Tell your story … Bill Valburg
Wed, 04/12/2017 - 8:07am admin
“I may not be able to corral cattle from the air, but I can sure drive and round them up!” says Bill Valburg local farmer, rancher and pilot. You may not have guessed ranching and flying go hand in hand but Valburg shares that his ‘49 Super Cub has been the best piece of machinery ever used on the family ranch. Valburg will celebrate his 90th birthday next January and will also be celebrating 70 years of braving the sky. Jones County is home to the Valburg family ranch but one county over is where the story first took flight.
Born in White River on January 18, 1928 to Bill and Helen Valburg; Bill along with his twin sister Darline and brother Dale spent their childhood years raised in Mellette County, S.D. The family ranch was located 12 miles southwest of White River. While growing up, Valburg’s father provided for their family by working in several trade work jobs. Valburg stated that his father could make a living doing about anything, he knew everybody and everybody knew him. The family ranch consisted of 40 acres of crop ground that was cultivated with a team of work horses. The ranch was located in what you would call rough territory as it was close to the Badlands but Valburg stated that the terrain was perfect ranch land. Running the family ranch was always a group effort as Bill’s mother planted and harvested a garden and the three children worked alongside their father farming, milking cows and helping with ranch work. Valburg reminisced the weekly trips that his family would make to town to sell their milk and cream at the cream station in White River. If you ever needed to see someone from the Mellette county area, Saturday was your best chance! Everyone seemed to gather from miles around to run errands and socialize in White River on Saturdays.
Though horses served as an essential part of farm work they also offered a convenient means of transportation for the children. Valburg attended the Kneville school, a small country school two miles from the family ranch for two grades and the following six years he attended Ring Thunder country school. There was no roadway to Ring Thunder available at that time so the children put their horses to good use. Valburg shared memories of riding his horse four miles across the Badlands to school everyday, rain or shine. If the weather was extremely inclement the children would stay at the school house with their teacher or the teacher would stay at a student’s home. Valburg told that he was taught by some of the best teachers around and also had some pretty close friends. “When there’s only 11 of you in the school you kind of don’t have a choice but to get along and be friends,” Valburg chuckled.
After finishing out eighth grade in country school Valburg began his freshman year at White River High School. Before attending school in town he had never seen the game of basketball played and was thrilled to learn and become a member of the team. The years leading up to Valburg’s graduation brought exciting changes for the family and ranch. In 1945 Valburg’s father sold their land in Mellette County and bought a ranch for five dollars an acre along the White River in Jones County. Valburg remembers the move like it was just yesterday. He recalls taking a three day cattle drive to move their herd down to the new ranch. The place in Jones County came ready to move into with a ranch house included on the property. Built in 1904, the home was a combination of two houses ordered out of the Montgomery Wards catalog. Though it may look a little differently now, the original house is still home to Valburg to this very day. After the family move, Valburg continued school at White River High School and graduated in the class of 1947.
After the family settled into their new place Valburg’s father decided it was time to expand his herd. A large livestock sale was scheduled to be held in Nebraska and the easiest way to get there was to fly. Family friend and local pilot Harold Louder agreed to fly Valburg’s father down to the sale where he purchased 100 head of black angus, the very first of their kind to enter Jones County. After being fully impressed with the convenience of flying, Bill told his son that if he would learn how to fly, he would buy a plane! And it didn’t take long at all for that idea to take off.
Valburg told that, “I was always a pansy and had to sit in the front seat of the car otherwise I would get car sick. So I wasn’t sure how flying would go.” He began taking lessons in Draper and sure enough the motion sickness hit him every time. It wasn’t until he was able to leave the passenger seat and pilot the plane himself that the motion sickness halted. As the lessons progressed Valburg’s father purchased a first model Super Cub and it was one of the first three of its kind to come into Jones County. The Cub was a remnant of WWII and was purchased for the price of $2,460, (modern day price would be comparable to $80,000.) The plane arrived at the family ranch on Christmas day of 1949. Valburg completed 30 hours of solo flight, 10 hours of dual and after about 150 hours of total training he became licenced by Cecil Ice in 1950.
No story is complete before you put a girl in it, right? Well that part is coming... The apple of Valburg’s eye, Ellen, also grew up in the White River area. The two had known each other from a young age and they began dating as young adults. Valburg shared that he would pull up to Ellen’s house in his Super Cub to pick her up for date nights. (Can you get any classier than that?!) Some of their fondest memories of the dating days were attending dances in Vivian and Draper with local friends. Valburg proposed to Ellen with a ring inside the glove box of his pickup and they were married on June 27, 1953 at the White River Methodist Church. The couple will celebrate their 54th anniversary this June!
The Valburg ranch remains family run to this day. Bill and Ellen have a beautiful family of three children and four grandchildren who have all settled roots in South Dakota. Son Barry and his wife Missy live on the family ranch with their daughters Mallory and Sunny, son Bill lives in Draper and daughter Kristi and her husband Jeff live near Rapid City with their sons Will and Walker. These days Valburg spends most of his time working on the ranch, gardening, flying and enjoying the family’s mineral bath/hot house. In the spring and fall seasons the Valburg ranch also outfits pheasant, deer, turkey and antelope hunters.
When considering the favorite pastimes they’ve spent together, the Valburgs both agree that the International Flying Farmers Organization has provided them with the best of memories. The two became active members of IFF shortly after getting married in ‘53 and have since travelled to conventions in nearly all 50 states. Ellen was crowned IFF Queen of South Dakota three years running and was also royalty as the International Queen. In February of 1973 the Valburgs embarked on the IFF Central America Tour that journeyed from Brownville, Texas all the way to San Jose, Costa Rica. Little did they know that this tour would leave them with the experience and story of a lifetime.
While stopped at a hotel overnight in Guatemala City, Guatemala, a 7.6 magnitude earthquake struck the country. The Valburgs recalled being shaken awake at 3:01 a.m. as shelves, medicine cabinets and wall decor shattered and fell to the ground around them. After the ground shaking came to a halt the IFF travellers ventured out into the streets where they discovered that their hotel had suffered minimal damage compared to the surrounding structures. The group spent the night nestled up against the wall of a restaurant that had remained intact. The next day they received word that they would have to stay elsewhere as their hotel was not livable. Everyone packed up their belongings and headed to the airport where they spent the night sleeping in 55 passenger buses. The Valburgs recalled feeling aftershock tremors for nearly 24 hours after the quake first struck.While Guatemala suffered a devastating loss of 26,000 people and 76,000 injured, the Valburgs and their IFF friends were miraculously blessed to walk away from the quake with no injuries. Valburg stated that when they were able to go check on their planes after the disaster, everyone was relieved to find them still in one piece. The planes had slid together leaving merely a hand’s width between them but they suffered no damage. The next day, February 5, the group was able to board their planes once again and continue on their journey. They returning safely back to the U.S. on February 13.
“It’s been a great road for us. We have seen the best of times, probably the hardest of times; but still the best,” Valburg shared.
While the stories could be told endlessly, Valburg shared that some of his most memorable experiences from the sky have been the times that he could step in when help was needed. In 1952 a bad winter blizzard left the countryside snowed in with no hopes of venturing the wintery roads. After the storm hit Valburg received word that a neighbor had gone into labor and needed to get to the hospital quickly. He flew her to Pierre and waited while the baby was delivered and then returned the two home safely. Valburg also shared memories of flying the mail lady to Pierre when the river was flooded so she could pick up and deliver the local mail. No electricity? Leave it to Valburg to fly the lines and inform the electrical company exactly where repairs are needed.
The wings of his ‘49 Cub have seen more than just breath taking views. They’ve seen a father teaching his children everything he knows, a pilot helping out neighbors as if they were family, a friend stepping in when no one else could and the nature of a talented, kind hearted pilot whom we are blessed to share a community and hometown with.