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‘Smart dummy’ guards MarathonBy R.M. GLOVERMNL Editor MARATHON – Atop a steel pole 20 feet in the air just east of here on Highway 90, stands a life-sized cow with a wheel for front legs.“Buford,” the mechanical roping machine and featured product of Rope-O-Matic, is the craft of the Roberts family.“We were the first,” Lee Roberts said. “Now we’ve got four other competitors.”In 1989, Roberts and his partner David Adams took over the sputtering Rope-O-Matic Company and moved the manufacturing to the banks of the Rio Grande on Adams’ ranch.Today, they put together the motorized steel and fiberglass roping machines in a metal shop next to the Union Pacific Railroad tracks, which lies down a narrow paved road located just before the mounted bevo on the highway comes into sight.Buford comes in black with white horns, secured to a 30-foot arm with a center pivot.“It’s the world’s smartest dummy,” Roberts said. “You can rope head or heel.”It is designed to bring a competitive edge for team ropers in rodeo, Roberts said.“Everybody practices with ‘em now,” he said.Plug it in, mount your horse and get ready. The electric motor inside the body powers the single golf-cart size wheel in front and the powerful hind legs grind up and down, giving an authentic steer-like romp.Lee Roberts grew up in Alpine and graduated from Alpine High.At Texas A&M he earned a degree in vocational agriculture, “to educate people about the agricultural industry,” he said.After a stint building houses in Brownsville, Roberts became ranch manager of the former David Adams Ranch south of Marathon, now owned by the Mexican cement giant Cemex.“Adams put some money in it but the small company couldn’t get over the hump,” Roberts said. “So together, we took it over.“Walt Woodard uses and endorses Buford and so does the United States Team Roping Championship,” he said. “Team Roping is one of the fastest growing sports in America today.”Rope-O-Matic has built and sold thousands of “Bufords” over the years.In 2000, rodeo champion Jake Barnes was practicing with a Buford when he came up with an ideafor a ground-roping dummy.After six months of development with Roberts, “Jake-Steer” was introduced to the market by Rope-O-Matic and has been selling well ever since. Jake-Steer comes in a variety of colors.It knocks down to fit in a UPS-sized box and has three different horn sizes to build up a roper’s skill.“If you can rope big horns, you can rope anything,” Roberts said. “It’s a good heading dummy and has a handle on it so you can pick it up and carry it like a suitcase.”Roberts lifted the pink fiberglass dummy from the shop floor with one hand.“Super Looper magazine did a comparison of all the heading dummies on the market and we came out on top,” Roberts said. “We like showing at [Las] Vegas and Oklahoma City.”He looked out toward his gooseneck trailer in the parking lot with the Rope-O-Matic emblem.“We ain’t going to get rich, but it makes a living and a life we enjoy,” he said.
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