Gotta tie myself together," says Jim Shoulders, the world's champion cowboy, a little while before he is due to ride a bareback bronc or a bull. Then he puts on an old pair of boots, wraps his legs here and there with elastic bandages, puts more bandages on his knees outside of his Levis, stuffs a cushionlike device called a tail pad into the seat of his pants, has a friend pin a number on his back, and is ready to ride. "It's hell to be old and feeble," he sighs, "and poor, too."
Poor old Jim Shoulders is a lean and wiry 29. In his 10-year career he has made more than a quarter of a million dollars as a rodeo cowboy, which is a rugged way to make a quarter of a million dollars. The bandages he applies before his rides are not for what may happen, but for what has already happened, in the way of dislocated knees, broken bones and torn ligaments. But Shoulders is as durable in real life as TV's cowboys are on the screen. In September, when a sudden twist by the horse he was riding pulled his collar bone loose from his shoulder, Jim just went ahead and finished the ride, and turned up the next night as well to ride two bulls and another bareback horse.
To a rodeo hand the seriousness of an injury is measured by the length of time it keeps him out of competition, and therefore out of the money. Getting hurt doesn't worry them much. "The fear that most of us have," says Shoulders, "is that we won't draw an animal, bronc or bull, that will give us a good point-making ride." At the San Francisco horse show and rodeo, where Shoulders competed last week, he did draw poor stock and failed to win a dollar or a single championship point. The 1957 rodeo season isn't over yet—the Harrisburg (Pa.) rodeo, opening this week, is one of the last events of the year—but Shoulders has already done so well as a bareback rider, bull rider and all-round cowboy that no one has much chance to catch him. He is almost certain to be the 1957 champion in all three categories, just as he was in 1956. These are Shoulders' specialties; he leaves steer wrestling, calf roping and saddle-bronc riding to others.
Shoulders grew up not on a ranch but in Tulsa, Okla., where his father owns an auto-body repair shop. He became a cowhand suddenly at 14 when, in a Fourth of July rodeo at Oil-ton, Okla., he won $18 and gave up shocking grain for $15 a week. Now he has a ranch near Henryetta, Okla., a pretty wife named Sharron and three children. Mrs. Shoulders often travels with her husband and cooks his food. She doesn't have to worry about variety. He likes steak, gravy and potatoes for all three meals, every day.
"A fellow wouldn't enjoy it much," says Shoulders bluntly about his profession, "if he didn't make money." Last year he made $43,381 in 65 rodeos, sometimes chartering a plane to take him from one to the next. It is the highest pay any rodeo cowboy ever got for a season's work. This year, because of time lost through injuries and a new rule which makes it difficult to appear in two rodeos which are running simultaneously, he will probably earn somewhat less.
"I think rodeoin' is one of the toughest sports," he says. "Maybe the toughest. In football and those other sports they pay the guy on the bench, but in rodeo you are on your own. There is absolutely no guarantee. You even got to furnish your own equipment and you got to pay entry fees to compete.
"But," he adds, "I like the money in rodeoin'. And I like the people. I figure on rodeoin' hard one more year, then letting it go. I'm just like Robinson. [He meant Sugar Ray.] You can't overcome that youth. It's like I said when Basilio beat Robinson—you can't overcome that youth."
A frisbee (or Phrisbee), as readers of these pages might recall, is a plastic missile the size of a dinner plate but having rather the shape of a garbage can cover. When two or more people skim a Frisbee back and forth among themselves, they can, if they wish, say that they are playing Frisbee. There are no rules for Frisbee, but this deficiency did not faze (or phase) Bob Howey, a 26-year-old Lincoln, Neb. insurance man who staged the first United States Frisbee Matches the other day. A member of the press who was asked to spread the news of the tournament insisted on calling it the National Intercollegiate Frisbee Championships, but Howey said that was incorrect, and since it was his tournament, he and his buddies from the Diamond Bar and Grill could call it anything they wanted to.