To be honest, some of us might not remember Tobin’s debut in the wild cow milking event during the Round Up, Pendleton’s annual rodeo. There were other activities that sometimes can interfere with recall. One might have been in the Let ‘Er Buck room, a closely guarded, but wide open secret, bar that is below the south grand stands where only hard liquor is served.
There is always a line to get into the Let “Er Buck room, and if one looks younger than 55, an ID is required. Purses are searched and anyone carrying a beer has to chug it or pour it out into a trash can. The aura of the crowd is such that most individuals will choose to gulp down their beer rather than bear the scorn of other patrons. Cash is not accepted at the bar, only overpriced chips available near the entrance. There seems to be no limit to the number of people who are admitted (the fire marshal is on vacation.)
There are signs posted that nudity is not tolerated. In spite of the warning, one is likely to see a woman riding on the shoulders of a red faced man with veins on his forehead that look like they are ready to burst. The woman, whose eyes seem unable to focus, has no shirt on.
Anyone who walks into this place should be forewarned, groping is not only common, but expected. And it ain’t men who are doing the groping. Well, in the modern era, there are a few males who can’t resist a young cowboy’s rear.
The air in the Let ‘Er Buck room is thick with fumes of booze, the temperature is jacked up from the shoulder-to-shoulder crowd, and the noise makes conversation all but impossible. Amazingly, there are few troublemakers, everyone is pretty mellow. There are bouncers patrolling around the perimeter who are ready to grab the occasional hot head or warn someone to button a shirt or to put a tee shirt back on. Still, even with the best intentions, it is hard to avoid getting a little shit faced before squeezing out the door to go back to the rodeo.
Anyone who’s been in the Let ‘Er Buck room might be forgiven for having a hazy memory of the rodeo.
So, unlike later competition, Tobin’s initial entry into wild cow milking was witnessed from different parts of the grandstands. Sheila was on the west side above the Let ‘Er Buck Room which may have contributed to the floating quality of her video. Those of us around her could not help much as we were having difficulty identifying Tobin as from that distance all the muggers looked the same. Using a borrowed pair of binoculars we were able to pick out our son just as the starting gun went off and the cows went nuts.
Even as the ropers took off after the cows, it was difficult to follow the muggers. In the pandemonium everyone in the arena who wasn’t on a horse looked like they were lost as they ran in all directions.
“There he is!”someone yelled.
“Where?”somebody else asked.
“Who is Tobin?”
There was confusion in the stands as well as in the arena, but we finally spotted Tobin being yanked around by a big black cow as the roper attended to the lower rear of the frantic, angry beast. Within seconds Tobin’s partner was loping toward the judges with what appeared to be a test tube in hand. It looked like the partners might be in for a prize and Tobin sailed his hat high in the air as we cheered. In the end, they did not place, but Tobin showed himself to be a worthy competitor. In the future he would not have to work as hard to get a roper.
Not that every roper was necessarily an expert with a lariat. Some years the cowboy missed lassoing the cow at the last moment after Tobin had run the full length of the arena trying to catch up to the roper. Those moments left him exhausted and disappointed but not as much as the time when he and the cowboy had caught the cow early, only to discover that the roper had lost the milk container.
The years went by, and Tobin gained experience. He was paired with many different ropers with different levels of skill, but if the cowboy lassoed a cow, Tobin was likely to hang on long enough for a sample of milk, if at all available from the cow. They were frequently able to win a little money at times, but a buckle eluded Tobin. Plus, the competition was hard on his body, and he eventually was forced to have knee surgery.
The procedure was done last spring, and with intensive physical therapy Tobin was back chasing cowS in small rodeos by August, just practicing for the big one in Pendleton. When the Round Up came around, he was only scheduled for two days, Thursday and Saturday. By now, his cheering squad knew where to gather after the barrel racing was finished. We weren’t spread all over the grandstands any more, but knew that the best spot to watch was next to where the bucking events had taken place. There was always plenty of room in this prime area as the rodeo crowd thinned quickly before the wild cow milking.
Thursday’s wild cow milking event came and went without Tobin and his roper placing. But, Tobin was not discouraged. Saturday would be another chance.
We spotted Tobin almost immediately as he walked out on the grass without a trace of a limp. He waved his blue, heavy duty rubber gloves at us, his fan club and the official arena photographer noticed and took our picture with Tobin standing in front. No other mugger had a cheering section like Tobin.
The cows came rumbling into the arena followed by the gunshot that let the roper know that it was time to go to work. It seemed as if several minutes passed, although it turned out to be seconds, when the cow was lassoed and Tobin grabbed her around her massive neck. More time flew by as the roper jumped down and ran to the cow. Quickly he knelt down and was able to coax a little milk into the bottle, but as he ran toward the judges, it seemed as if a dozen other cowboy were going to arrive at the same time. It was impossible for us to see who got to the judges or in what order.
Tobin walked over to us, puffing and sweaty as is usually the case after the event is finished. He was pleased as it seemed that he and his roper came in third. And his knee felt great, much better than the past few years. Actually, his knee was so bad a few years ago, he reluctantly had to pass on an event. However, the Crappy Little Campers came up with with a suitable replacement. Mignon, Tobin’s sister, agreed that her fiancée, Traver, needed an initiation into the Crappy Little Camp as this would be his first time at the Round Up. He was given an opportunity to fill in for Tobin in the wild cow milking event. No pressure though.
Traver had never been around many animals except for the occasional cat or dog, certainly nothing like cows or horses. He was from Canada for Christ sake. Canadians are too polite to chase wild cows around an arena. But he is also a great sport, plus, as a boyfriend who was just joining this crowd for the first time, well, no pressure.
He was not really mugger material, not big enough to really handle a half ton of writhing anger, but he trotted out with the rest of the guys. Traver actually looked like he knew what he was doing, but it would probably have been better for him if the roper never caught a cow. As luck would have it, the cowboy lassoed one only minutes after the cattle entered the arena. Traver ran up and grabbed the rope, hoping to hold the nice bossy while the roper quietly sat down to milk her.
The next few minutes saw Traver being dragged through cow shit, grass and finally dirt at the edge of the field. One must give the lad credit for perseverance as he did not give up and continued to hang on to the rope. But the thick leather gloves did not have enough friction, and the rope slowly slipped through Traver’s hands. Eventually, the heat from the sliding rope actually burned through his glove. His hand not only suffered burns but the rope tore the skin away from his palm.
No buckle, but he has a very nice scar to remind him that wild cow milking is probably not his sport. He did survive his initiation into our Crappy Little Camp
Back at our camp this year, after a little food and a fair amount of booze, beer or wine (most of the adults managed to sample all three poisons in the course of an evening in camp or out on the town) someone grabbed a guitar and started singing. The hootenanny started. Scott Niesen had been gathering songs requested by members of the Crappy Little Camp and put them into a pretty glossy song book. Pretty soon there were several guitars, a couple of fiddles and a mandolin. To add a little pizazz to our rough sound, Quinn, our grandson, joined the group with his baritone saxophone.
Tobin came back from his session at the Let ‘Er Buck room where he replenished the fluids lost as he chased down a cow and held it in place for milking. It is rumored that he also may have stopped in a beer garden or two where he discussed strategy with fellow muggers. He was ready to keep the party going at the Crappy Little Camp as he grabbed his ukulele and joined in the rowdy music.
During a break, while we were arguing over the next song to play, Tobin’s cell phone rang. Nobody paid much attention until Tobin said something like, “Who is this? Where do you want me to go?”
All of us stopped yammering and started to listen to the phone conversation.
“What? I won? A buckle?”
He stood up and laughter rolled out of his very soul. “I won a buckle. I got first place. They want me to run down to the rodeo grounds to a presentation. I won, damn it, I won!”
The Crappy Little Camp roared with excitement and joy for Tobin. Our guy was a champion! Drinks all around.
The last part wasn’t the best idea as we all were too tipsy to follow Tobin down to the arena a distance of about a mile. But Traver stepped up to the task, and we watched with admiration as the two of them headed out into the night.
Later, much later, Tobin and Traver sort of slid back to join Tobin’s fan club. We were treated to an exhibition of the BUCKLE as well as another prize, almost as impressive. Tobin was also given a huge Pendleton wool blanket complete with the impressive Round Up logo.
Tobin won first place, but we, as members of the Crappy Little Campers and Tobin Fan Club received a prize as well. We were able to witness joy. It is unlikely we will ever see the joyous satisfaction in Tobin’s eyes and face as he called his family and brothers with the news: he won a Round Up Buckle.
Buck-le! Buck-le! Buck-le!! Hooray!
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Got ‘Er done!
Hey – great stories and humbling account of representing the Crappy Lil Campers! The best life advice that muggers will all tell you is “Don’t let go until your head hits the ground twice!”
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Hey Jan some good writing here man! I just read the Crappy Lil Camper series and thought “Hey this being a mugger thing sounds kind of of fun, I wonder…” and then a moment later “WTF are you crazy – you’re pushing 60 and you might weigh 155 after the holidays.” Good stuff – can’t wait to read/hear about NZ.
Thanks John. You’re right. To be a successful mugger one usually has to bulk up his mass.