Jack Rodgers celebrates 38 years on Babbitt Ranches.
Jack Rodgers celebrates 38 years on Babbitt Ranches.
“I remember my dad talking about the bad drought in Texas that happened in the early ‘50s. It was so bad, they would take propane burners and burn the needles off prickly pear so the cattle could eat the cactus for moisture,” said Rodgers.
Nearly 66 years later, Rodgers’ daily activities revolve around water. “People keep telling me the rains are going to start and I can stop hauling water, but it just hasn’t been raining like that,” he said.
As Northern Arizona continues to be in the grips of an extreme drought, Rodgers spends every day, Monday through Saturday and often Sunday, loading and reloading a water truck and driving it to water tanks across Babbitt Ranches’ 750,000 acres.
“Years ago, you could get your work done and still have time to go visit. But with the horrible drought, you start at 5 a.m. and don’t get home until 7 or 7:30 in the evening. I had guys helping me, too, who would fall in where they could but everybody is busy moving cattle.”
Gallon by gallon, Rodgers has been moving water for the past four years. “This is the second really bad year in a row. There’s no surface water. We have to haul in every drop. Dirt catchments will catch rain or snow, but we just haven’t been having that, not enough to replenish water in the dirt tanks.”
From May 1 to the second week of October 2020, Rodgers worked long days. He took only four days off and almost single-handedly hauled 1.6 million gallons. “That’s two to three times more than usual,” he said.
Babbitt Ranches made the decision to sell a number of cattle to decrease the herd and the need for water last fall, but even so, thirsty deer, elk, mountain lions and bear depend on Rodgers to bring precious water to Northern Arizona’s dehydrated wildlands.
“We water the wildlife, too. Last year, the elk were on the pipelines. I know Arizona Game and Fish was hauling water along with some of their volunteers. Since last fall on the Cataract Ranch, we had three trucks hauling out of Tusayan. It gets expensive, but you’ve got to do it.”
Rodgers had been bringing water from the upper and lower Cedar Ranch wells until the Slate Fire started last month near the historic ranch north of the San Francisco Peaks. There was concern the fire would impact the well. “The winds were squirrely,” he said. “No one was living there, but that’s where I keep the water truck. I took the truck and the generator and now I’m operating from Nordic Village.”
Firefighters were able to burn and remove vegetation around the site and set up sprinklers to protect the structures including the ranch house, barn, water pumps and tanks. Only minimal damage occurred to the powerline. Cedar Ranch has been in operation since the late 1800s. At one time, it served as a stagecoach stop between Flagstaff and the Grand Canyon where the horses were switched out.
For 38 years, Rodgers has been working for Babbitt Ranches. His family came to Arizona in the late ‘60s, leaving their Oklahoma ranch when the cattle market dropped. “We moved to the Thurston Ranch west of Grand Canyon Village. That’s where I finished high school and how I got associated with the Babbitts. John Babbitt was running the operations then. I was given the chance to go on that spring wagon for Cataract Ranch when I was 15.”
Rodgers’ formal introduction to Babbitt Ranches started with the annual Colt Sale in 1983. He was hired as a full-time cowboy to work at Harbison Camp. Part of the job was to make sure there was water there, but in those days, there was so much water, he didn’t have to haul any.
In 2017, the late Ranch Manager Victor Howell asked him to become the ranch’s waterman. “He said, ‘You could manage the water.’ But that’s not exactly what happened,” said Rodgers. “The water manages me!”
Rodgers says he accepted the job on two conditions: “that my wife, Lori, could ride with me and that I could have my pet horse.”
Lori was born and raised in Flagstaff. The couple has been married for 37 years. They have four sons and a daughter: Heath, Clay, Jacob, Brittny and Justin.
Today, Rodgers works for Clay, who now is the ranch manager on Babbitt Ranches. Jack continues to move water across Northern Arizona’s rangeland.
“It seems like every 10 years you go through another cycle of wet and dry, only it seems like the dry cycles are longer than they used to be,” he said. “I’m hopeful it will turn around this summer.”
“Jack’s doing what he loves,” said Lori. “He used to braid and make his own horse reins. That’s something he did before we got married. Now, he comes home so tired at night.”
Descendant of American Cowboys
“My great grandad was from Louisiana. Sherman’s March [during the Civil War] broke him when they took his horses and cattle. He took what he had left, got a team and a wagon and went to Texas, where he homesteaded,” said Jack. His great-grandfather also worked for legendary ranchers Charles Goodnight and Oliver Loving of Texas, who forged the Goodnight-Loving Trail to drive 2,000 head of Texas longhorns to Fort Sumner, New Mexico, to sell beef to the U.S. Army.
Rules to Live By
“Jack loves the Lord,” said Lori. “He was raised that in everything you do, you do it as if you are doing it for the Lord.”
The Value of Water
“When Jack got hired at Babbitt Ranches he was told, ‘Every time you go by a water storage, you take the time to check on the water. It’s not just the waterman’s job, it’s everybody’s job,’” said Lori.
Grandson Patrick Henry Seick was born to daughter Brittny in New Mexico on June 4. FBN
By Bonnie Stevens, FBN