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Unbranded’s Ben Thamer interview, Part I

Published: 2/26/2014
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Editor's Note:
We spoke with Ben Thamer late last year from south Texas, where he was back to work on a hunting ranch not far from Laredo.
Thamer is one of four recent Texas A & M graduates who successfully completed a six-month, 3,000-mile trek from the Mexican to Canadian border.
Unbranded, the feature film due out next year, will document this amazing journey.

Not coincidently, Thamer was sitting in the same ranch office from which the successful Kickstarter campaign was launched more than two years ago. Over $171,000 was raised. In the process, the Unbranded team attracted the attention of Western Horseman and Cedar Creek’s Cindy Meehl, who came on board last year as a producer.
Read more about Unbranded, including interviews with Ben Masters, filmmaker Phill Baribeau, and producer Cindy Meehl.

Ben Thamer: Yes, I'm actually sitting in the office that Ben Masters and I were in during the whole Kickstarter campaign... the film was launched from this office, basically.

MBG: So, it started with making cold calls?

BT: I was calling people and talking to newspapers and talking to radio shows... with groups from around the country trying to get them excited about it.
All four of us were. We figured out that's the only way to raise money on these things. It's nice to have a cool video. But how many cool videos get emailed to you every week? I get 20, and I don't give any money. So, you gotta call people and say:

‘Hey, did you see it?’

They say, ‘Yeah I saw it.’

I’d say, ‘ Did you give any money?’


‘Well, why not?’

‘OK, I'll give money now...’

It really takes a lot of work. Ben Masters spearheaded the whole thing, and he did a great job with that. And Jonny Fitzsimmons and Tom (Glover) both did a great job, too.

MBG: Did you get tired of soliciting people for money? Or did you make it a game? Was there any strategy to it?

BT: No I got really tired of it. I never want to do it again. I mean, I thought about going into politics for a long time and if I do I think that'll end up being the worst part.

MBG: The part you got tired about was not actually talking to people but hitting them up for money?

BT: Yeah, basically... You spend 24 years of your life trying to make good contacts that you can call in for a job someday... Your parents’ contacts, and then good family friends. Then you call 'em and they're excited to hear from you and very excited about the trip as well, but I feel bad calling with an ulterior motive.
…All those people understand though. It's not like you're being sneaky about it.

MGB: How does it feel now to have the trip behind you?

BT: Oh it's good. I'm glad it's over. It was a lot of fun, but like most things, like most big trips...I'd compare it to college. It was great. We had a blast doing it. But towards the end of school, you're really ready to get out.
Towards the end of that trip, I, at least, was ready to be done.
After Bozeman, it got really hard. We spent a week in Bozeman, living as civilians basically. We played golf with buddies and all that. Then to get back out on the horse was quite a challenge. And the closer you get to being done, you know you're almost done, and you get a bit anxious about, start making plans and all that...

Can you pick out any low points of the trip?

BT: When the horses ran off 40 miles it was pretty low... It was not good.
[At about a month into the trip, most of the horses fled a quad-related incident in Utah. It took several days to collect them. Aside from creating dangerous chaos with the horses, the quad riders stole Thamer’s leggings and vest, he explained.]

BT: I was afoot at that point. Jonny and Tom went off horseback and I figured I knew exactly how far I was gonna have to walk. And I got to that last cattle guard fence area and they weren't there. I figured from that point on the only thing that'd stop them would be I-70.
Lo and behold, they got past I-70! Luckily we found them right after that; that was my low point. I said if these horses make it to I-70, I got a lot of family in Denver I'll just hitch-hike to Denver and call it quits.

MBG: Did the horses cross an overpass or an underpass or something?

BT: No, there was a tunnel. We had come through a tunnel, and they just went under that tunnel. Then they split up, which made them harder to find them at that point.

Thamer explains that these days taken to retrieve the horses were quite an adventure, involving sleeping short nights by the campfire, going without water and a scarce amount of food, fearing for the horses’ safety and their own.

At one point, Thamer hitchhikes into a town on Interstate 70.

BT: I-70 is not a really good place to hitch-hike.

MBG: Who picked you up?

BT: A guy from up North somewhere. Chicago maybe. He had his life savings in the car and he was going to Vegas to play poker for like two months. So he was a colorful guy.

Part II

Giving proper due to filmmaker Phill Baribeau and readjusting to civilization.

View Reader Comments:

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2/26/2014 Dianne Engleke
What a challenge! I went back to read the earlier interviews. Admirable young men with a expansive world view.
2/26/2014 Julie
Really can't wait for the film to come out. The run-in with some other people and the horses running off sounds miserable.

"In the language of the range, to say that somebody is "as smart as a cutting horse" is to say that he is smarter than a Philadelphia lawyer,smarter than a steel trap, smarter than a coyote, smarter than a Harvard graduate - all combined. There just can't be anything smarter than a smart cutting horse. He can do everything but talk Meskin - and he understands that." - Joe M. Evans, A Corral Full of Stories