I am getting used to having Donnie call and suggest we go somewhere together. Since 2007 we have entered a lot of Senior Pro rodeos around the country. The last time he called he thought we should go to Oklahoma City on Sept. 22. North Dakota rodeo cowboys Brad Gjermundson and Pete Fredericks were to be inducted into the Rodeo Hall of Fame at the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum. I had long thought it was something I would like to see so readily agreed to go.
I hadn’t been to the Cowboy Hall of Fame in Oklahoma City since 1971. It has really changed since that time. It is a huge building now, and a first class museum. It is a place that deserves a couple days of your time to see properly; unfortunately I was only able to take it in at a high lope.
We were really there to lend support and congratulations to our North Dakota cowboys. Several other great cowboys, including World Champions Bill Smith and Jim Houston, were also inducted into the Hall of Fame. Deceased rodeo notables, James Madison and Bill McMacken from South Dakota and 1940s lady bronc rider Pee Wee Burge made the list as well.
It was a great time to be a North Dakotan. It was nice to claim friendship with these great cowboys and the scores of friends and relatives of the inductees who also made the trip to Oklahoma City. Teenager Chloe Fredericks sang the National Anthem at the Induction Banquet and we sat beaming with pride at her outstanding performance.
Sitting in that crowd was a really neat experience. Former world champions and even childhood heroes of ours sat everywhere. People you could not only admire, but also people you could comfortably visit with. A rodeo crowd has to be the most personable, friendly people you can find anywhere and rodeo cowboy stories, to me, are absolutely the most hilarious, entertaining stories ever told.
There were lots of old-timers there. Names I was not familiar with at first until I had time to do a little research. Great old men and women who had been on the rodeo trail in the ’40s and ’50s. Every one of them had us smiling or laughing.
It is a long drive to Oklahoma City. The two days we spent there went by in a flash and we were back in the car for the long drive home way too soon.
We talked about the great experiences we had in Oklahoma City for a long time, but gradually the conversation eased off and we just stared at the road and let our minds drift back to former times.
Don sat so quietly I knew he was thinking back to some of the things that had happened on our trips, like that time back in ’07 at Wendover, Nev., when he hung up on that bareback horse and drug underneath until the horse mercifully stepped on Don’s butt hard enough to jerk him loose. Later that fall at the finals he slipped off the chute and fell onto a concrete slab severely injuring his hip. Perhaps he thought about Crawford, Neb., in ’08 when he made a dandy ride, but the pickup man ran over him and tore his ham string; or later that fall in Winnemucca, Nev., when a hard jerking bareback horse ripped his biceps muscle badly.
The year ’09 wasn’t as impressive, as the horses at the National Finals just beat him up and made him sore. He no doubt reminisced about 2010 when he rode all four of his horses at the finals, but left feeling like a punching bag. Certainly the Senior National Finals in Las Vegas in 2011 came to mind. That was when he made an outstanding ride on his first horse and won the round. His rigging slipped on the next one, however, and he hung up and drug underneath between the bucking horses’ hind legs almost the full length of the arena. The wreck gave him the distinction of having the largest knee at the rodeo.
Of course our trip to Grandfield, Okla., last May came to mind as he recalled breaking his pelvis and dislocating his shoulder.
Donnie sat there in silence for a while as Oklahoma slipped away behind us. Finally he turned, grinned and said, “This trip to the Hall of Fame Induction was absolutely wonderful. I can’t ever remember having so much fun without getting hurt!”