By Rosemary K. Otzman
Bob Jacobs has been a singer, a rodeo rider and a clown, a barn builder, a horse trader, a business partner, a merchant, and a friend to horse owners.
Now, at the age of 81, Jacobs is ready to ride off into the sunset.
On March 28, he closed on the sale of his 11.2 acres with the big red barn holding his boots and saddles business at the corner of the North I-94 Service Drive and Quirk Road. He’d rather not name the new owner, but it will be a matter of public record shortly.
He is having a big sale, offering everything except the Western saddles at half price until the end of May. (But, he has done some dealing, with the sale price of one saddle including a dinner.)
On June 1, he will be officially retired and gone from the property and with his 25-year companion Sandy Urfer will see how many golf courses across the country he can walk.
“I’ve done a thousand things and enjoyed it all,” Jacobs said from his office last Friday as customers swarmed in for the sale of boots and saddles and horse tack.
He said over the years there have been week ends when he put his boots on Friday morning and couldn’t take them off to rest until Sunday night. Those were the days of his horse auctions.
Every Friday from 1912 through 1996 there was a horse auction at Jacobs’ barn, with people coming from around Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, Kentucky, New York, Canada, and regularly from New Jersey to buy and sell their horses. Most of the time there were 100 to 125 horses at each auction.
The Jacobs horse auctions started in Detroit, but moved to Van Buren Township in 1947 without missing a beat. The sale was in Detroit one Friday and in Van Buren Township the next Friday.
In 1947 after Henry Ford died, the Ford Motor Co. sold a lot of the land that Ford had purchased in this area. Bob’s grandfather Julius Jacobs purchased 20 acres from Ford, but the I-94 freeway construction took some of it away.
There are hand-hewn beams in the barn built by Ford and Jacobs wishes there was some way to save the structure. But, in a few weeks it will be out of his hands.
Julius Jacobs did not put the land in his own name, but put it in the name of his son Lee and Lee’s wife, and their three children, including Bob.
Bob said his mother and father and brother have passed on, so money made on the land he sold was shared with his sister and his brother’s widow and their two children.
Bob said his grandfather, mother, and father all lived into their 90s, so he figures he has 10 years left to enjoy the money he earned in the sale.
The way the property was divided and the fact that several of the people died without their estates going through probate delayed the sale of the property for some time. But, now it’s over and Bob’s retiring.
As a teenager, Bob helped his granddad and father and then would go rodeo-ing, “playing cowboy” all summer. He has pictures of him as a rodeo clown and explains that to be a clown you had to know how to ride and hang on with one hand.
Sometimes he wouldn’t be done with his rodeos in Canada until October, so he wouldn’t turn up for school until then.
When he moved to the Belleville schools, he was a year behind because he “messed up” in Detroit and was a semester behind. But, Belleville didn’t have January graduations, so he had to start the ninth grade over when he came to Belleville.
There was a problem with the way Bob dressed. He wore jeans and they weren’t allowed in junior high. He explained that’s all he had to wear and school officials insisted he couldn’t wear them to junior high. The high school students could wear jeans, but not the junior high students.
He finally got permission to wear jeans and from that time forward those in junior high could wear jeans.
Bob found he was very good at business courses and liked numbers. He also had a good voice and his music teacher had him sing “manly songs.”
He graduated with the Belleville High School class of 1951.
Bob has scrapbooks holding pictures of him and famous cowboys, including Lash LaRue with an autograph. And, there are lots of pictures of him riding in rodeos.
At one rodeo he met Phyllis, a New York fashion model who loved horses, and they got married. “It seemed like a good idea at the time,” he said.
He and Phyllis were married for 50 years, but they lived apart for the last 30 years, with her in Missouri. He would visit her, and built barns for her horses, but finally they were divorced.
He and Sandy have been together since 1988, he said. Her son works at Boeing in Seattle and her daughter is a CPA in Boise, married to a golf professional.
Bob tells everyone he plans to tie a snowblower on the top of his car and drive south.
“When someone asks what it is, I’ll stop,” he said, with a big smile.
By Rosemary K. Otzman