There’s a rich ranching heritage in High West Energy’s three-state service territory, and the co-op is saluting it in a most unusual way.
“Over the years, more than 500 brands have been registered in High West’s service territory,” says Brian D. Heithoff, CEO and general manager of the Pine Bluffs, Wyo.-based co-op. “It is our goal to have as many of those brands as possible represented in our office.”
For nearly 30 years, seeing some of those brands has been part of the regular workday for dozens of staffers at the coop’s headquarters. The co-op took over an old John Deere dealership building back in 1988 and inherited a tradition likely born in the mind of a tractor salesman decades before to promote customer goodwill.
“Stockmen would bring in their branding irons, heat them up, and permanently press their custom markings into the walls,” says Lorrell Walter, public relations and marketing manager for the co-op.
The brands let prospective buyers know which neighbors had business relationships with the equipment and supply dealership. And though new brands have not been added for decades, Walter says, they’ve been constant reminders of the co-op’s rural heritage.
High West Energy serves about 5,800 members with some 10,000 meters in southeastern Wyoming, southwestern Nebraska, and northeastern Colorado, and some of the co-op’s original member families were ranching generations before the first power lines went up. When expansion of the co-op’s headquarters and remodeling threatened the loss of the branded walls, co-op staff and managers looked for a solution. Instead of a quick demolition, portions of the wall that included dozens of brands were cut, preserved, and stored.
“We saw this as an opportunity to acquire even more of these historic images,” Walter says. “We decided to hold a branding party and invited members to bring in their brands for placement on new boards.”
During two years of design and construction, brand books from three states were cross-referenced, and 500 co-op members owning registered brands were contacted by direct mail.
About 350 people turned out for a combination member open house and branding party on August 18. Fire boxes were stoked, metal symbols glowed red, and two iron-slapping hours later, 87 brands were collected on wooden panels.
“We had people sign and draw their brands into a registration book to get some of the history,” Walter says. “These brands are also working for our ranchers every day. They represent a tradition that’s still carried on each spring as co-op families get together to brand new calves.”