Remembering Four Generations
Flying R Ranch
Above: Richard and Karen are pictured on their farm with the barn--the heart of the homestead. The barn was built in 1917 by Richard's grandfather.
Thirty miles of walking after a winter storm—that’s how the Flying R Ranch homestead was claimed.
Richard and Karen Sinkie are the 4th generation to build their lives on the homestead, located approximately eight miles north of Gann Valley. Richard’s great-grandfather came by the Kimball train in 1883 to claim the land, but a late spring storm halted plans. He and many others were forced into a boarding house due to the storm. After sleeping on the boarding house floor during the "coldest night of his life," he felt defeated, and was ready to turn around. However, a friend talked him into going back. He returned to Kimball, and walked roughly thirty-one miles north to claim his 160 acres.
Back then, they worked hard work to stay warm, to be able to eat, and to raise a family. Richard said, "It was hard work, but we didn’t know any different." Cows were fed with a team of horses, hayrack and pitchfork. They worked the land with a two-row cultivator, disc, and walking plow. For heat, Richard’s grandfather and his brothers would gather up cow chips and twist grass or hay. The tighter the bundle, the longer it’d burn. There weren’t many trees around, so they used what they had.
The family also kept a coal and wood furnace. In the fall, his grandfather’s brother, who was a trucker, would take in a load of their hogs for payment for a load of coal. The coal usually came from Kimball or Miller. There was a hole in the side of the house foundation, and they shoveled the coal out of the truck and into the basement. Richard can remember lying in bed many mornings and hearing his dad shake the ashes out of the furnace to get it going before Richard came downstairs.
Richard remembers doing his homework by the kerosene lamp. Every fall, they’d get a supply of kerosene. He also remembers having a Kohler light plant, similar to a generator, which they used just in the evening for light.
Some weeks, Richard’s grandparents would make roughly four dollars a week, and groceries would cost three dollars. They kept 200 to 300 laying hens and milked six to eight cows. The cream and eggs would pay for any household expenses. Groceries consisted of flour and sugar, but otherwise they raised their own food. They kept a big garden and canned. Mid-summer, they’d butcher 100 chickens, and in the fall, butcher two hogs and one steer. Richard says, "It was real food then too," and had more flavor than what we can buy today. Richard and Karen still keep 30 laying hens—and those eggs can’t be found in any store.
One year when the family didn’t raise anything, Richard’s great-grandfather hopped the freight train to Sioux City and worked the winter
Above: The barn on the homestead shortly after construction
Below: The house Richard grew up in on the farm. The house is still in excellent condition. Richard and Karen use it for canning, and their sons plan to fix it up someday.
there for money. "In those days, you didn’t have any help," Richard said. "You did what you had to do."
Richard remembers being in his grandfather’s shadow. In the spring, his grandfather would seed oats, and Richard would hurry home from school each day to drive the team of horses. Richard said, "I didn’t know they didn’t need a driver because they followed the row, but [my grandfather] didn’t tell me any different."
At the heart of the homestead is the iconic red barn. Richard’s grandfather built the barn 1917. With no power tools available, he used gin poles and a team of horses. While the original barn still stands, a straight-wind storm in 1924 took off the roof and top-level. The wind blew the rafters way out into the pasture and drove them so far into the ground that they had to use a team of horses to pull them out. That storm leveled many of the barns in the area at that time. The barn was rebuilt in 1927 and is still in use today.
Other than the farm, Richard’s grandparents also passed along life lessons. When he was eight or nine years old, Richard remembers his grandmother returning from the grocery store and putting some change into a glass. He asked what it was for, and she replied that the clerk had given her too much change. This was it, and she was going to give it back to the clerk next time she goes to the store. He asked, "Why don’t you just keep it?" Richard says, "I got lectured. And I remember that like yesterday." She did indeed return the change, and Richard said, "They instilled that [integrity] in all of us."
The country school that Richard went to was just a half mile north from the farm. He’d walk each morning. Each year, a student would be assigned to bring water. You’d bring five gallons at a time and that would last about a week.
Sunday school was split between three classes. One was in the school room, one went into the basement, and Richard’s class was six small kids packed into the back of the teacher’s car.
Punishment for misbehavior at school usually meant losing your recesses, and that did happen once to Richard. North of the school, there was big slew that was frozen over in the winter. The kids would take their sleds and go over there during their noon hour. "If we left our sleds down there, the teacher would have to let us come down at recess time in the afternoon and get them, which she did." However, the students failed to return to school one afternoon until about 3:30 PM, and they lost their recesses for two weeks. They never did that again.
Each student had a chore assigned to them. Chores included dusting erasers, wiping off the blackboard, taking out the garbage to the burning barrel, and taking the flag up and down every morning and night and folding it properly. They said the pledge of allegiance every morning. School went from 9:00 AM to 4:00 PM—just in time to get home and do chores.
Richard had a cow to milk every night. And if the cow stuck her foot in the bucket, you’d give the milk to the eager cats and start over. He remembered the cows rapping their tails around his neck, trying to swat flies.
Richard’s dad gave him a heifer calf from one of his cows when Richard was 10 years old, and that’s what started Richard’s stock herd of cattle. Richard had eight cows when he got out of the army, probably valued at about $150 per cow at that time. He bought his Holstein dairy cows at the time for about $250-300 each.
Richard had been on the farm all his life, except for his two years in the military. Back in the 50-60’s during the draft, Richard and his buddy decided over a pitcher of beer that they would volunteer for the draft and "get it over with." They volunteered for the October draft and both spent 16 months in Korea. Richard was part of the 17th field artillery battalion and surveyed for eight inch guns in target areas. When his lieutenant offered him the battalion mail clerk job, he "couldn’t take it fast enough." He’d drive the jeep 20 miles each day down by Seoul to pick up the mail.
Richard said, "Looking down the throat of an enemy sure gives you a different outlook on life." But looking back on his experience, he’s glad he served and he’d do his duty in Korea again. "Except he doesn’t like rice anymore," Karen added.
Karen (Gilbertson) is originally from Valley City, ND. Karen is an electrician and met Richard while doing some electrical work on the farm house. They met again later when they both worked at the bar in Miller, "Lips Honda Lounge."
Richard and Karen have seven kids, 17 grandkids, and 4 great-grandchildren. Their sons, Brett and Lee Sinkie, will be the 5th generation on the farm. They do have a feeling the farm will stay in the family for a while since their 12 year old grandson recently made the remark, "Someday when I own this place…"
Richard and Karen ranched with a cow/calf operation and also ran a dairy operation for 41 years. They recently sold the dairy cows in
Above: Richard and Karen, along with sons Brett and Lee, were honored as a 2015 Century Farm Recipient for owning their land for 100 years or more. The award was given by the South Dakota Farm Bureau and South Dakota Department of Agriculture at the South Dakota State Fair last September. Photo retrieved from sdfbf.org
2000, and Richard says he "dearly loves sleeping later in the morning." In 1969, Richard purchased the Quarter Horse Digest publication which covered all 50 states and three foreign countries. He ran that for 20 years.
In 1971, he began sale management for a quarter horse breeder. Shortly after, he began auctioneering. He managed sales and auctioneered in eight states and Canada for about 30 years and ran about 30 sales a year. He also began farm sales and remembers having to stop the sale every hour at the fairgrounds because the coal train would go by, and it would be too loud to talk over.
Karen has managed the Dakota Wild Wings hunting lodge for about 16 years and still does all the electrical work on the farm and in the house. Karen wired their shed on the farm, and when the inspector came to look it, he said, "My, you do nice work." She keeps her wiring nice and straight.
They do consider themselves semi-retired and have taken some time to travel, including to Branson, Missouri and also on the Central Electric Basin Bus Tour.
Richard remembers when electricity came to the homestead: "The REA lit the place up." He said it’s the best thing that ever happened to them. They didn’t need wind to power their wells and had the convenience of appliances.
For a portion of his life, Richard didn’t know what an air conditioner was. He struggled with asthma and hay fever growing up, so he’d lie up at night fighting for air and hoping for a breeze to come through the window. He said, "I remember when we got the first air conditioner. I thought I’d died and gone to heaven."
The longest time they ever went without power was for two weeks in the 60s, perhaps the winter storm of ‘68-69. The storm took down a lot of line, and they remember milking cows by hand. They knew the crews were working day and night to repair the damage. They just did what they had to do.
Sometime in the 1990s, a storm came through in October. Their oldest son got snowed in there and stayed for four days. They played cards by the kerosene lamp. Karen kept winning, and the men tried to claim she was cheating in the dark. Her son brought out a blow torch at some point and said, "Well, we’ve got to warm this place up some way," and that’s how they warmed up the house.
They also recalled losing power for five days in the winter of 2005-6. They did get a generator after that, but haven’t had to use it since—and we’re all thankful for that.
While Richard and Karen have received an offer to sell their place, they aren’t interested in going anywhere else. They love where they are at and want to see it passed down in the family.
When asked about the best thing that electricity has done for them, they couldn’t pinpoint one thing better than another. However, Richard said, "Without it, you’re living in the dark. That’s all there is to it."