Woman returns to her hometown in Buffalo Gap, S.D., to run the grain elevator
March 24, 2017
Once a town loses its school and churches, the grain elevator becomes the community-gathering place. That's how it happened in Buffalo Gap, S.D. In this case, the "community" covers roughly 50 miles in any direction in southwest South Dakota. Rancher Feed and Seed has been in operation since Walt Nolan built it over the years 1923 to 1927 and opened it in 1928. The latest owner and operator is Sara Beard, a woman who grew up outside of Buffalo Gap and longed to return home.
After a circuitous route of attending South Dakota State University, more college in Sioux Falls and Rapid City, S.D., Beard completed her degree in economics. She moved to Maryland and worked as a nanny and took more classes. The last company that employed Beard moved her to Colorado Springs, Colo. All the while she wished she could be home at Buffalo Gap, but good jobs of interest to her were scarce.
In May 2015, Rancher Feed came up for auction. Beard talked to one of the then-current owners, Rodger Jensen, who has worked at the elevator for over 30 years, and asked if he would stay on to help her get going. He said yes. With that agreed upon, the auction went Beard's way and she stepped right into the middle of a busy season. She had to quickly obtain her commercial licenses so she could sell chemicals and was able to test online.
Beard more or less grew up at the elevator. When she was in the first grade she decided she did not want to go to a babysitter, and she walked on by the sitter's house to the elevator, several blocks from the school. She announced to owner Eben Streeter and his right-hand man, Jensen, that she would come every day and wait for the school bus to take her home. It wasn't long until they put her to work pulling a lever to turn an auger on and off as needed as they filled feedbags. That suited her just fine. Beard said, "The store had piles of note pads. Once I learned to write my name, I wrote it on every single one. Eben was not so happy with that."
Beard was an active 4-H member and rodeo participant while growing up and now Rancher Feed supports Fall River County and Custer County 4-H as well as the FFA program in Hot Springs.
Rancher Feed and Seed has corn, milo, wheat and sunflower seeds on hand; the latter two are locally grown. Oats are available. Beard said, "We still custom mix feeds, though few others do since the mixers are no longer made. We grind and bag as requested."
The business is a one-stop shop for many needs, including nails, nuts and bolts, insecticide, poison for gophers and prairie dogs, pour on and vaccines, leather gloves, both steel and wooden posts, panels and electric fence supplies. Salt and mineral blocks, high-protein cake, chicken feed to dog food as well as many more products. It is certainly more than one might expect in a town of about 130 residents.
If you have a hankering for pop or a candy bar, you can find them there, but the draw, especially for children, is the free salted-in-the-shell peanuts that Beard puts out by the 2-gallon bag full. Although there is a receptacle provided, many of the shells and detritus end up on the floor.
Is it unusual for a woman to not only own, but operate, such an occupation? "I am the only female at meetings relating to my business," Beard said. "A vendor stopped by the elevator this winter and after greeting me, asked to talk to the owner. I said that would be me. I could 'see' what he was thinking, then he grabbed himself up by the bootstraps and we talked business."
It is a small town. Buffalo Gap has no bank, though it does have an ATM not far from the elevator. Remember that and come prepared; Beard doesn't take credit cards. ❖