'A good way of life'
Though 11 years apart, the Fritz brothers say they're pretty close, and agree that farming and ranching is "a good way of life."
Jim and Les Fritz, 84 and 95 respectively, have recently been named the 2010 Roughrider Days Fair and Expo "Rodeo/Ranchers of the Year" and will be honored with a plaque and jacket, as well as being a part of the Roughrider Days parade, slated to be held July 3.
Jim and Les, along with their other brother and two sisters, grew up near the Fairfield area on their parent's farm. They both attended country school.
Eventually, the brothers took over their parent's diversified ranch, raising wheat and livestock until the '40s, when they each started a ranch about five miles from each other in the Belfield area, raising cattle and crops.
"We lived the same distance south as we did north, originally," Les said.
Jim and his wife Donna still live on his ranch near Belfield running cattle and putting up some hay, and Les and his wife Ollie sold their ranch to his two sons. Les now resides at Evergreen, an assisted living facility in Dickinson. He said it's a good feeling knowing the ranch is being taken care of.
Jim said his two children, who live in the area, help him with ranch work.
Both Les and Jim say they are glad they got into agriculture, and it has changed much over the years.
"I think it's a good way of life," Les said. "Breathing the fresh air."
The biggest change, Les remembers, was when tractors took over for horses.
"In '42, that was about the last time I summer fallowed with horses," Les said.
Jim said he thinks it's more difficult to get into agriculture now than when he first got in.
"When I first started out you could get a government loan at someplace or another, and folks would help you a little," Jim said. "Nowadays, that's pretty much a thing of the past. You don't have a good banker, you aren't going to last long."
Living in the country during the winter gets easier every year, Jim said, as the roads have changed and improved.
"The first years we were there we got stranded," Jim said.
Les calls the country "ideal" for raising children.
Leon Kristianson, rodeo superintendent for the Roughrider Commission, said a subcommittee comprised of residents in the southwest part of the state selected the Fritz brothers for their commitment and longevity in ranching.
Les said as far as agriculture is concerned, he doesn't think he'd do anything different.
"I always think it fell in place pretty well," Les said. "It's just one of those things that comes along. It comes along and you get along. It's like anything else, it has its ups and downs, but I still think it's a pretty good, clean way of living."