Rodeo reunions: Summit Rodeo cowboys gather once a year to relive memories
Les Gore is about 90 now, but his wife is active in planning the next reunion, scheduled for early July at Laramie’s fairgrounds during the P.R.C. Rodeo. For details, contact Kay Gore, 1038 Fish Creek Road, Wheatland, WY 80220. Anyone with a hankerin’ for some good old cowboy entertainment can contact Jerry Ross for a copy of his “Cowboy Songs and Poems” at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Reunions are a form of time travel designed to revive the past, rehydrate memories and relive youthful triumphs.
Summit Rodeo Corporation (SRC) annually engages in those restorative get-togethers where old friends can share former victories, updates on their current lives and tell a few tall tales. Before learning where those reunions take its members and friends, it’s necessary to go back to the company’s origins.
Summit’s 1963 informational booklet said, “The Summit Rodeo Corporation is the youngest and fastest growing major rodeo stock contractor in America. In five short years Summit has gained prestige among the top rodeo contractors in North America. With long-time R.C.A. members, and great cowboys in their own right, President Jim R. White and Secretary-Treasurer Pete Burns at the helm, it will continue to be one of the nation’s top rodeo stock contractors.”
Jerry Ross of Fort Collins put on a reunion last year for former SRC riders and friends gathered at the Sundance Steakhouse just down the road from his place. Even 57 years after the company’s inception, Ross’s memory yielded names and dates from its glory days.
SRC reunions began in Laramie around 2000, moved to Greeley for about three years, Wheatland for 5-6 years, skipped 2014, and was held in 2015 in Fort Collins. At that one, the list of attendees was still pretty long despite the fact that the old group is thinning out; most SRC cowboys are in their 80s and early 90s now.
The SRC was founded in Laramie, Wyo., in 1958 by Pete Burns, Les Gore, and Jim R. White, the trio bought out a string of 20-25 bucking horses from the widow of Buck Yarbough, said Ross. The Wheatland, Wyo., stock contractor had been especially known for never trucking his herd of rough stock to rodeos but rather driving them on horseback to and from the events.
SRC contracted rodeos primarily in Wyoming, Colorado and Nebraska. Burns, Gore and White hired announcers and judges but performed most of the grueling work themselves. As time went on, they continued improving the quality of their string by culling those that didn’t buck well and adding new animals; some were wild horses from the Red Desert near Wheatland. Ranchers supplied others when they acquired a ‘bad actor’ that didn’t take well to riders.
Ross recalled some of his SRC experiences, including how he went to work for them. He was born in 1932 in western Nebraska, where his father sharecropped in Gering. Ross worked on that rented farm through high school and, at age 15, fell in love with rodeos after attending one in Alliance. His cowboy fantasies moved west in 1952 when he joined the Navy. While stationed in San Diego, he was able to rodeo all over California. Ross mostly competed in bareback bronc riding, although he did try saddle broncs and bulls a few times.
Ross met Les Gore at a Lusk, Wyo., bucking horse sale in the fall of 1956. The two hit it off and stayed in touch, Ross attending some rodeos with Gore and his two friends, who were about to start their own stock contracting company.
At the same time, Ross was driving for John Willey Trucking out of Scottsbluff. Burns asked him if he could haul some SRC horses from Potter, Neb., to Laramie. With his boss’s approval, Ross not only did that but continued hauling Summit stock for about five years. It worked well for all concerned, because the 2-3 day rodeos were held only June through September. Willey was paid for the use of his truck and Ross hauled cattle for Willey the rest of the year.
Besides driving livestock, Ross was in charge of SRC tack and equipment, helped sort horses and served as official rodeo photographer. Sometimes the company paid for his entry fees, too.
“I did all right, but I was just an average rider,” Ross said.
To everything there is a season. After about 10 years, as Ross remembers it, SRC changed ownership several times. Today’s version is Summit Pro Rodeo Company in Laramie, run by Burns’s son Hal and J.D. Hamacker. Ross is impressed with their string.
“Really good outfit — doing real well,” he said.
They put on the 2015 Grover (Colorado) Rodeo, which Ross attended. About 20-25 bareback horses, 20 saddle broncs and 20 bulls were ridden by many good cowboys, said Ross. But performances and cowboys’ financial means have changed.
“Now payouts and expenses are all higher,” Ross said. “The better cowboys have sponsors, too, which we didn’t.”
Ross said that all who attended the 2015 reunion thoroughly enjoyed it, but he lamented that the ravages of time require attendance at more somber events.
“We always have a lot of fun, but a lot of funerals are coming up now.”
But there at the Sundance Steakhouse 2015 gala gathering were such familiar faces as Willie Burbank from Greeley; Carl Murphy, Franktown; Larry Russell, Grover; Larry Stark, Loveland. The old pals and guests shared a nice meal drinks and old rodeo war stories.
One tale that Ross shares on a CD he recorded for all to enjoy is about one particular rodeo wreck. Told as a cowboy poem, the jist of it goes like this.
SRC put on a rodeo in 1958 at 2 Bar 7 Ranch near Virginia Dale, Colo. To enter, one needed to maneuver a sharp turn at a bridge. Once on ranch grounds, it was tricky to turn a big rig around. Ross hauled for Summit, worked stock and rode in the bareback event, where his troubles began.
He claims he rode that snorty bronc just fine until his spur got hung up in the flank strap. Ross hit the ground hard and could barely walk. He laid on the grass to rest a bit. After the rodeo, Burns asked if Ross could drive if the other hands loaded the stock. They even helped load the stiff and sore cowboy into the truck cab. Why, his hip (likely dislocated) hardly hurt at all as he sat in that truck watching others load up for him.
Nearby, some college-aged kids from the Fort Collins and Greeley area were having a party, laughing and getting progressively drunker. The rowdy crowd was content to celebrate right where they stood, refusing to move when Ross requested, so he could get his big rig backed around. Even the shrill air horn couldn’t budge the unruly fellows.
Finally, patience exhausted, he agreed when one cowboy offered to watch so Ross could safely and slowly back up to turn around. Sadly, his lookout didn’t do a very proper job. Ross was horrified to spot one of the drunks on the ground with the semi’s wheels atop his legs.
Another drunk yelled, “Look at that SOB, he doesn’t even know how to drive!”
More of the inebriated boys swarmed the truck and attacked Ross, who whacked one in the head with a small hammer as the guy tried to drag him from the cab. Cowboys came to their buddy’s aid, fists swung, punches were exchanged and the fight grew bigger and bigger. Then an ambulance arrived and hauled off the prostrate man with two broken legs. As battles all eventually do, that nasty one came to a saner conclusion.
Did Ross take away any wisdom from his harrowing experience? Yup.
“A beer truck at a rodeo is a bad idea,” he wisely opined.
The former rodeo rider and roustabout’s pursuits have grown a bit tamer after more than a half century. For the past 14-15 years, Ross has played a dobo (steel guitar) in the Four Star Band, an old-time country band that regularly performs at the Wellington Senior Center.
Ross quipped about his mastery of the dobo, “Still don’t know how to play it!” ❖
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