60 years of investing pays off for Nevada cowboy
December 13, 2004
Edgar “Red” Roberts has a $1 million bill – a little gift from one of his kids – in his leather wallet.
The fake federal reserve note is folded neatly behind his voter’s registration card and the medical card for his pilot’s license. Less than one month shy of his 77th birthday, Roberts proudly said that he has no restrictions on his license, not even for vision.
But even $1 million wouldn’t begin to put a value on his life or his business ventures in the Silver State.
Roberts made his first investment at 16. He bought acreage on a Lake Tahoe golf course, held onto it for 30 years until it “appreciated by barrels.” Bought low, sold high.
He is a Nevada cowboy. His hands are rough, and he walks like a man who has spent his life on a horse.
He’s only ever gone by “Red,” even though his fiery red hair has long since faded to white. His skin is deeply wrinkled, and his eyes are a mellow green.
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Roberts is also a husband, father, grandfather and a Korean War vet. He speaks in country idioms, such as: “You don’t climb a mountain without getting a few scratches.”
Roberts said Monday the key to his success is hard work and “devotion to whatever you’re doing. A positive attitude and a minimum amount of discouragement and staying on top of whatever you’re doing. That is the key.”
And also having wise mentors. For Roberts, that was Llewellyn and Harvey Gross, whom he said were like his parents, and became his business partners.
In a way, Roberts story starts with the Grosses, who founded the hotel/casino Harvey’s Wagon Wheel in South Lake Tahoe. Roberts was taken under their wing in the early 1940s. They bet on him and won. Because of this team, a slab of land in the empty Nevada desert became the start of Douglas County’s retail empire.
“My best investment”
While driving down South Carson Street in his 2005 Cadillac Escalade sport-utility truck, Roberts mused on the Carson Valley Plaza project, which began about 35 years ago.
He just had a good feeling about this portion of Douglas County. Roberts said he told Harvey Gross and a third partner, Phil Roventini, that buying the 40 acres just outside Carson City would be a good investment, even though South Carson Street hadn’t begun to be developed yet. They paid about $38,000 for the land, before improvements.
Roberts cleared the sagebrush on the 40 acres, bull dozed, designed the roads and built the wells himself.
Its first incarnation was as an industrial park, which did well. He rented space out to several machinists and a printer. The Big Nickel was first printed out there. He also had a drive-in theater on about seven acres, “but that didn’t fly.” Both his partners died in the early 1980s. He bought out their widows in 1986. Roberts sold 21 acres to Wal-Mart, which opened the supercenter in Douglas County in August 2002.
The supercenter is now the anchor attraction at the plaza. He’s sold pads to businesses along the highway, including Del Taco, Jiffy Lube, Chili’s Grill and Bar and Eldorado Bank.
Roberts still owns 19 acres of that land, which was recently appraised at about $14 million. He likes to build, so that’s exactly what he has been doing in Douglas County.
Roberts parked his champagne-colored Cadillac near the construction site, which is L-shaped and sectioned off by a chain linked fence. The project is about a month behind schedule, he said. The four buildings off Highway 395 and Topsy Lane total 70,000 square feet.
He lights his pipe with an orange Bic and puffs on his own special mix of tobacco. He wears a black leather vest, denim shirt and a blue and green handkerchief around his neck. His tan cowboy hat has his ranch’s brand stamped into it – a rafter (which looks like an upside-down V) over an R.
“This has been nothing but fantastic,” he said about the Carson Valley Plaza. “This has been a super investment and I’m glad I hung in there. It finally paid off. It took 35 years to pay off.”
Half of the first building, which is farther south and facing the freeway, was rented out to Dollar Loan. The other half is still available.
The second building facing the freeway will be a Chinese buffet. The third building will have a variety of tenants, including a cell phone company and chiropractor.
Tenants in the last building, the largest at 44,000 square feet, include a beauty supply store and furniture store.
“Now it’s a hub,” he said, while looking around at the Wal-Mart parking lot and the construction. “Wal-Mart has everybody in the country trying to follow them. They do all the traffic. You come to this parking lot at any time and it’ll be full.”
Retirement: “The hell with it.”
At a time when most people are retired and reminiscing about the good-old days, Roberts is flying his Bell Helicopter or Pipe Super Cub Plane into his own airport. Once a month he goes down to Ensenada, Mexico, to check on his 220-foot yacht at port. The Teraakat is getting refurbished and he has to make sure the work is progressing as scheduled. Otherwise known as giving a “kick in the pants” to anyone who needs it. The Teraakat is the 17th largest yacht in the world and the largest in the U.S. registry, he said.
But 60 percent of his time is spent at Dodge Ranch, a 350,000-acre ranch southwest of Gerlach. Roberts owns 2,500 head of beef cattle and 52 quarter horses. His favorite is Big Red, a 17-hand quarter horse.
“When I get mad I saddle up Big Red and I take off,” he said. He gestured into the distance.
The sun rises behind Roberts and he laughs at the mention of retirement.
“I tried that once and said the hell with it,” he said.
That was back in 1986.
“I flew to Florida to go fishin’,” he said. “I bought a 36-foot sport fishing boat, then a motor home and a new set of golf clubs that fit me. And then I was in disgust. What am I going to do today? Just go golfing or drive around? After six months I couldn’t stand it. So I came back here. I sold the boat and drove the motor home back.”
The way Roberts sees it, all his old friends are dead, and they died after retirement.
Having a job to do, and sticking around to do it, may be perpetual youth for Red Roberts.
Contact reporter Becky Bosshart at email@example.com or 881-1212.
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