Chalk Rock Talk with Springfield’s Ron Livingston

On The Road

On the Road has brought you to Springfield, South Dakota where Taylor and I have found a man who has taken his love of wildlife, fishing, and yes, the Missouri River including that chalk stone to create magnificent pieces of art.

“He took that picture of her on that Lincoln Head above Running Water Bridge, about two miles up,” said rock stone carver, Ron Livingston. “Yeah,” said Mike Huether. “In 1924,” said Ron Livingston. “I always had in my head, that if I ever moved back here, I’m going to play around. Got an idea for this stuff. There ain’t anybody does it. I mean there are very few that have played with it you know. But I turned it into kind of a monster,” said Ron Livingston.
 
Taylor and I sat down with Ron Livingston in his carving shop in Springfield, South Dakota. Ron talked and talked and we couldn’t get enough. “I just want to do something different. There’s a lot of wood carvers out there. There’s a lot of hard rock carvers, you know that use all the fancy stuff, lasers. I want to do something nobody’s doing,” said Ron Livingston. “I don’t use no power tools. Everything is done by hand, knives, little knives,” said Ron Livingston.

Ron carves sculptures using Niobrara Chalk stone. He used to get it from the banks of the Missouri River and then found his supply of the fragile stone from old chalk rock homes and buildings. His original inspiration came from a President Lincoln carving found just west of town. “The old boy that carved that, his name was Anthon Johnson, and he, that was back in the 20’s. You know, that was actually done before Mount Rushmore, so you got to think about that a little,” said Ron Livingston.

Mike Grosshuesch, Ron’s fishing buddy for 35 years, explains Ron’s artistry a bit. “He takes the native chalk stone and started out doing fish, and he does a lot of other things, but I think probably fish are the best. Colors them with chalk. Really nice,” said Mike Grossheusch.

Ron’s talent in carving has certainly evolved. “So, what was the first thing you carved out of chalkstone?” asks Mike Huether. “An ashtray,” said Ron Livingston. “An ashtray?” asked Mike Huether. “Yeah, it’s sitting down there. I tried to hide all that before you got here,” said Ron Livingston.

Over time his love of the river’s wildlife became his carving mainstay. His style is certainly unique. “My dad has a cousin that was a professor at Minnesota University. He says, ‘Our class will ruin you. You got you own style’,” said Ron Livingston. “He said, ‘Sometimes people get too mechanical.’ Well, like this stuff. It’s rough. I mean some of it’s rough. Some of them I just should throw in the crick than have more on the shelf here, but somebody’s always coming around saying, ‘Hey, that’s nice’,” said Ron Livingston.

Fishing is another talent of Ron’s. He told me the Missouri river that is only three blocks from his home, is the best back yard anybody could ask for. “It’s a maze out here, like a mouse maze. It ain’t like the river out in Chamberlain or Pierre and all them. Everything is little shoots everywhere. And it’s actually really good fish habitat if you can find them,” said Ron Livingston.

“Everybody knows if you want a fishing report or you want some information about the level of the river, you go talk to Ron,” said Steve Green. That’s Springfield City Councilor Steve Green who says Ron doesn’t mind a companion or two in the fishing boat with him.

“I just know what Ron’s about, what he’s done as far as taking guys fishing that probably never would have had an opportunity. Or people wouldn’t have taken the time to mess with it, because you know, you take a rookie out on the river, you’re gonna lose your lures. And that kind of stuff doesn’t bother Ron,” said Steve Green.

“In all the times I fished with him, I maybe out fished him once, but that was, it’s really enjoyable. A morning on the water with Ron’s pretty good stuff,” said Mike Grosshuesch.

Ron worked for the Bon Homme County Road Department. He brought his keen attention to detail to the profession. “I know some of the local guys that live along those roads, still aren’t happy with the fact that Ron’s not blading the roads, because nobody’s gonna be able to blade them up to Ron’s standard,” said Steve Green. “I hated plowing snow. Oh, I hated plowing snow at the end. When I was young, and got in there, it was fun to see what you could hit and how far you can go, but towards the end, no more,” said Ron Livingston.
 
He loved the beauty along his route. “You get to see everything. You can see them when you plant corn. You get to see them when they harvest corn. You see the animals, bambis running around and big bucks later. You know, it’s kind of cool,” said Ron Livingston. “I’m glad I’m done. I’m glad I’m done. I got more time to fish now,” said Ron Livingston.

More fishing time yes. However, his chalk rock carving days are winding down quickly. “KELOLAND On the Road is pretty fortunate because you are kind of nearing the end of…” said Mike Huether.

“Yeah, I’m glad, yeah. You guys called me just in time because when these are gone, that’s it for the carving,” said Ron Livingston. “I’m not getting drugged back into this again. I got rid of the mess. I want to draw. That’s my main thing I want to do. I want to go back to drawing,” said Ron Livingston.

“What are you going to do when people are going to say, ‘Hey Ron, just this one time, would you make me another?’ said Mike Huether.

“It ain’t gonna happen. I’m not kidding. I’m gonna have this mess cleaned up, and I ain’t going to do that again. I’m not gonna have no rock on hand. What rock I got, enough till about May. The rest of it is going in the creek,” said Ron Livingston.

When I first called Ron for the interview, he told me, ‘Mike, I’m pretty much off the grid.’ Don’t buy it. “No, no, he’s not off the grid. He, he thinks he’s off the grid because he likes hanging out in the shop, and he does what he does, and he’s out on the river fishing. But again, he’s got one of those personalities and he’s one of those people, people are drawn to. Everybody knows Ron Livingston,” said Steve Green.
 
We were so glad we stopped in to see Ron’s art, feel his soul and hear the heart in his words. “I’m glad I did all this. Like I never had no kids, so I got nothing to prove I was even here. But now, I do. There’re all these carvings around the country that I’ve given to people and stuff now. Them are my kids, you know, so. Somebody will know that I was here at one time or Antiques Roadshow, 200 years from now. I don’t know,” said Ron Livingston.

Springfield holds a fantastic 4th of July celebration each year and one of the highlights is a frog jumping contest.  The best frog after three jumps wins! Ron actually carves chalkstone frogs that raise money for the fireworks show and as a prize for the frog jumping contest.  Don’t miss it.

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