told his sons they’d best find work where they could. That’s how Ike ended up working for ranches such as the CS, the Bell and the OX.
He was between ranches one day in 1936 when he stopped in Roy to get a haircut and learned that Frank Hartley, the manager of the YNB Ranch at Bueyeros in Harding County, was looking for a man wearing “a size 6 hat and size 14 boots.” That’s another way of saying Hartley wanted someone who was not all that bright, in this case someone foolhardy enough to break more than 100 head of big, ragtag horses Hartley intended to sell to the Army as cavalry mounts.
The way Laumbach looked at it, times were tough so it’d be dumb not to take a paying job. The horses were wild and strong, a few of them a bit loco, but Laumbach said only one managed to toss him.
“It was a Morgan, a big, black horse, and he surprised me,” Laumbach said. “I was just sitting on him, just goofing off, and suddenly he cut loose and threw me.”
It was dangerous work – for the horses and Laumbach. Two of the horses were killed, one when Laumbach was trying to stake the animal out on a long rope.
“He jumped the corral, and I guess he got a loop around his forefeet, fell and broke his neck,” he said. “The other got tangled up in the corral and broke his back.”
And then there was that frigid February that Laumbach and Smitty, the foreman of the OX, rode from Springer to Wagon Mound and back, a round trip of about 50 miles, to find a couple of steers that had strayed from the herd during a drive some time before. They had been seen near Wagon Mound.
“It was 17 degrees below zero in Springer that morning, but Smitty was one of those guys who run things according to his schedule,” he said. “And that was the day to go look for the steers, so we went.”
They found the steers east of Wagon Mound and got back to the OX after dark.
A lot of dust gets kicked up in 102 years. This afternoon, it has been settling on just a part of Ike Laumbach’s life – those old horseback days shared with his cowboy brothers and other saddle pals.
Those were good days. But tough days, too.
“We made it seem like fun,” he said. “But it was hard work. That’s right.”