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Sunday, November 30, 2003



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[ MAUKA Star MAKAI ]


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CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / CRUSSELL@STARBULLETIN.COM
Max Bigler Smith rides his favorite horse, Notebar II, while taking a call on his cell phone.


To the Max

At 79 years of age, rancher
Max Smith is still chasing
and roping cattle


For Max Bigler Smith, it wasn't the first time he rode a horse that he remembers as significant, but rather the first time he ran one. "I was 4 years old the first time I loped a horse, and I still remember."

Now, at 79, Smith is still running on horse power. Whether it be on the 4,000-acre Gunstock Ranch that he has operated for 23 years or at local rodeo events, the Paniolo Hall of Fame cowboy continues to chase down cattle on his purebred quarter horses.

Born in the small town of Central, Ariz., Smith is a third-generation rancher who remembers when horses were the main mode of transportation.

"I used to ride a horse to school. I'd turn it loose and it would go home. I usually rode to school because I had to take the milk cows to pasture, and then turn him loose."

Getting around hasn't changed that much for Smith. "I usually ride for a reason: Go get cows. Go get horses. Go check this. Go check that." Without hesitation he says, "It beats walking."


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CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / CRUSSELL@STARBULLETIN.COM
Max Smith, a member of the Paniolo Hall of Fame and a third-generation cattle rancher, poses for a portrait in his tack room.


After all those years of riding, it's no surprise that the cowboy is still quite a horseman. At the Paniolo Hall of Fame Rodeo Event in October, Smith placed second in the Penning and Sorting competition, which involves separating two specific calves from a herd and getting them into a pen.

When asked when he planned on retiring from competing, Smith replied, "Well, when I was roping, people kept asking me, 'When are you gonna quit?' and I'd say, 'When I don't think I can beat ya.' I guess that will be the same with penning and sorting."

Smith did retire from being Hawaii state veterinarian in 1994 after holding the position for 19 years. Before that, he served for 10 years as state meat inspector, a job he secured after responding to a trade publication ad while living in his home state of Arizona.


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CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / CRUSSELL@STARBULLETIN.COM
Max Smith recycles spent cornstalks to use as feed for his cattle on 4,000 acres of ranch land in Laie and Haleiwa.


Since moving to the islands, Smith and his wife of 55 years, Rita, have raised six children. They have 24 grandchildren and have made Hawaii their home.

The couple lives in Kailua, and Smith makes the long haul to Laie in his cavernous 350 Ford v8 diesel engine truck every day. "People ask me, 'Why don't I stay on the ranch?' and I tell them, 'Because I want to live with my wife!'"



Tomorrow: A city slicker learns the ropes of ranch life.


A typical day at the ranch includes booming orders at ranch hands while overseeing the feeding of 300 head of cattle and 60 horses; taking inventory and locating wayward livestock; checking for broken water troughs, fences and gates; following up on equipment repairs; saddle-breaking juvenile horses; coaxing reluctant cattle into chutes; tending to ailing animals; and more feeding -- abbreviated with relaxed moments of sitting in his favorite lanai chair back at the barn.

"I'm glad I'm still doin' it," he says. "I can't do it like I use to. I guess it's better than the alternative ..."

Which is? "Death," he says with a mischievous smile.


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CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / CRUSSELL@STARBULLETIN.COM
Max Smith and his wife of 55 years, Rita, chat at October's Paniolo Hall of Fame Rodeo Event.


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CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / CRUSSELL@STARBULLETIN.COM
Smith drives a dirt road to check on some of the 300 head of cattle he owns.


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CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / CRUSSELL@STARBULLETIN.COM
Tape holds together Smith's boots.


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CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / CRUSSELL@STARBULLETIN.COM
Max Smith takes a well deserved break.



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