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Bob Thomas
Bob Thomas
Bob Thomas, Paradise Valley, Nevada (courtesy Thomas family)

Bob Thomas (1920-2010)

Bob Thomas was born December 1920 in Snelling, California. Bob was one of 5 children. Bob grew up riding and working on the ranch which was situated in Central California’s prime cattle country on the western edge of the Sierras. By age 12, he was sure of what he wanted to do in life. He wanted “to cowboy and fly an airplane”. He would succeed at both. Bob learned to rope and ride early in life and given his central California roots, he learned in the vaquero style, which meant that his eventual move to Nevada’s great basin and its buckaroo style were familiar to him. Bob’s formative years riding horseback on 20 to 40 mile circles a day as a buckaroo were exciting and full. During these years he learned to rope and by the time he was an adult, he rarely missed a loop.

He enlisted in the Air Guard in January 1942; but as he recalls, “the US was so unprepared to go to war that they sent me back to the ranch until August 1942 when they were finally ready for me.” Bob trained in San Antonio and Corsicana, TX in the P-51 Mustang. Bob spent much of his military career in the European Theatre of WWII and flew 85 combat missions before being shot down over Saint Lo, France. He brought his plane down low and then parachuted out, close enough to friendly troops so that he was able to make it back into friendly territory. This experience helped put life into perspective for Bob, so during a break between tours of duty, he returned to the States and on February 13, 1945, he married his longtime sweetheart Linnea. As the war in Europe drew to a close, his squadron was being prepared for a move to the Pacific. They were actually in the staging area when word reached them that the Atom Bomb had been dropped and Japan had finally surrendered. Bob was shipped home instead of to Okinawa, Japan.

The call of true ranch life kept pulling at Bob and in 1956, he located and purchased the old Cathcart Ranch in Paradise Valley, Nevada. Bob was fond of saying that he felt lucky to have arrived in Paradise before barbed wire and maintained roads, “when wagons still went out.” His first years were spent repping for his place on the Ninety-Six Ranch Wagon. During this time, he recalls mustanging with George Abel and riding with other Buckaroo Hall of Famers. Bob was always impressed with the Indian buckaroos he rode with as he liked their easy style and their deadly accuracy with a rope.

When Bob recalled great days riding, he mentioned riding the Buttermilk allotment helping son Keith, and of great camp stews made by Linnea and his old friend Les Stewart. He also recalled the fun he had mustanging in the early days. He loved long rides and said he never tired of the “Charlie Russell skies” out on our deserts. He said his saddle was more comfortable than any chair he owned and he’d just as soon stay planted in it. Bob likened breaking a horse to flying an airplane. “In breaking a horse, you want to try and get the best possible moves you can out of it. It’s the same when you’re flying a plane, I’d say there are a lot of similarities between the two.” Bob was still taking the buck out of horses well into his mid-eighties

In 1983, Bob was successfully elected to Nevada Cattlemen’s 100,000 Miles in the Saddle Club. During his long career, he also served many terms as President of the Nevada Farm Bureau, and was named Nevada’s Agriculturist of the Year by the University of Nevada.

Bob’s way of working, ethics and life have inspired many in the Paradise Valley community. Many of the men who’ve become the “old guard” of ranching in the Valley, came up listening to and learning from Bob. Bob has been a great mentor and example to many of his friends and neighbors. He is a shining example of our “greatest generation”.

His advice to the younger generation, “If you don’t love it, don’t get into it. But if you do, there is a good future for anybody willing to make it their life’s work. Find the right ranch, run the right number of cattle, don’t try to be smarter than Mother Nature and you’ll make money.”

Bob Thomas passed away a few day before he was elected as inductee in September 2010; he was 89.