‘Dumbbell’ in Nebraska Sandhills gains spotlight with sheer size, storied past

The ranch, in the Anderson family since 1913, is for sale for $16.7 million

By: - April 3, 2023 5:15 am

The Dumbbell Ranch spans about 15,500 acres, mostly in Nebraska’s Cherry County, known as the nation’s “top cow county.” It is for sale, which means it will have owners outside the Anderson family for first time in over a century. (Courtesy of Hall and Hall)

LINCOLN — It’s a $16.7 million ranch story sure to stir some nostalgic memories in the Sandhills of Nebraska.

But even if you’re not from the area, a property called Dumbbell has got to pique curiosity.

The Dumbbell Ranch in the Sandhills of Nebraska. (Courtesy of Hall and Hall)

The Dumbbell Ranch, which spans a whopping 15,500 acres, mostly in Cherry County, is attracting attention as it now is up for sale  — poised to separate from the family that has owned it for more than a century. 

The rationale behind that break may sound familiar: The younger generation has more pressing interests than to oversee the Hyannis area operation. 

“They don’t want to ranch, and I’m really grateful they were honest with me,” Anne Anderson Bennett said of her daughters Margaret and Leatha, who are in their 20s.

Bennett’s only sibling, Gordon Anderson, is a “computer guru” who loves his life in Colorado. Their parents have passed. At 57, Bennett, divorced for 17 years, is preparing to get married again.

Native range and meadows used by livestock and wildlife habitat cover the ranch. (Courtesy of Hall and Hall)

“It just really was the right time,” she said of selling.

A less common occurrence, says Valentine area broker Mark Johnson of Hall and Hall, is a place like the Dumbbell hitting the market.

No. 1 cow county

Nebraska has the top three beef cow counties in the nation in terms of numbers, according to Nebraska Beef Council.

Cherry County is listed as No. 1, with 166,000 cows. Custer County follows with 100,000, then Holt County with 99,000. 

The council puts Lincoln County as No. 12, with 69,000 cows.

Johnson, whose business is selling ranches, said the property stands out for various reasons, including a precious natural resource, water. It sits atop the Ogallala Aquifer, which creates shallow lakes and sub-irrigated meadows that he said are known to be the headwaters for the Middle Loup River.

“This one has a deeper stamp,” Johnson said, noting the ranch’s storied past, its artesian wells, 27 windmills, eight solar wells, rangeland and watering sites for livestock.

He called the Dumbbell — historically a 900-head cow/calf operation that’s in the nation’s “top cow county”— one of the founding ranches of the Nebraska Sandhills.

Anne’s great-grandfather Gustaf Anderson, an orphaned Swedish immigrant, acquired the area in 1913.

Dumbbell headquarters dates to the late 1800s when a doctor and nurse couple built it as a maternity hospital. (Courtesy of Hall and Hall)

As the history goes, pieced together from family and various other sources, the Dumbbell headquarters was established in 1887 by Dr. A.J. Plumer, who had hoped the railroad would be built through the valley.

He and his wife, Anna, a nurse, constructed a “white mansion” structure to serve as a maternity hospital. 

Lore has it that Plumer accidentally slammed a hammer on his thumb while building the hospital, exclaiming “Only a dumbbell would do that.”

Hence, the Dumbbell name.

Plumer expanded a cattle operation before moving and selling the ranch in 1906. In 1913, Gustaf Anderson became sole owner of a property that would grow to about 52,000 acres.

Nebraska ranch land

  • Farms and ranches use 45.2  million acres in Nebraska, 91% of the state’s total land area.
  • Nearly 23 million acres of rangeland and pastureland cover the state, half of which are in the Sandhills.

 Source: Nebraska Beef Council

Anderson would make the trip from Red Oak, Iowa, to the Dumbbell Ranch at least a dozen times a year by train or vehicle —  a trip that each generation of Andersons has made over the decades.

Three children of Gustaf and his wife, Janie, later split the ranch into sections and called them Pitchfork, 3 Circles and Dumbbell. 

Son Gordon got the Dumbbell and eventually passed it to son Gerald, who then left it to Anne and her brother.

(Courtesy of Hall and Hall, Anderson family)

Anne said she has worked the past three decades with her dad on the business, traveling as often as she could to the ranch. “We love it so much, we’ve been able to make it work.”

She lauded the lineup of managers who over the generations lived at the site, maintained the operation and became engaged in the community. 

“They are the ones that live there and have boots on the ground,” she said.

Her dad died in 2016; her mom passed in 2021.

The ranch has received local suitors, as well as interest and visitors from other states, since Johnson started marketing it about a week ago, he said.

(Courtesy of Hall and Hall)

Anne said her family is proud to have diversified the operation, which includes the Flying A Cattle Company, without forsaking the native rangeland. The family feels blessed, she said, to “be a small part of the unique Sandhills ecosystem and community.”

“It’s dear to our hearts,” said Anne. “We love the Sandhills. Our family loves ranching. It’s time to move on.”


The Dumbbell Ranch in the Sandhills of Nebraska. (Courtesy of Hall and Hall)


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Cindy Gonzalez
Cindy Gonzalez

Senior Reporter Cindy Gonzalez, an Omaha native, has more than 35 years of experience, largely at the Omaha World-Herald. Her coverage areas have included business and real estate development; regional reporting; immigration, demographics and diverse communities; and City Hall and local politics.