The Man Who Listens to Pigs

For this Las Vegas farmer, summer in the sty couldn’t be any sweeter

Photo by Isaac Brekken

Photo by Isaac Brekken

Funny thing about being a pig farmer in Las Vegas in the summer: It ain’t that bad. Or if it is, you wouldn’t know it from Bob Combs’ demeanor. The 72-year-old Combs has an attitude about life and raising pigs we could all learn from. “I try to have fun while I make a living,” he says.

Combs is a tall man with a crushing handshake, clear blue eyes and thinning gray hair under his R.C. Farms ball cap, which is adorned with a peacock feather from one of the birds roaming his 100-acre farm in North Las Vegas. He’d just as soon tell you a joke as show you around the place. “My first wife lasted 28 years until she gave up and hung a sign around my neck that said ‘untrainable,’” he says with a smile.

The Combs residence is shaded by tall ornamental elms, a mini oasis safe from the July sun. Beyond it, the sties, pens and sheds cook in the heat, giving off the pungent smell of porcine excrement in waves. Or is it the slop the pigs eat—table scraps from Strip casinos boiled into a grayish-brown stew—that smells so bad? No matter, you get used to it, Combs says, cruising the property in an old golf cart. He stops at a shed to flip on an overhead sprinkler system that wets the pigs wallowing below like tourists under a mister.

“The pigs get fidgety and start to complain,” he explains, “just like people do. They just need somebody who’s aware, who listens to them.”

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I’d been charmed by the decrepit Happi Inn for years. A two-story motor lodge built in 1973, it sat across from Mandalay Bay without offering even a hint of the same comfort or safety. It was a couple of plain, two-story buildings covered in fading salmon paint, with rotting AC units hanging under each window like loose teeth. For a long time, the marquee sign was missing the panel that said “Happi Inn,” leaving just “MOTEL.”

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