Branch braids a rope in his shop.
Growing up in Winslow, Branch got started braiding ropes when he could not afford to purchase one to use in riding steers. “With the help of my dad, I broke down an old manila and grass bull rope and I came up with something that resembled a rope. Ever since, I have been intrigued with fine braiding and have learned techniques through the years.”
Branch braided all through his younger years working at perfecting his skills. He became discouraged in the early 1980s when he realized his braiding was up to the caliber of the top braiders in American but he was not being recognized by the bull riding community.
In 1982, while attending Sul Ross University in Alpine, Texas, Branch was encouraged by Cody Lambert, who was a National Finals Rodeo qualifier at the time, to braid a rope for him. “He got the rope and the next day my career started,” Branch explained.
According to Branch, the second person to order one of his ropes was Tuff Hedeman. Hedeman won three bull riding world championships using Branch’s ropes.
In the late 1980s, Branch started a braiding company in Mexico. He continued to sell his custom ropes, but the company was also producing wholesale ropes that were all inspected by Branch before being released.
In 1992, eight of the top 15 bullriders in the country were using Branch’s ropes.
Today Branch, who returned to Winslow after a few years in Texas, braids bull ropes in the same shop in which he learned. The walls of the shop are covered with pictures of the top riders at one time who used Branch’s ropes.
Braiding a bull rope begins with unwinding the strands of the original rope and rebraiding them in the desired format. The process is a long and tedious one that is also strenuous work.
Branch usually braids 15 to 20 minutes at a time. He then takes a break because of the tension he has to keep on the rope. During his break, Branch works at unwinding more of the strands on another part of the rope or at tying the slider knots, which keep the rope held together when it is put around the girth of the bull.
Branch has developed calluses on his hands where he keeps the strands pulled tight against each other. He attributes hand-washing dishes in the evening as the way he keeps his calluses from getting too hard and rough. He added the hot water also helps loosen the muscles in his hands.
It usually takes between six and 14 hours to braid one bull rope. Branch used to braid one rope a day, but he said it takes longer today because the he continues to improve the quality.
Branch’s ropes are used all over the world. Australian Champion Bull Rider Brad Scott was using a Branch Rope when he won his title.
Two well-known Arizona cowboys, Cody Custer and Cody Hancock, were both using Branch’s rope when they won their Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association World Championships.
Even though the sport of bull riding has seen a recent increase in popularity, Branch said the rope braiding section of the sport’s equipment has seen a decline. He attributes the decline to the increase of braiders in the market. “There used to be 10 of us, now there are 20 or 30 who just do it as a hobby,” he added.
Branch said he empathizes with the “starving artists” across the world. “I definitely have respect for any craftsman, anyone who gets a feeling of self-satisfaction after creating something with their own hands,” Branch said.