#AgLife: A hand with the reins or the stick – John and Sharon Bringolf

    There may be life off the ranch, but any Fremont County farmer or rancher will tell you – The #aglife is “the good life!” #Aglife is a County 10 series, brought to you by Wyoming Community Bank, that pulls the curtain back on farm and ranch life in Fremont County.

    Neighbors call him the best cowboy around. He’s earned that title after a lifetime on horseback. John Bringolf wasn’t born in the saddle, but he was on one soon after.

    Sharon and John Bringolf – h/t Randy Tucker

    There is a banner in the Bringolf tack shed that sums up rancher John’s experiences, “Never been killed in my whole life!”

    The banner friends made for John on his return from the Wyoming Medical Center – h/t Randy Tucker

    John, a lifelong Fremont County cowboy has had more than his share of accidents, wrecks, and mishaps. The last one, that generated the banner almost did him in.

    John was an equipment operator for Fremont County for 40 years, from 1980 until an accident in 2020 sent him to intensive care in Casper.

    “I was driving a grader in Red Canyon, near the Nature Conservancy,” John said. “The road narrowed. I drove to a wide spot and parked. The bank sluffed off.”

    John Bringolf at home – h/t Randy Tucker

    The road grader, with John in the cab, rolled 175 feet down the embankment, rolling one-and-a-half times before coming to a stop with John stuffed between the console and the seat.

    He broke four vertebrae in his neck, eight in his back, six ribs, and his leg.

    “The doctor said my C1 was hanging by a thread,” John said. “He said I survived because my neck was so strong.”

    Deuce and Rowan checking out the tack shed – h/t Randy Tucker

    John laughed and said, “That’s from a lifetime of looking down to the left and right while driving equipment.”

    John spent a week at the Wyoming Medical Center, three weeks at Elkhorn Rehabilitation, and 15 months of physical therapy at Fremont Therapy. He has to limit some of his activities, or he’ll get migraines at the base of his skull. He still has numbness in his left hand, but it hasn’t slowed him down a bit.

    Calving season on the ranch – h/t Randy Tucker

    The accident ended his career as a heavy equipment operator, but John and his wife Sharon remain active with their cow/calf operation on Burma Road north of Riverton.

    John is a third-generation rancher. His grandparents Hans and Lena Bringolf immigrated from Switzerland early in the 20th century and took a homestead on Beaver Creek southeast of Riverton towards Sand Draw in 1909.

    Margaret, Lena, Hans, and Jake Bringolf in front of the homestead house that Hans built on Beaver Creek – h/t John Bringolf

    “I grew up on the ranch at Beaver Creek,” John said.

    His father, Jake Bringolf, worked the place after his grandparents with his wife Edna (Hancock).

    Hans and Lena Bringolf Swiss immigrants – h/t John Bringolf

    “It was a cow/calf operation,” John said. “We pumped water out of Beaver Creek to irrigate at times, but the Yellowstone had earlier water rights and when they used it, the creek became just a trickle.”

    As a youngster, John drove seven miles with his little sister Janet from the ranch to the Sand Draw Road to catch the school bus to Riverton.

    Jake and Edna Bringolf on their wedding day – h/t John Bringolf

    In 1972, he moved in with his grandmother Irma McGuire in Red Canyon and transferred to Lander Valley High School.

    “They couldn’t keep the road open, so I’d ride a little Appaloosa mare to catch the bus,” John said. “I’d put her in a corral, throw her a little hay, and ride her back after school. Grandma named her ‘Gorgeous’ because she didn’t have a mane, barely had a tail, and had a big head.”

    The corral was near the National Outdoor Leadership Station near the bottom of Red Canyon Road.

    Jake Bringolf – h/t John Bringolf

    John graduated at semester in 1974 from Lander. He worked for Jack Petsch at the Riverton Livestock Auction during high school.

    After graduation, he went to work for a neighbor on Beaver Creek.

    John was riding colts and working cattle when his first brush with disaster came on March 4, 1974.

    “The colt bolted into a barbed wire fence,” John said. “I spun around, fell, and broke my arm in three places, my collar bone, and some ribs. Mom saw the whole thing.”

    It was a serious compound fracture with the bones in his arm puncturing the skin. He even lost a few bone fragments that chipped off. He was taken to Riverton Memorial Hospital but then transferred to Casper.

    Irma and Sam Hancock – h/t John Bringolf

    His friend Hub Whitt of Shoshoni had injured his leg earlier, shooting himself in the foot while quick drawing, and ended up having his leg amputated when the cast was applied wrong.

    “Hub saved my life,” John said. “They would have put me in a cast, but after Hub, they just splinted it and my arm healed.”

    He was in the hospital for six weeks.

    That fall, he went to work for C&H Construction in Riverton.

    Rowan and Deuce wait for a truck ride to check cows – h/t Randy Tucker

    “I started as a laborer and moved up to equipment operator,” John said. “Joe Armstrong said give me a farm kid anytime. I had some good mentors, they taught me how to run equipment.”

    In the spring of 1975, he went back to ranching, helping his uncle Bill Hancock through the fall roundup.

    Over the next five years, he bounced from job to job, working for Western Nuclear in their uranium operation in the Gas Hills, on oil rigs, Pure Gas, the sale barn, and sold cars for a while.

    “When the mines shut down in the Gas Hills, it was hard to sell cars,” John said.

    In 1980, he started working for Fremont County, first as a truck driver, then operating a backhoe and road grader.

    Calves enjoying the afternoon sun at the Bringolf Ranch – h/t Randy Tucker

    In 1986, he purchased a house and five acres on Burma Road. That’s where he and Sharon live. He began making improvements with outbuildings and corrals.

    In 1988, he transferred with the county to Dubois and opened a feed store with Scott Peterson.

    “Try running a feed store in Dubois,” John laughed.

    In 1992, he transferred again, this time to Pavillion, where he worked with Skip Hicks until 2000. John and Skip entered a cattle partnership.

    A longhorn heifer – h/t Randy Tucker

    In 1991, he bought more land, 100 acres from Tad McMillan, just a few miles from his home on Missouri Valley Road.

    He met Sharon in 1994, and they were married in 1995.

    He purchased another 200 acres with Jerry Weliever from Roy Haggerty.

    “As land would come up closer to home, I’d trade for it,” John said.

    In 2001, he bought another 90 acres with Randy Harvey and in 2006, he purchased 80 more from Ben Strumpf near Shady Lane.

    A sign outside the entrance to the Bringolf home – h/t Randy Tucker

    He had land spread across the center of Fremont County but began to consolidate closer to home.

    “I bought pieces from Blaine Anderson,” John said.

    His present 200 acres is just across Burma Road from their house and is excellent ground.

    “It’s all Class 1 or Class 2 land,” John said. “It’s easy to irrigate and close to home.”

    The spring of 2023, with its above-average snowfall and rainfall, led to an excellent hay crop.

    “It was the best yield we ever had,” John said. “We made five tons per acre on two cuttings.”

    The tack room with saddle racks inspired by ones used by Fulton Jameson – h/t Randy Tucker

    The late rains didn’t allow the swather into the field until July, and some of the stands were so thick it clogged the conditioner, so they let it stand and grazed it.

    They have 50 acres in alfalfa, 85 in grass hay, and pasture the remainder.

    All that hay goes into 100 cows and six bulls. John and Sharon raised bulls for a while, but they demand more time and coverage than cows.

    “It’s like running milk cows,” John said. “We’d like to spend more time in Arizona.”

    Sharon sorting cows on St. Patrick’s Day – h/t John Bernardis

    He’s had his share of close calls over the years, 13 rollovers, and three head-on collisions.

    “My dad used to say I should put wheels on the roof so I could keep going when I rolled,” John said.

    Chip Retired in 1995. Chip Hicks raised longhorn cattle, and John was a close friend of Chip for many years. He took the Hick’s Longhorns on shares when he re-retired or retired for the second time.  

    Chip passed away in 2005.

    Action at the 2023 branding – h/t John Bernardis

    In 2006, Sharon and John held their first “White Shirt – Black Tie” branding at their place.

    “Chip and I had a couple of them in 1992 and ‘93 when we were partners,” John said. “It originated in Pinedale, that’s where Chip got the idea.”

    It has become an annual event in honor of Chip, as a memorial to him.

    Their son, John Bernadis, known as LJ for “Little John,” is a plumber in Riverton with Service Plumbing. He has 20 years of experience, mostly in Casper.

    LJ plans to build a home near the stackyard on the east side of Burma Road and will eventually take over the operation.

    John Bernardis “LJ” – h/t John Bernadis

    LJ is a Shoshoni High School graduate with the same ranching fever his parents have.

    The story of John and Sharon is a thoroughly American story, a story of immigrants who came to a new land, made their way through hard work, and passed those hard-working traits onto future generations.

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