Greeley Stampede has changed during its 95 years
94th or 95th?
Last year, Greeley Stampede marketing materials touted the event’s 93rd year. This year’s materials say it’s the 95th Stampede.
Because the event began in 1922, this is the 95th Stampede. The number of years had been miscalculated in previous materials.
As the event comes up on its centennial anniversary, organizers are clinging to their roots.
It was a community celebration when it started in 1922, and it is now, said Greeley Stampede General Manager Justin Watada.
But a few things have changed since the Spud Rodeo became the Greeley Stampede.
HERE COMES THE BOOM
During the Spud Days’ first year, cars were still pretty new. No one wanted to destroy them in a demolition derby. But they were still a part of the show.
Organizers held a “free-for-all” race with Model T Fords on the Fourth of July in 1922, according to a history book the Greeley Stampede published in 1996. It was essentially a NASCAR race, just a few decades early.
Drivers were required to change a tire on the first lap, a spark plug on the second and add a quart of oil on the third.
Cars will be a big deal on Independence Day this year, too, Watada said. The demolition derby will take place on the big day.
Although the Stampede has featured other motor sports — such as motorcycle or mini-car racing — none of them have drawn as many spectators as an event where drivers speed and wreck into each other.
“Demo derbies (are) the thing that kind of stuck out,” Watada said.
The derby has different heats for different car sizes. People will watch any car get destroyed, but vans are some of the most popular, Watada said. They get their own heat.
Competitors will buy full-size recreation vehicles and gut them for the derby. That doesn’t get rid of debris.
“When they first hit each other, there’s mini explosions,” Watada said.
A few short years after its takeoff, the Greeley Spud Rodeo was almost shut down. It wasn’t financial troubles or weather — it was piety.
In 1928, the Women’s Christian Temperance Union circulated petitions to end the rodeo, according to the history book.
The mass organization aimed to bring Christianity and its moral values into law through social reform. Nationally, the organization was a huge proponent of Prohibition.
Locally, the organization was a huge opponent of cowboys. They were ruffians, you know. The rodeo committee resigned under pressure that year. But the show went on.
The Greeley Stampede now features beer stands and bars.
“People have plenty of opportunities to stay hydrated,” Watada said.
Throughout the park, there are stands where people can buy beer, even microbrews. There’s a main biergarten, the Stampede Saloon, just north of the free entertainment stage. A handful of bars serve cocktails.
“It’s a Go-Cup kind of deal,” Watada said, referencing downtown Greeley’s Go-Cup district, through which patrons are allowed to carry drinks between district venues.
“You are able to walk around from the carnival, to the food court, to the free stage, into the arena,” Watada said.
It took almost 20 years for the Greeley Spud Rodeo to start having events at night. Island Grove didn’t have lights until then.
“Most of our major things happen at nighttime,” Watada said.
The event doesn’t even start until 5 p.m. during the week, and many of the major concerts don’t happen until the sun is down.
ONE HORSE TOWN
There wasn’t a lot to do in Greeley in the 1920s, even for a few decades after.
“The Stampede was by far the biggest thing around,” Watada said.
That’s not the case anymore. Organizers have had to work to keep up.
“We’ve had to change our business model,” he said.
Although the Stampede is thoroughly Western, organizers have branched out. They offer concerts in various genres. The Kids Korral offers fun from all over the world. This year, kids get to see and learn about Australian animals.
Organizers have to get through this year’s event, but they’re already looking forward five years to the event’s 100-year anniversary, Watada said. ❖