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'Cowboy Christmas' turns back the clock

Sitting in the grandstands Sunday night, I heard the announcer proclaim the Roughrider Days Rodeo as one of the rodeos that's part of "Cowboy Christmas."

He went on to describe Cowboy Christmas as that time of year - generally from the middle of June through Fourth of July weekend - when there are a bunch of rodeos and a heap of money to be won by cowboys and cowgirls. Many are what the announcer described as weekend rodeo riders and ropers. They hold down full-time jobs during the week to finance their passion for weekend rodeos.

The first time I heard the phrase Cowboy Christmas was some 30 odd years ago. Fresh out of high school, I was working a summer job at a Duval copper refinery in Sahurita, Ariz.

I was struggling to keep up shoveling copper sludge into an overhead metallic dryer with a guy named Brett. He was working on his second eight-hour shift in 100-degree heat.

In between deep breaths, I asked him what possessed a person to work 16 hours straight in that heat. Cowboy Christmas he said, while adding he was leaving the following week for two weeks of going down the road. "Going down the road" was cowboy jargon for driving, eating and sleeping in your truck in an all-out hurried effort to ride in as many rodeos as possible.

Brett described how he worked all year long and as much overtime as possible to finance this annual two-week trip to pursue his true passion of riding bareback bucking horses.

I supposed to myself there was the money to be won, and a small part of me could see the romantic side of racing across the Western states living in the cab of a pickup. Yet, even at the mere age of 18, I still could imagine many more relaxing ways to spend a two-week vacation.

I asked him about the money he won, and he bragged about the previous year's best-ever achievement of coming within $1,000 of breaking even after he paid for his entry fees, gas, food and occasional hotel room. I don't even have to tell you how much more gasoline $1,000 could buy in 1974.

Now, the idea of working extra shifts all year long to spend one's lone two-week vacation and considerable money racing from town to town only to strap yourself to as many bucking horses possible made me question if Brett had landed on his head once too often. Despite my doubts about his mental competency, and my young age, I felt it best to keep my opinion to myself.

Brett was one of what Sunday night's announcer described as a working cowboy who lived for the opportunity rodeos like Roughrider Days present. But no rodeo just happens.

While cowboys and cowgirls like Brett were working and saving, the Roughrider Days Committee was also working all year long to insure the rodeo was a success for the contestants and fans.

One could also question why they would so willingly volunteer their time. Like Brett, it sure isn't for the money. I think the committee deserves our community's deepest thanks for making Roughrider Days the event that brings together passionate contestants and fans who love the sport.

Still 30 years later, I couldn't help but think of Brett when the first cowboy bucked off before the qualifying time of eight seconds. I wondered how many extra shifts he had worked only to see the underside of a horse too quickly.