Rusty Schaper reflects on dairy farming and trail rides
Rusty Schaper, the youngest of 13 children, grew up on a dairy farm on Galveston’s West End.
Getting up at 3:30 a.m. to milk cows before heading off to school was pretty routine until his parents purchased milking machines, he said
“I got to sleep a bit later after that,” said Schaper, whose family milked about 220 cows daily. “We had to milk in the afternoon as well, clean up the barn and take care of the horses. There were also chores to do.”
After high school, a few semesters of college and a stint in the Army, Schaper and his wife, Jane, bought Texas City Feed & Supply in 1975, subsequently moving to acreage in Dickinson’s Humble Camp area in 1982.
“I’ve been around cows all my life and had 60 to 70 when I came to Dickinson,” Schaper said. “But I’m down to just three cows and three calves now with one bull in a separate pasture.”
Schaper, 84, might not sit quite as tall or as often in the saddle anymore, but he has fond memories of when he did.
“When I was younger, I rode a horse every day, mainly for rounding up the cows,” he said.
He relishes the memorable years when he was trail master for the mayor’s trail ride during the Galveston County Fair & Rodeo. Back then, he and a group of fellow cowboys would ride from Texas First Bank in Texas City to the bank in Santa Fe. And he’s got the photo to prove it.
It hangs on the wall of his dining room — six wranglers, all on horseback, getting ready to ride. On the far left is Clary Milburn, who for years until his death in 2016 ran one of Galveston’s most popular restaurants.
“It was probably taken in the early ‘80s,” he said. “We were in a pasture in back of the Texas First Bank in Texas City, getting ready to leave.”
Another memorable event happened in 1986 when Schaper rode his horse into the Astrodome as part of the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo’s Grand Entry to celebrate Texas’ Sesquicentennial.
“There were five of us from this area, including Joe Betancourt,” Schaper said. “Willie Nelson was performing that night, too.”
Schaper recalls how during the early years the feed store was a place for other ranchers and farmers to hang out.
“We’d have coffee and talk about anything and everything — cows, who had the best horse, the economy, world events and politics,” he said. “It was just shootin’ the breeze and made for stimulating daily conversation.”
The atmosphere has changed over the years, though, Schaper said.
“Most of the gang is deceased and the feed store has morphed into selling different products,” he said.
Schaper turned the store over to his son Gary and his former son-in-law, Kevin Schirmer, a few years ago, but he still goes in four days a week, he said. Then he goes home and oversees his remaining cows and calves and feeds his chickens.
“We have four hens who free range during the day and spend the night in their coop, called The Eggplant,” he said. “I call this country living with a little ranching on the side.”
The barn out back, with Schaper’s brand “45” above the door, houses a John Deere tractor, mowers, spreaders and some hay. A fancy barndominium is available for house guests.
Schaper’s daughter Joni Schirmer, and son Gary live nearby; another son, Leroy Jr., lives in Port Aransas and his other daughter, Sherry Peterman, lives in Houston. Five grandchildren visit often.
Inside Schaper’s living room, family photos going back three generations are displayed in albums. Also prominent is a portrait of Schaper by artist Roland Castanie, a hat rack holding Schaper’s hats — his favorite is a Resistol “George Strait” straw model — and a sign that says: “Kick off your boots. Stay a while.”
Schaper has three pairs of cowboy boots, all custom made by Vicente Cavazos in Mercedes, Texas.
Schaper was taught a good work ethic and passed it on to his children, he said.
“It’s passed on to each generation, and I think my grandkids learned that from my kids,” he said
As to what keeps him and Jane young and feeling good, he attributes that to a little Tennessee whiskey when 5 p.m. rolls around.
“We like to sit out on the patio, weather permitting, and enjoy a few sips of Jack Daniels,” he said.