A tale of two cans
June 11, 2012
Rodeo has a way of knitting close bonds of friendship or sometimes enemies at the same time as happened to Jack Finnerty.
It all began in 1951 when 12-year-old Jack, roping on a good yellow gelding that he borrowed from Hyde Merritt, placed in his first rodeo. That wasn’t his first roping as he’d grown up on his folks ranch at Wheatland, Wyo., and was experienced at ranch work even at that early age. His dad, James Finnerty, helped him out by building a practice arena and buying that good yellow gelding from Hyde’s father, King Merritt.
Jack went on from this start in youth events to rodeo in high school and college first as a calf roper then trying his hand at bareback bronc riding and bull riding in high school and adding steer wrestling in college. At 20-years-old Jack turned professional, getting his Rodeo Cowboy Association (now the PRCA) card.
To encourage Jack as he headed down the road in his rodeo career, his father had the Kreuzer Sheet Metal Company in Cheyenne, Wyo., make a special custom rope can. It was big enough to hold all his ropes and, coming from his dad, was special to Jack. It was different from any other because of the rolled copper handle it had. He proudly began using it at every rodeo he went to.
At a Douglas, Wyo., rodeo he competed in the tie down roping then tied his horse up and put his ropes away in his rope can so he could get to the other end of the arena for the bull riding. After competing on a rank bull he went to get his horse to load up and head down the road. His horse was still tied to the fence but his rope can was gone with all the ropes in it! This was back in 1960s when you could leave things out and not have to worry about them coming up missing. Jack was really mad about it. He was even heard uttering, “If I ever catch the guy that took it, I’ll kill him!”
Time marched on, Jack never saw his can. His dad, feeling bad about it had another can made by the same Cheyenne company. This time he had a metal plate with his name and home town affixed to the top. It worked as well, and it was from his father, but wasn’t quite as nice as the first one.
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Jack went on rodeoing. He went to large rodeos, like Cheyenne Frontier Days and small rodeos, like the Earl Anderson Memorial Rodeo in Grover, Colo. Grover was one of his favorites. All his friends went there. It was relaxed and never seemed to change from the hometown, old time rodeo as the years passed. He still enjoys “every Father’s Day weekend” going to Grover for, as they put it, “the Biggest Little Rodeo in the west.”
Then, some 20 years after he started rodeoing, an interesting turn of events happened. Jack was helping his friend Les Gore move away from his ranch as moving is always a big job. Jack tackled cleaning out an old shed for Les. It was full of “this and that” but to his amazement, there in the corner he saw a metal rope can, his rope can! It was easy to identify because of the unusual rolled copper handle.
He quizzed Les about where he got that rope can. He didn’t know how long it had been there. The only thing he could remember was that he had bought it from Pete Simons, another cowboy friend of theirs. The next time Jack saw Pete he jumped him about the rope can. Pete skirted the question and never would admit to where he had acquired the can. Even though Jack had his suspicions he didn’t “kill Pete.” After all, Les had given the can back to him. So, now Jack has both cans and both hold happy memories of his rodeo days.