HORNS APLENTY

February 26, 2003

Barnesville, Ohio. A father and sons team of ranchers ride herd on a trend-------turning cattle skulls into Western Art. It started back in 1977 when a devastating blizzard on the high plains of Colorado killed 40% of the Dickinson family Longhorn cattle herd. At a point when everything seemed hopeless Darol Dickinson started salvaging what was left sticking out of the snow, those serpentine long horns and skulls. Although not as good as the production of the living cow, the cleaned and polished skulls often sold for more money than a normal commercial living cow would bring at auction.

Over the years collectors and western decor buffs have continued to snap up the one of a kind appendages.

Today Darol and sons Joel and Kirk, now ranching in Belmont, County, Ohio, sell 50 to 80 skulls a year at prices that begin at $130 and go to $950. Collectors and designers view the longhorns as the quintessential symbol of the Old West.

"Longhorns have a mystique about them." said Joel Dickinson. "They stand for courage, stamina, independence----all the admired qualities of our early frontier settlers."

The Longhorns Head to Tail Store, located on the family ranch north of Barnesville also markets all the other longhorn components such as steer shoulder mounts, mounted steer tails, tanned hides, bull walking canes, bull golf clubs, hoof lamps, and of course healthy lean beef , all natural and delicious.

Everything really started with the skull polishing. Many of the skulls come with a lengthy history, photos of the living animals taken in its heyday and the documented registration certificates. Customers who purchase a skull get more than a skull, they get a personal history.

There's Shorty, a longhorn steer doing the rodeo thing. After a year he became increasingly lethargic and instead of a rodeo star , he became an X-Rodeo performer, graduated to a feed lot and then went on to a health foods store.

Each of them has been professionally immortalized as a bleached and polished skull.

Over the years , Kirk and Joel have developed a 23 step cleaning and polishing technique. They ship by UPS polished skulls across the USA as well as Norway, Germany, and Japan. German people are especially taken with the culture of the Wild West and are enthusiastic collectors of all things western, according to ranch manager Joel Dickinson.

To start collecting skulls price is a consideration. The wider the spread the better. The more "cork screw" the higher the price. Horns, like trees produce a growth ring. Horn grows fast in the Summer and grows a long light colored section, but grows slow in Winter with a darker, smaller section. The younger cattle have smaller, shorter horn and the older cattle have the really big trophies. Bulls have a more masculine horn with a large circumference and steers have the six to eight foot spreads. The longest horned steer on Dickinson Cattle Co. today measures right at 90." Many people purchasing trophy skulls from the store actually prefer smaller spreads due to limited den or wall space. Not every one can have an available area for the really big ones.

In reality, longhorn skulls aren't for everyone. Gaping nasals and eye cavities strike some as, let's say, not sophisticated.

But buyers can be guaranteed one aspect of the skulls, immaculate cleanliness. The craniums go through a multi process of boiling, bleaching, sanding, and high pressure washing that leaves each one polished and as bright white as if it had sunned in the desert for 50 years. Kirk says, "During the buffing and polishing process I try not to overdo it. Most collectors prefer a natural look. The horn natural color is beautiful; if they are too polished, they look like plastic."

The family cattle operation in the Appalachian foot hills of south eastern Ohio runs over a thousand registered Texas Longhorn cattle and sells mostly breeding stock for people starting herds. Tours are provided during the Summer for the public. The regular processing of beef for the store provides a renewable supply of skulls to a limited degree.

The 23 step skull process is not an easy feat, in fact it is quite labor intensive, to the extent not many Longhorn ranchers take the time and trouble to make them "indoor desirable." It is just easier to hang a skull on the side of the barn.

"People aren't fighting to get into the authentic Longhorn skull-polishing business," according to Kirk. There's not a lot of competition in this industry." For more info www.head2tail.com. tells the rest of the story.

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Caption: Joel and Kirk Dickinson of Barnesville, Ohio display a state of the art Texas Longhorn polished skull. The Dickinson Cattle Co. has been polishing skulls for 26 years for sale to collectors of unique western memorabilia. The ranch runs a sizable herd of Texas Longhorns and develops a number of decor products from every part of a critter. It isn't just the all natural beef that sells at the Longhorns Head to Tail Store but also tanned hides, Longhorn steer shoulder mounts, hoof lamps, mounted steer tails, leather place mattes, bull walking canes, bull golf putters, and ladies purses. The ranch also provides public tours during the Summer. For more info www.head2tail.com


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