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Home is where the heart is: Glen Collinge returns to the Flint Hills

Glen Collinge moves cattle with his dad, Mike. Mike has been ranching for more than 38 years. (Photo by Carolina Loera)

Somedays, Glen Collinge is late for work.

He’ll roll down the couple miles of gravel strip between his home and work, his dog Charlie hanging onto the back of his truck bed.

Glen pulls into the drive and Charlie jumps off the truck and races for the horse pens.

“What took you so long?” his boss asks as Glen walks up to the porch.

“Mornin’, Dad,” Glen says back.

Glen works alongside his dad, Mike Collinge, as a full-time ranch hand at his parents’ ranch in the Flint Hills. Now 32, Glen has been working with his dad since he could walk.

“People who tell you to find something you love to do and you’ll never work a day in your life are lying,” Glen said with a smile. “They should be stopped.”

‘Five dads’

Glen grew up in Hamilton, a small, dried up oil town outside of Eureka. The town never had a population of more than 70 people. Young people were a scarcity. A gallon of milk was a 20-minute drive.

“Dad” was everywhere.

“When I grew up, I had about five dads,” Glen said. “Nobody worried about who’s kid you were before they chewed you out. You did something wrong, you heard about it from everybody.”

In the cattle field, “Dad” was the stubborn cowboys who’d mend and mold Glen from a rowdy 12-year-old, to a working ranch hand. “Dad” taught Glen the etiquette to moving cattle. Children who tagged along weren’t there for the show, they were put to work.

“It’s not all sunshine and roses when you’re out there as a kid,” Glen said. “You don’t just go out and ride around.”

Glen Collinge rides alongside his dad, Mike, as they, with the help of two full-time workers, move cattle. (Photo by Carolina Loera)

“One would say ‘Move up,’ one would say ‘Move back,’ and another would say ‘Move left,” Pam, Glen’s mom, said. “There was no pleasing them. Glen was corrected because that was their job.”

Glen was the youngest behind two older sisters. If anyone was going to get a hard time, it was him. Always close to the ranch, his parents suggested he go out and see the world.

“Mom and dad were big on doing what you want to do,” Glen said. “If that happens to be ranching, terrific. If not, terrific.”

Glen left for K-State to pursue a degree in animal science, just like dad.

Pam Collinge stands with her husband, Mike, and son, Glen. The family lives in Hamilton, in Greenwood County. (Photo by Carolina Loera).

‘She couldn’t stand me’

When Glen left for K-State, he left a lot of back home behind. But a piece of back home went with him.

Rachel grew up nine miles from the Collinge ranch. Glen was four, Rachel was five — her parents would stop by with their three sons and two daughters to help Mike move cattle on the ranch.

“She couldn’t stand me,” Glen said.

“She’s pretty much everything I’m not,” Glen said. “She’s sophisticated, cultured — a pretty classy person.”

“She didn’t have time for Glen,” Pam said.

Around the ranch, cowboys get a kick out of teasing children — the young girls especially.

“If you don’t say anything, it ruins their fun,” Glen said. “If you say something, it doesn’t matter what you say, they’ll find some angle to tease you.”

Rachel would stand in the presence of cowboys, smile, and not say a word.

“She answered them with her performance,” Pam said.

If you had told 13-year-old Rachel that she’d one day be married to Glen, “she would have disagreed,” Glen said. “Cut her fingers off, maybe,” Mike added.

“I was your typical 12-year-old boy,” Glen said, “and that was never impressive.”

In college, the two continued to talk and spend time together. But as the saying goes, if you love something, set it free. Glen and Rachel put it to the test, going their separate ways during their final years of college. Glen went off to work internships at cattle ranches in Nebraska, and Rachel studied abroad in Spain.

“We went our separate ways, came back together, and the rest is as they say,” Glen said.

What changed?

“I wore her down,” Glen said with a wide grin. “With charm and good looks.”

The two married in 2010 and moved back to Hamilton, just a 10-minute drive from Glen’s parents. Rachel works as a school teacher in Emporia.

“This is where I wanted to be, and after a while, so did she,” Glen said.

They have two children, 2-year-old twins Cormick and Elinor.

Coming home

The day is sunny with a slight drizzle in the air — just enough to wet the brim of Glen’s cowboy hat. Glen rides his 8-year-old horse Bucky down the gravel strip.

“Days like this make up for the bad ones,” Glen said. The bad ones are filled with monotonous work, building fence in bitter 10-degree temperatures with cold winds blasting through the fields.

In the summertime, Glen will ride on a four-wheeler with his twins sitting on his lap. Dad leads the way on horse as they move cattle from one pen to another. Working with family is what makes Glen’s job hard for him to call it a job.

“I like the people around here,” he said. “I’m a pretty simple guy; doesn’t take much to make me happy.

“I’m a native son of this right here, and this is what I like.”

Glen always had the opportunity to come home. He always worked for dad. In high school, he’d work late into the evenings burning fields in April. In college, he’d work during summers and breaks. After college, he decided to do what he loved and continue working for dad; it didn’t take long for him to realize this was what he wanted to do.

“I was never really going to leave this place,” Glen said.

Profit margins on cattle are tight. To find success, you have to be the low-cost producer.

For dad, who’s been in the business for 38 years, it’s second nature. Glen’s still learning the ropes.

“You’re not going to get filthy rich,” Glen said. “I get a lot of satisfaction out of it and that’s worth a lot more to me than making the big bucks.”

— by Evan Pflugradt