The best buckle of all

He was one of the best teachers I ever had, and yet we never met inside a classroom and he never gave me homework. He wasnít what anyone would call a ďprofessorĒ or a ďdoctor,Ē and he probably couldnít get hired at the same university today because he lacked a doctorate. But make no mistake, he was one of the most qualified people Iíve ever met. I suppose that in a more traditional sense, you could say he never was my teacher, so how come I learned so much from him?

Although I never called him Mr. Jacobs, he was a ďfather figureĒ to me, even though he was only eight years older. From the age of 18 when I first met him we stayed in close touch and he taught me the entire time. He was simply a man who made things better, whether they be a kid, a cowherd or a ranch. Bill Jacobs was my judging team coach and to all of us who wear the Cal Poly buckle, he was a man to be respected and listened to.

You may have heard of Bill for other reasons. At one time he was the part owner and manager of one of the best Hereford herds in America. After that venture, he became the owner of the historic Turner Ranch in Oklahoma, one of the most storied ranches in the country. Bill even made that great ranch better. But what Bill was best known for was being one of the best judges, if not the best judge, of cattle in the country, bar none. He could look at one and be more accurate that any computer.

To those of you unfamiliar with livestock judging, hereís the recipe: You take some hardheaded, know-everything kids who like livestock, teach them to objectively evaluate animals, and hone their skills to communicate and to give reasons in a forceful yet effective manner to justify their placings. Then you put them on a team to win or lose based on what kind of job the coach did. Suffice it to say, Billís teams won a lot.

And oh, did we have fun! One time we told the flight attendants that we were a gospel singing group from Oklahoma City and they asked us to sing over the PA system. I got to see Fort Worth, Denver, San Francisco, Phoenix, Portland, Kansas City, Chicago and other exotic locales for the very first time in my life because Bill took me there with his judging team. And make no mistake, it was HIS team.

Bill was notoriously hardheaded. I tried to teach him how to judge, but I can truthfully say the only thing that Bill ever learned from me was how to shoot pool. I was giving him one of those pool lessons when a beautiful young lady walked in with her brother-in-law, who was a friend of mine. I told Bill right then and there I was going to marry that young lady and darned if I didnít. And Bill Jacobs stood by my side when I took that wonderful woman to have and to hold, to cherish forever.

One of my little idiosyncrasies is that I absolutely hate talking on the telephone. And Bill knew it. So heíd call me on a regular basis and Iíd have to sit and listen for a good hour as he suggested topics I could write about that would get me in trouble with an ever-widening audience. So, quite naturally, I didnít pick up the phone when Delvin called to tell me about the single vehicle crash that took Billís life.

I have in my possession some items that mean the world to me. They are the buckles I won judging livestock and the buckle that shows I was a student of Bill Jacobs. Now, I donít usually make it a practice to preach in these little essays but, just this once, please allow me. You see, Iím angry and sad that my mentor was not wearing a seat belt when he was killed. I donít know if it would have saved his life; from the details it sounds like it might have. I do know that this telephone-hating hack would give all the gold buckles in the world to get one of Billís dreaded phone calls right now.

So, please, next time you get in a vehicle I hope youíll remember the last lesson my friend and teacher gave me: Buckle up. Trust me, it really is the best buckle of all.

Lee Pitts is a California ag producer and newspaper editor. See more of his work at

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