Sandhills ranch with ‘Dumbbell’ name and rich past sells to locals, including a former NE lawmaker

By: - November 13, 2023 5:45 am

The Dumbbell Ranch in the Sandhills of Nebraska. A sale closed in late October, separating the roughly 15,500 acres of rangeland, meadows and more from a family that had owned it for more than a century and putting it in the hands of a pair of locals, former State Sen. Al Davis and another longtime neighbor, Chris Gentry. (Courtesy of Hall and Hall)

LINCOLN — A storied Nebraska ranch — which grabbed national attention for its quirky name, size and whopping price tag — will live on in the hands of locals who have their own deep Sandhills roots.

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

Indeed, the two new owners of Dumbbell Ranch, who split the 15,500 acres in a $16.5 million purchase deal, reside on bordering family ranches.

Each has fond and personal memories of the Dumbbell, a founding ranch of the Nebraska Sandhills that’s situated in Cherry and Grant Counties.

Two neighbors, rare buy

Former State Sen. Al Davis of Hyannis claimed the larger part of the transaction — rangeland that had separated pieces of his own family’s OLO Ranch that also dates back to the late 1880s.

Davis had been interested since advertising began earlier this year, noting the rarity of abutting property coming up for sale. Plus, he said, there’s a sentimental value.

al davis
Former State Sen. Al Davis of Hyannis
(Courtesy of Davis for Legislature campaign)

“This is all a big neighborhood,” Davis said, stirring memories of his younger days when he’d visit the “big house” on the Dumbbell grounds. “When I was a kid we had card parties, rotating from ranch to ranch.” 

Chris Gentry, the other buyer, penned an article for the local newspaper about his family’s historical ties to “The Great Dumbell Ranch.” It was written many months before the property hit the market.

“I begin this tale because of a street address,” Gentry wrote. “I am always asked, ‘Who named your road such a ridiculous name, Dumbell Road.”

Chris Gentry and his wife, Jeanne. Gentry bought part of the Dumbbell Ranch, with the sale closing at the end of October. (Courtesy of Chris Gentry)

Gentry, of the A Bar C Ranch, went on to write defiantly that the road was laid on “generations of great cattlemen that had nerves of steel, skin of leather, and the patience of Job.”

He also explained that over the generations, Dumbbell-related historical accounts, dates and spellings (including conflicting spellings for the ranch name — “Dumbbell” or “Dumbell”) have varied, depending on the source or author.

Undisputed is that the ranch — with its native rolling rangeland, hay-producing meadows, numerous lakes and artesian wells — has pressed on through changes of size, management, workers, heirs. The area Gentry and Davis bought in late October separates it from a family that had owned it for more than a century. It once was part of a larger Dumbbell that, decades ago, was divided among the children of Gustaf Edward Anderson and wife, Janie.

As the lore goes..

The Dumbbell Ranch got its name when founder Dr. A.J. Plumer, during construction of the “white mansion” on the grounds, accidentally slammed a hammer on his thumb and exclaimed: Only a dumbbell would do that.

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

The result was three ranch sections: Pitchfork, 3 Circles and Dumbbell.

The house Gentry lives in today, on Dumbell Road, is on the old 3 Circles grounds.

“My Dad talked about being young and looking around the borders wondering which direction he could possibly grow,” Gentry wrote. “He never even considered the Dumbell, as it was solid as a rock.”


According to records filed in Cherry County, Gentry paid about $6.4 million for his roughly 4,800 acres, which, he said, brings his family property in the area to about 60,000 acres. 

Davis’ roughly 11,000-acre, $10.2 million purchase boosts his family’s property to about 63,000 acres. 

The sale transaction also reunifies parts of the original Dumbbell Ranch, which harkens back to the late 1880s and its founder, Dr. A.J. Plumer.

Davis, 71, said his grandfather, A.T. Davis, settled in the area in 1888 — and was a friend and neighbor to Plumer.

Dumbbell headquarters dates back to the 1880s and a doctor who built what accounts say was intended as a maternity hospital at the site. (Courtesy of Hall and Hall)

As the lore goes, the Dumbbell got its name when Plumer, during construction of the “white mansion” on the grounds, accidentally slammed a hammer on his thumb and exclaimed: Only a dumbbell would do that.

Over the years, Sandhills residents have become somewhat anxious as ranchland has turned over to out-of-state buyers, said Valentine-based Mark Johnson, a Hall and Hall real estate partner who brokered the Dumbbell deal.

‘Absolutely thrilled’

Gentry joked that he wasn’t keen on Colorado folk buying into the neighborhood (a Colorado family’s bid to buy the Dumbbell fell through this past summer). 

“People are pleased,” Davis said, “that locals ended up buying the ranch.”

The Sandhills of Nebraska, a vast area of grass-covered sand dunes, has way more cattle than people, as this photograph attests. (Courtesy of Hall and Hall)

Anne Anderson Johnson, part of the family that had ownership interest in the Dumbbell for more than 100 years, also considers it a happy ending to her family’s era.

When trying to sell the property, Johnson (whose last name changed recently as she remarried) said that she loved having been part of the ranch but that the younger generation had other interests, and it was “time to move on.”  She said then that she hoped to pass on the legacy to a family as opposed to a big entity or corporation.

Johnson, in an interview on Sunday, said she’s “absolutely thrilled” with the new Davis and Gentry ownership and that parts of the original Dumbbell are joined again.

“It makes a wonderful, amazing story,” she said.



The Dumbbell Ranch spans about 15,500 acres, mostly in Nebraska’s Cherry County, known as the nation’s “top cow county.” It’s sale meant it will have owners outside the Anderson family for first time in over a century, but the buyers are long-time neighbors enmeshed in the community. (Courtesy of Hall and Hall)


Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site.

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.