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Reno Rodeo Redux
by Harry Spencer
Jun 25, 2010 | 2808 views | 0 0 comments | 5 5 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Tribune File/Nathan Orme - Stunt riders amaze the crowd at the 2009 Reno Rodeo.
Tribune File/Nathan Orme - Stunt riders amaze the crowd at the 2009 Reno Rodeo.
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Reno’s oldest special event closes tonight with the final performance of the 2010 Reno Rodeo.

In doing so, the cowboys will bring down the curtain on one of the most spectacular and traditional events in the culture of the wild, wild West.

What was interesting about this year’ s edition of the cowpoke spectacular is that the TV commercials, radio and newspaper ads and the official poster pay tribute to the real origins of the rodeo. The whole thing started with cowboys who were on weekend leave from their more strenuous chores getting together at one ranch or another and having contests to see who was the best bronco rider, roper, steer wrestler and all-around top-notch cowboy.

Another nice local touch this year was the commissioning of northern Nevada native Kathy Trachok to paint the official poster, which again had a strong Nevada feel to it as well as picturing with great accuracy early-day life on the frontier. If the artist’s last name sounds familiar it is because Trachok is the daughter of Dick Trachok, University of Nevada standout athlete, head football coach and athletic director emeritus.

This writer’s first contact with the Reno Rodeo, other than attending the yearly downtown parade, occurred in 1966 when I was called into a meeting with Mapes hotel owner Charles Mapes. We had just finished a long, three-day Mapes invitational golf tournament in early May and Mapes wanted to give me the big news that he had been named president of that year’s rodeo. The honor was fitting since his father, Charles Mapes, Sr., was one of the early founders of the Reno Rodeo and the top trophy was known as the Mapes Cup.

“But the really good news is I want you to handle the advertising and publicity for the Rodeo,” he said to me with a wide grin.

Feigning happiness, I said that I understood that a local public relations guy named Fred Shields had been handling the chore for many years and I would hate to take away his job.

“Oh, Fred won’t mind,” Mapes said. “He was just doing it as a favor since he does the chamber of commerce PR. And besides, the job doesn’t pay anything.”

Noticing my sudden lack of interest, Mapes then added, “But you will get to go to all the rodeo directors' meetings and sit in the directors' box at all the performances.”

Needless to say when I met with Shields to relieve him of all the rodeo material he had in his desk, he was overjoyed.

Equally happy, I found out later, was a good friend, Ty Cobb, fabled sports editor of the Nevada State Journal — later to become the Reno Gazette-Journal. His job, for which he asked to me to assist, was to put out the annual Reno Rodeo section for the Sunday paper. It was a full-sized, 16-20 pager, depending on the ads, and it was full of pictures and rodeo related stories. We used to work on it on early Saturday mornings prior to the show.

Traditionally, the section featured the photos of all the directors, a little more than two dozen people, sporting 10-gallon hats. Some of the long-ago names included Harry Drackert, George Solari, Ray Peterson, Harry Frost, Bill Stremmel, Bob Peterson, Paul Richards, George Southworth, Ken Dennis, Dr. Gasho, B.J. Zimmerman and numerous other high-profile professional leaders in the community.

The weekly directors' meetings preceding the rodeo were held at noon in the Sky Room of the Mapes and the most memorable one was the day when the Sierra Street gas explosion occurred. It rattled the daylights out of the huge Sky Room windows.

Prior to gaining the elevated status of Reno Rodeo director, newcomers had to serve in some menial job at the event. Most notable of these individuals was the late Pat Brady, who was the son-in-law of longtime director Harry Frost. On one occasion during the rodeo, I chanced to ask Harry where Pat was and he responded, “Oh, we’ve got him at the furthest gate at Sutro (Street) acting as security.”

One of the advantages of doing the publicity for the Reno Rodeo was the opportunity to stroll every square inch of rodeo grounds, including the exciting chutes, to look for feature story material. Also, one got to interview such famous rodeo pros as Jim Shoulders, Casey Tibbs and Cotton Rosser, who still provides the stock for the Reno Rodeo.

In addition, Harry Drackert, who would become president following George Solari’s succession of Mapes, was a former national champion cowboy who was managing the Donner Trail Guest Ranch in Verdi. During rodeo week, Harry would host the directors and some of the rodeo stars at barbecues at his spacious ranch on the banks of the Truckee River.

Likewise, another director whose last name was Garcia would host a few cocktail parties at his home high atop the peak of Windy Hill. Garcia also supplied the belt buckles and trophies from his silver shop.

Another strong supporter of the Reno Rodeo in those days was Western Airlines, which services Reno and would send its pretty stewardesses to act as on-site hostesses at the rodeo.

Today, the Reno Rodeo is a huge event compared to those halcyon days of yore, but the basics of the show have not changed a bit and it is still one of the most exciting sporting events that you will ever be privileged to witness.

Harry Spencer is a freelance writer in Reno. His column about the past and present of northern Nevada appears weekly in the Tribune.

Editor’s note: Opinions expressed in Harry Spencer’s column are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Tribune.
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Reno Rodeo Redux by Harry Spencer


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