Bob was born on December 25, 1930 in Moorcroft, Wyoming to Erman Ernest Hladky and Lulu Marie (Gibson) Hladky. He was raised during the Great Depression, in Campbell County. Erman worked on the American Ranch east of Gillette until Bob was about ten years old, which is where Bob started his ranching career. The family worked a few other ranches until finally settling on their own place just north of Gillette, Wyoming. Bob survived bouncing off a dump rake he was driving with a team at around 5 years of age, a mower sickle blade coming down on his back while driving a steel-wheeled tractor at about age 10, the mean and ornery Shetland ponies Erman bought for he and his brother Spike to break, and the scarlet fever when he was 12. Perhaps these life experiences are what ingrained into him the perseverance and safety-consciousness that he demonstrates every day.
He graduated from Campbell County High School in 1949, and after a short work stint in central Nebraska, he made his way to the Patrick Brothers Hereford Ranch north of Lingle, Wyoming in 1950, where he hired on as a cowboy, and became foreman a few years later. This time period was a transition from the old days of the big outfits in the area having crews of single cowboys doing the work, to more family men who started their youngsters into working on the ranches. In 1958, he married Shirley Seaman of Sioux County, Nebraska, a lively young cowgirl and horsewoman who owned ½ interest in a good stallion, so they were a good match for what their future life was to hold. Their daughter Bobbi Jo, twin daughters Tracy and Sheri, and son Troy were each born while they lived along Rawhide Creek. Bob’s daughters all agree that Bob was the first “equal opportunity employer” because he insisted that his girls be able to start helping with the cattle work when they each were about 5 years old, which really broke with the old way of doing things on a big ranch. After nearly 20 years at Patrick Brothers, in 1969 Bob moved his family on up Rawhide Creek to work as a ranch foreman for Richard “Bucky” Barnette, where he continued to teach his children the cowboy life and build his own small cattle herd. They lived at the location of the Rawhide Stage Station on the Cheyenne-Deadwood stage route on the Agnew Ranch, and later moved up the creek farther, to the Ord Ranch. Bob and Shirley purchased their own ranch in 1975, on the Goshen-Niobrara county line on Highway 85 within sight of Rawhide Buttes, where they built their herd, finished raising their kids, and are now retired. He is a long-standing member of both the Goshen County Stockgrowers and the Wyoming Stockgrowers Associations. He is also a member of Harmony Masonic Lodge in Lusk and is a past Worshipful Master.
Bob is a self-taught cowboy, who learned from everyone he worked with. During his adult lifetime career, all of which was in Goshen County, he did everything with cattle from horseback. One of his sons-in-law remarks that “Bob can rope in a branding pen better than anyone I’ve ever seen”, which many of his peers and the young people he taught can attest to. He was always well-mounted, with many of his horses being raised by himself and Shirley, and he took great pride in making sure that his children always had good horses to learn the trade with. He shod all of his own horses, and mentored several young people in that aspect of horsemanship.
Roping is one of the things Bob enjoys most. He could rope almost anything, anywhere, and do it gracefully and deliberately so as to not stress the cattle, and use his horses wisely. He and his cowboy buddy Bryce Sager used to load up their horses after a full day of work at the Patrick Brothers ranch, and go rope calves for competition practice in a little arena east of Lingle they leased from Galen Rice. Bob was a founding member of the Goshen County Roping Club, which hosted jackpot ropings at the Little Moon Lake arena. The Club gathered every Sunday for many years to team rope, calf rope and barrel race. At the end of each season, the adults produced a “Kids Day Rodeo” to thank the youngsters for helping with the roping season and to bring them along in the culture of rodeo. He also was a member of the Niobrara Roping Club. Bob competed in local ropings and rodeos as a calf roper and team roper, and when offered, the wild cow milking event. He won many buckles throughout his lifetime. Those buckles, along with nearly everything else they owned, were lost when the family was living at the Ord Ranch and the house burned down as the result of a lightning strike in 1971. Ironically, the family was coming home in a storm from the Labor Day weekend ropings in Torrington. Bob was also involved in the Legend of Rawhide Pageant in Niobrara County, playing the part of an outrider, and supporting his children and grandchildren when they participated as well. Bob’s other favorite activity for fun is fishing – he loves to drop a line in a clear, Wyoming stream or lake, and catch a tasty trout.
Young people have been a constant during Bob’s life, with his four children and many of their friends, and his nieces and nephews. Bob values education very highly; he served on both the Goshen County and the Niobrara County school boards. He supported the school endeavors of his children and grandchildren, which in Wyoming involves driving hundreds of miles, and he has attended high school and college graduations for any young person who was important to him. He raised his children to work hard on the ranch, exposing them to all aspects of it, but he always made sure to have some fun too. Bob and the kids labored to build two roping arenas for the family to practice in after a days’ work was over, and he taught them how to rope and ride both in the arena and out. He supported their high school rodeo endeavors, and short college rodeo stints as well. One of the tenets he believes is “A $10,000 horse will not make you a better rider or roper – if you learn to be a hand, you can do everything well on the least talented horse in the outfit”. Young people admire not only his cowboy skills and abilities, but the fact that he always took the time to teach and mentor them as well. Even some of the little children of his great-nephews and nieces have a little handmade rope that Bob made for them.
Bob lived through hard times as a youth, and has faced many adversities as an adult. As a child of the Great Depression, Bob learned to do a lot of things out of necessity. He is a self-taught craftsman, doing much of his own leather work and tying his own lariat hondas. He is a skilled carpenter, electrician, and mechanic, and approaches everything he does meticulously. He is living example of the cowboy virtues of hard work, perseverance, integrity, and personal responsibility. He instilled these things in his children, and his grandchildren all carry them as well. Through it all, he has maintained a sense of humor, a positive outlook, and the ability to tell good stories. He can strike up a conversation with anyone, and he was a great friend to many, including the cowboys he worked with up and down Rawhide Creek, and the ropers he teamed up with in eastern Wyoming and western Nebraska. Though many of those old friends are gone now, he still has a bond of friendship with their families, and remains a well-respected “old fossil” (as he calls himself).