The main problem
with going rodeoing in the pickup was that there were five of us and nobody
wanted to ride in the bed, especially in cold weather.
This was back
awhile, back when me and four other worthless cowboys were running the roads
all over the Southwest, getting it on down the road from one rodeo to another.
I guess it was the pickup that brought us together in the first place. The
pickup belonged to Player's daddy, but his daddy would only let him use it ever
so often. The rest of us were afoot, which is a damned inconvenient way to go
rodeoing. We mostly had to beg or buy rides from other cowboys who might be
going to the same rodeo. But we still ended up at a lot of rodeos we didn't
want to be at, or riding the bus or hitchhiking. And that was a handicap, given
our ability, that none of us needed. It is hard enough to contest the bulls and
broncs for a living without throwing in the problem of transportation.
I had known
Player from a previous season and it was at a rodeo in Crockett, Texas, that we
evolved the idea of hooking up with three or four other cowboys, throwing our
luck and gear in together and buying the pickup from Player's dad. I knew J.B.,
who, as hard as it is to admit, was the best rodeo hand of all of us. He was
also an all-round good type and a wonderful fellow. Which is about the worst
thing you can say about somebody in rodeo, but in J.B.'s case it wasn't near
And Player knew
Jack and Billy Jack and they wanted to come in with us. They both rodeoed about
on a par with the rest of us, though Billy Jack was a pretty bad to average
bareback rider. They gave us one problem right at the start. They were both
named Jack and both wanted to be called that. But of course that wouldn't work,
so we cut cards to see which one of them was going to change and the one we
called Billy Jack lost. He sulked for a few weeks, wouldn't answer when he was
called, but he finally got over it.
Player was about
the best man I've ever known, then or since, though he sure didn't look like
much. He was a scrawny, dried-up fellow with sandy hair and freckles and had a
half cynical sort of grin on his face all the time. He wasn't even much of a
rodeo hand, though he did better in the saddle-bronc than in any of the other
events. In spite of that he was just naturally the leader, and it didn't have
anything to do with the pickup having been his daddy's. Player was his
nickname. He got it from the pitch games we used to have in the clown's trailer
before the rodeo. Player seldom lost—in fact, I bet he won more money playing
pitch than he did rodeoing—and one time somebody watching said. "Boy, he's
a player, ain't he?"
In my own case I
was too tall to rodeo the bucking events because I had trouble spurring saddle
broncs and bareback horses in the neck. I was a pretty fair bull rider, but I
was scared to death of bulls and generally had only half my mind on the ride.
The other half was calculating how quick I could get to the fence after I
bucked off. Which ain't the best way to ride bulls successfully.
We were all
pretty young for that kind of a life. J.B. was the oldest, being 20. I think
Player, Jack and Billy Jack were 19. I was 18 and three years too young for my
We were rodeoing
on the partnership, pooling our expenses and our winnings and splitting them up
share and share alike. If, as was often the case, we didn't have the money for
everybody to enter all three bucking events, we'd use what we had to get
whoever was best in a particular event up in that one and hope to win enough
money to make it on down the road to the next rodeo.
We were all RCA
cowboys, which meant we either had a Rodeo Cowboys Association card or a
permit. The RCA (it's now the PRCA, the P standing for Professional) was the
governing organization for professional rodeo, though at its best it was still
a pretty loose operation. But the RCA sponsored all the big shows, the rodeos
with added money that put up the best purses. Being members of the RCA, we
could compete in these shows. The drawback was that we couldn't legally compete
in those little independent rodeos generally held in small towns over some
holiday like Labor Day or the Fourth of July. If the RCA caught you in these
local shows, they'd either fine you or suspend you for a time. What was worse
was getting caught by the local cowboys if you entered one. Not being RCA
cowboys they could only compete around home, and they resented us professionals
coming in and trying to win their local money. What they'd do, if they caught
you, was beat the hell out of you and everybody with you.
But the problem
for us was that we weren't good enough to compete and win money at the big
rodeos. Our style was to find out where the good cowboys were heading and go
the other way. We were still a good deal better than the locals, and working
the little rodeos was an important source of income. Naturally we got caught
fairly often. It was one of these situations, when Jack and Billy Jack got the
hell beat out of them, that caused us to invent the double-barreled pickup and
resulted in us stealing a bench out of the bus station in Amarillo, Texas.