Since this is the centennial year for the Reno Rodeo it might be well to visit some of the past years of Reno’s signature event.
The Rodeo, which features all the competition of that dying breed—the American Cowboy, first began as weekend entertainment on ranches large and small in the Old West and still highlights the skills of Steer Wrestling, Team Roping, Saddle Bronc Riding, Cutting and Penning. These disciplines were practiced daily by the old-time working cowboy and those who honed them the best usually took home the trophies and the cash from Rodeo competition.
While Nevada’s ranches may be receding further and further into the hinterlands of the Silver State, the Washoe County Fair Grounds on Wells Avenue still provides one of the finest Rodeo venues in the United States.
My personal contact with the Reno Rodeo occurred in 1966 when my client Charles Mapes, Sr., was the founder and first president of the Reno Rodeo.
In that year of ’66 the Reno Rodeo was not doing well financially, so Mapes and a few stalwart directors like Harry Frost, George Solari, George Southworth Jr. and Harry Drackert came up with the idea of having the annual event “Underwritten”. What that meant was that the budget for the ‘66 show would be forecast and then the Directors would go door to door to the Casinos, Hotels and other merchants in an attempt to raise that figure. Whatever income was derived from the Rodeo would be paid back to the Underwriters, thus giving them a percentage of the donation in return.
I remember pairing with George Solari, as we knockedon doors up and down Virginia Street. For some reason the ploy worked and while the donors recaptured less than fifty percent that first year, more and more was raised in subsequent years and eventually the Rodeo “turned the corner” and became a money making venture. Today a portion of the show’s profits go to charitable causes in the Truckee Meadows.
One of the reasons the event turned profitable in the late ‘60s was the addition of a “Midway” with refreshments and attractions for children. Another reason was that more night performances were scheduled and the show lengthened to more days.
In 1967 George Solari was President of the event, with Harry Drackert as First Vice President of the event and B.M. Zimmerman as Second Vice President, with John Rhodes as perennial Secretary Treasurer.
There was a total of 42 Directors, a far cry from the vast numbers that work on today’s version of the show. Of the 42 in ‘67 I can recall a hardcore group of about 17 or 18 who showed up for the weekly luncheon meetings that were held in the months prior to the events. The Rodeo Queen that year was Cathy Lee and Miss Rodeo America, Nancy Ann Simmons of Nebraska put in an appearance and the announcer was Johnny Jackson. Ron Palmer served as Parade Marshall.
The list of Directors read like a “who’s who” of the local leaders; it included Jud Allen, Clarence Bacon, Roy Bankofier, Harry Bergman, Ed Cantlon, Ken Dennis, Stew Engs, Al Ferrari, Jim Halley, John Heiser, Harry Frost, “Doc” Gasho, Frank Grove, Marshall Guisti, Frank Knafelc, Ed Kruse, Paul Langham, Charles Mapes, Glenn Lockhart, Hans Marichal, Bob McClure, Bob Marshall, Ernie Martinelli, Bud Moon, Ron Palmer, Harry Parker, Bob Peterson, Ray Peterson, Clayton Phillips, R.N. Prior, Roy Puccinelli, Paul Richards, Leo Sauer, George Southworth Jr., Bill Stremmel, Fred Tulley, Jack Utter, Ron Vaughn, Jack Walther, Stuart Webb, Hewitt Wells and the writer.
Today, with the advent of television money and the growing list of big time money sponsors, Rodeo has developed into a sport and the participants are bigger, stronger, and as finely trained as any athlete in any major sport. Hence they are called “professionals” and have their own union, the PRCA (Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association).
Rodeo, particularly the Reno Rodeo, has come a long way since its humble beginnings, but is every bit as fast, exciting and dangerous as ever.