Reno Rodeo Cattle Drive
Reno Rodeo Cattle Drive – 2005
During the early part of June, each year since 1991, the Reno Rodeo Association Committee has hosted an authentic old-west cattle drive as the kickoff event for the Reno Rodeo. Paid guests and drovers ride horseback and trail 300 head of Corriente rodeo steers over 100 miles. Seven 1800s-style wagons, pulled by teams, carry the guest’s gear. This cattle drive starts near Doyle, California along the California/Nevada border northwest of Reno and ends five days later at the Reno Livestock Event Center and Rodeo Grounds in downtown Reno.
The Reno Rodeo Association Committee invited Lee Raine and I to ride along on this historic cattle drive. We loaded our bedrolls, saddles, and tepee and headed west from our summer camp on the west slope of Ruby Mountains in northeastern Nevada to the “Biggest Little City in the World,” Reno, Nevada.
We arrived in Reno that evening and met up with Ira Gostin, Marketing and Media boss for the Reno Rodeo Cattle Drive in 2005. Ira has been involved with this cattle drive for a number of years and proved very knowledgeable and informative. Ira gave us an overview of what we might experience on the drive. Ira said, “We try to make this event a REAL cattle drive. There may be significant hardships involved along the way. The weather can be hot or cold; it may rain or snow. All of this is possible in northern Nevada any time of the year.
“We break camp early each morning, ride out with the cattle and camp that night at places where there are corrals and water to pen the cattle and horses. You must remember that the cattle and horses come first and they need to be well taken care of each day. Without the livestock, we would not be here. To reach a new campsite each night we will need to ride 12 miles or more each day and 20 miles on one day. The altitude is between 4,000 and 6,000 feet depending on where we are in the ‘high desert.’ Folks who come from sea level are prone to dehydration and need to drink lots of water. It would be well to be in good physical shape and do some horseback riding in your area at a riding stable or on your own horse. Rental horses will be provided on the drive for the paying guests and no private horses will be allowed.
“During the drive, we will attempt to teach you about buckaroo etiquette and tradition. You will need to bring along a positive attitude and a willingness to learn about some history of cattle ranching, and cattle handling skills in the ‘high desert’ and a buckaroo lifestyle that is in danger of disappearing forever.
Please remember our crew is 100% volunteer. Our sole purpose in our endeavors with our guests is to present an authentic, safe and very western buckaroo experience. We will take a vacation from our lives to give you the vacation of your dreams.”
Day One – Sand Corrals, Near the California/Nevada State Line
We arrived at the corrals on Sunday morning and looked around the area. Three hundred Corriente steers were being held in the corrals. Some of the guests and drovers were busy setting up their tents. Lee and I pitched our tepee in the sagebrush near the corral and unrolled our bedrolls. We were introduced to Dave Dohnel, the Jigger Boss, from Frontier Outfitters out of Bishop, California. Dohnel provides the horses for the guests on the cattle drive. The saddle horses used for this drive were tied on a “high line” near the corral.
We then were introduced to Bobby Ingersoll. Bobby had come along on the drive to help answer horse questions from the paying guests and to assist with handling the cattle. He has won everything there is to win on a horse in performance-horse shows around the country since 1971. Bobby was camped near us and rolled his bedroll out in the sagebrush—no tent for him.
A cook wagon was being set up to feed the crowd that was gathering. In no time, tables, chairs, and a cooking “fly” were set up and the call “come and get it” was given.
To feed a large group of people such as was gathering near the cook wagon is no easy chore. We visited with Danny “Pockets” Iudicella, the Chuckwagon Boss. He gave us a run down on the food situation. Danny said, “This year we will cook for 45 paid guests, a crew of 35 volunteers, and several folks dropping in. During the 5-day drive, this group will consume over 600 pounds of meat, 50 gallons of strong coffee and over 40-dozen eggs.” The official coffee for the 2005 Cattle Drive was Starbucks. Only cow camp we were ever around where they served Starbucks Coffee.
Danny continued, “A typical day’s meals may go like this:
Breakfasts: Eggs, Hash browns, Variety of meats (Ham, Sausage, Bacon), Biscuits & Gravy, Muffins, French Toast, Sourdough Hotcakes, Fresh Fruit and Strong Coffee.
Lunches: Cold Cut Sandwiches, Fruit & Veggies out on the trail.
Dinner: Prime Rib, Chicken, Dutch-Oven Potatoes, Black-Bean Corn Stew, Dutch-Oven Rolls, Peach Cobbler. All dinners included beverages, fruit, salad, & bread”
I told “Pockets” after hearing about the food that he and his crew were going to prepare, his menus sounded much better than the sowbelly and beans I had read about on the 1800 cattle-drives.
After lunch, all the guests gathered around the horses that were tied to a “high line” or “picket line,” as it sometimes called, and the outfitter, Dave Dohnel, assisted by his wranglers, started selecting horses for the paid guests. To match up people you have never seen before with a strange horse is an “art form. Believe me, Lee and I have been there and done that!
Some of the guests brought their own saddles. Others used saddles that the outfitter provided. When everyone had a horse, we went on a short “shake down” ride to see how everyone got along with his or her horse and tack. Afterwards the horses were unsaddled and each person was told to remember their horse. (The wranglers had the names of the people assigned to each horse in case someone forgot.) We then moved back to the corral area and visited with some of the guests, drovers, and committee members
The Cattle Drive Committee:
Trail Boss: Howard Weiss
You notice right off that this entire organization is run with military efficiency and effectiveness. This might have something to do with the fact that the Trail Boss, Howard Weiss, is a graduate of the United States Naval Academy and is the CEO of a large California corporation specializing in electronics technology. Howard was also the Past President of the American Quarter Horse Association and is one of the Directors of the Reno Rodeo Association. Howard brings fiscal savvy and corporate leadership to the committee--from the saddle. We asked Howard to explain to us how this Cattle Drive has lasted for 15 years and what were some of the reasons for it’s continued success. Howard said, “ My first involvement with the Reno Rodeo Cattle Drive was 15 years ago. Steve Millstein and Alan Capurro initially started this drive. They decided to hold a cattle drive to help promote the Reno Rodeo and have some fun. The first drive lasted three days, $150 was the charge for each guest, and 150 head of cattle were used. The third year, the cattle were increased to 350 head with more paying guests, and, again, I went along as a paying guest. The drive improved each year until one year they lost their major sponsorship. Without a major sponsor, the cattle drive was doomed.
“I loved this drive so much, I decided to be the major sponsor. My company, Whitmor Wirenetics, of which I am the CEO, became the major sponsor for this event and remained so until last year. This year Signature Landscapes has taken over our major sponsorship and we sure do thank them for their support.
You must have strong leadership and surround yourself with good, qualified people who come back year after year to help out. This event is only as good as the people who work with you want it to be. This drive has become a vacation destination for many people from around the world. We have had paying guests from Great Britain, Japan, New Zealand, Canada and all over the United States. We do very little advertising on a national level. The best advertising we have is from people who experienced the drive and had a great time. Most of our paid guests come from ‘word of mouth’ advertisement. Folks who have participated in the drive tell their friends about it.
“One of the biggest problems we had in the beginning was the rental horse issue. You must have horses that are in shape, acclimated to traveling at higher elevations in sometimes-adverse weather conditions, and that inexperienced paying guests can get along with. We tried several different horse set-ups. We finally found a horse outfit (Frontier Outfitters) that has solid horses and this horse/people problem is much better today.”
We had noticed that Howard was riding a gray horse that looked familiar.
I asked Howard, “Where did the gray gelding come from that is standing ‘hip-shot’ tied to the corral?” Howard smiled and said, “I am glad you asked that question. You folks are very observant around horses. That horse’s name is Pepper and I bought this horse for $3,500 from a guy who furnished horses for the movies. You may have known this horse by its other name, the ‘Hell Bitch.’ Actor Tommy Lee Jones rode this horse in the original “Lonesome Dove” movie. This horse is a gelding, but they shot around that fact in the movie. One of the main reasons they sold this horse to me was that gray horses are very difficult to ‘double’ in the movie business. I am still looking for the ‘hole’ in this horse after I bought it and never found one. I rode this horse soon after I bought it to lead my group in the Rose Bowl Parade in Pasadena, California. Pepper has been a great horse and I sure have enjoyed him.”
“This is my last year as Chairman and Trail Boss of this event. The years are catching up with me. However, I still would like to be evolved to some degree. I have never missed a Cattle Drive in 15 years. I hope that the cattle drive continues and improves. I am handing over the reins to Marie Gaspari-Crawford after this drive and am certain she will make a great Trail Boss. My association with this event has been one of the highlights of my life.”
Head Vaquero: (and 2006 Trail Boss) Marie Gaspari–Crawford Marie was born into the buckaroo life. Her family ran cattle in what now is Spanish Springs, north of Sparks, Nevada. Her uncles taught Marie the old-vaquero ways of handling horses. Marie is married to Cody Crawford who is also involved in the Cattle Drive as the Cow Boss. They live on the Rafter 66 Ranch in Palomino Valley, north of Reno. Marie is an administrative assistant at the veterinary tech program at Truckee Meadows Community College. Her responsibility as head vaquero on the drive is overseeing the Guest Drovers, the Jigger Boss, and the camp crew as well as administrative functions. Marie is full of energy and makes the drive go.
Cow Boss- Cody Crawford
Cody grew up on a California ranch where his father was the manager. He grew up learning the buckaroo ways with horses and cattle. He also made a swing through Texas and Montana and many riding jobs in between. He presently runs the Rafter 66 ranch with his wife Marie. Cody oversees the drovers, the cattle feeding operations, and the chuckwagon on the drive.
Camp Boss: Buck Fenlason
Buck is the one who sees to the moving and setting up of the camp and chuck wagon each day along the trail for 5 days. This sounds like an easy deal until you have done this for 5 or 6 days. What a job!
Seven, 1800s-style “bed wagons” that were used to carry the paying guests bedrolls, tepees, tents and other personal gear traveled with the herd on the drive this year. A team of mules or horses pulled each wagon. Each had a “swamper” to help the driver with his team and harness and there were four outriders on horseback. The Wagon Masters for this year’s drive were sisters, Julie Jepson and Janet Moore, who are identical twins and who enjoy dressing alike in their period costumes. These sisters grew up on their family’s ranch in Southern Wyoming. They have been coming on the cattle drive for eight years with their children and wagons.
There were several real working buckaroos heading each team of guests to help them with their cattle work, horses and team games in the evenings.
The first evening in camp, Head Vaquero Marie assigned the guests into seven teams. Each team was assigned a different color “wild rag.” There were several reasons for this wild-rag color assignment. When we broke camp each morning, the wagon where you placed your bedroll and other camp gear had a colored wild rag tied onto it. If you were assigned a green wild rag, you looked for the wagon with green tied on. This was a neat way to keep track of all the gear for 45 paid guests. Each evening different games involving the teams were played and each team had a different position assignment on the cattle drive itself. Each evening excellent entertainment was provided around the campfire.
Day Two – Headed for Campbell Springs Corral Camp Morning broke and folks were busy rolling their beds and loading their gear on the bed wagons. After a great breakfast, the guests headed for their horses. Wranglers had the guests’ horses saddled, so they mounted up, and the 2005 Reno Cattle Drive began. The teams that had been assigned, the night before in camp, by the Head Vaquero Marie, were told where they were to ride near the trailing cattle. Out in front were Cody Crawford, Cow Boss, and Trail Boss Howard Weiss, who would lead the way on his horse Pepper. Three hundred head of cattle were let out of the corral and the 100-mile cattle drive headed out for Reno. The drovers positioned some guests on each side of the herd in the “swing” position and some riders were placed in the back or the “drag” to push the cattle. While trailing the cattle, the guest drovers assisted the paying guests with their questions about the country and their horses, and showed them where they should be in relationship to the trailing cattle.
The cattle were “fresh” but handled quite well and the miles slipped by. The camp crew met us towards noon, the paying guests stepped down and stretched their legs while the drovers held the herd, and lunch was served. Some minor adjustments to stirrup lengths on guest saddles were needed but nothing major.
We arrived at the Campbell Corral Camp in the afternoon, cattle were corralled, and horses were unsaddled, watered, and fed. The portable bar was opened and some of the folks took care of the “trail dust” in their throats.
That evening, after a great supper, Joe Guild, former President of the Nevada Cattlemen’s Association gave a inspiring talk to the group assembled by the open campfire about the history and tradition of the Great Basin ranching industry and how the guests could be great emissaries for the ranching industry upon returning to their respective home states. Afterward, drovers introduced the guests to handling lariat ropes.
Day Three- Marshall Corrals, Warm Springs Camp The day dawned and the weather held. You could smell the bacon cooking in the early morning air and hear the cattle bawling. Beds were rolled and breakfast was eaten. Horses were saddled and we headed out with the cattle. This was to be the long day on the drive, so we got an early start. We needed to cover a good 20 miles, so the drovers encouraged the guests to keep the cattle moving. We stopped for a short lunch break and then headed out again. Along toward evening we could see the camp and corrals.
Cattle were penned and horses taken cared for. Some folks were a little saddle sore but, for the most part, the guests held up well.
There were several very educational displays of how to read brands, horse shoeing, types of buckaroo gear, etc, for the guests and roping practice was held.
After a fine meal, that evening in camp Marie Gasper-Crawford was officially appointed new Trail Boss for 2006. The guests also elected an honorary trail boss from among themselves. For the last two days of the drive, the guests would be in charge of trailing the cattle. Kim Mandekich from Chicago, who hadn’t been on a horse for 20 years before going on this cattle drive, was named Honorary Trail Boss. She said about her experience on the cattle drive, “I have never done a cattle drive before. In my life, I deal with computers and people, not cows and horses. Imagine what that did for my ego. I am not sure what I will do next year, it will be hard to top this cattle drive experience.”
Great Basin buckaroo favorite Dave Stamey provided musical entertainment around the camp fire.
Day Four- Lemmon Valley Camp The weather was still great. We rolled up our beds, took down the tepees and tents, and had a big breakfast and lots of strong coffee. The drovers let the cattle out of the corral and the guests took over. They were on their own trailing cattle. We were going to find out what they had learned about cattle handling in the last couple of days. Everyone did just fine and the cattle strung out across the valley and headed up Hungry Canyon where we stopped for lunch.
A spindle broke on one of the wheels on a wagon in the wagon train and the personal gear that wagon held was placed on the other wagons. Help was sent to repair the broken spindle.
We arrived in the Lemmon Valley camp in the late afternoon. We had moved up in elevation out of the sagebrush and onto a juniper-covered hillside. That evening there was a roping competion to see who had mastered the art of handling a lariat rope the best. There was also a talent-night skit put on by the twin-sister Wagon Bosses Julie Jepsen and Janet Moore.
Day 5- Into Reno
During the night the wind came up as a storm moved in, the temperature began to drop. Morning came and the cattle were restless. We moved out after breakfast trailing the cattle. This was the last day of the drive and the destination was the Reno Livestock Event Center and Rodeo Grounds. Wayne Lund, 2005 President of the Reno Rodeo Association Committee, arrived in camp with his saddle horse to assist in getting the cattle down through the streets of Reno.
“This well could be the toughest part of the drive when the cattle leave the open country and start down the paved streets of Reno.” advised Cow Boss Cody
Crawford. “Stepping on a manhole cover is enough to spook the cattle or your horse.” However, despite the obstacles such as manhole covers, cars, road construction, spectators lining the streets taking pictures, and a few rattlesnakes along the way, this drive, like the 14 before, ended up where it was headed. It had come 100 miles from the Sand Corrals on the California/Nevada line to the Livestock Event Center corrals, in downtown Reno. What a journey!
Alive and Well in Reno:
We visited with several of the paying guests as we were waiting for the motel shuttle near the corrals.
Nathan and Angela Cole from Danube, Minnesota were unique in that they were on their honeymoon. Angela said, “We had a choice of the Bahamas or the Cattle Drive and we chose the Cattle Drive. I am a horse person. My husband is not, but he was nice enough to take me on the Cattle Drive. We had a wonderful time.”
Karen Erb from Ohio said this was her first year on the cattle drive and she summed up her experience in one word, “Superb!” She did not grow up around horses. One of her co-workers had come on the drive last year and advised her to sign up. The thing she liked best about the drive was the “cowboy atmosphere.” She also commented, “The food was beyond my expectations. I would definitely come back again.”
Matt Ihle, who is from a city environment and works in an office each day, said, “It was scary, but I will do it again. This is the real deal.” This was Matt’s third year on the drive. Matt went on to say, “Everyone thinks it’s a City-Slicker adventure, but it is not. We were up before sunrise each morning and on our horses and gone with the cattle by 7:30am. We were horseback most of the day, trailing cattle.” Ihle and his fellow guests did a lot of work driving the cattle while the regular drovers supervised. Ihle summed up his trip by saying, “On this drive you learn a lot about horses, the whole western experience, and how the Old West used to be. Very educational!”
It was the first drive for Pamela Rowe from California. Pamela said, “I sit at a computer every day. I did this for a challenge. We have been up since 5:30 am, it was hot, cold, dusty, and I am full of dirt. It was excellent fun, however I am looking forward to a warm shower.”
Cattle Drive Banquet:
That evening after every one had washed off the “trail dust” a banquet was held for all the paying guests and Cattle Drive personnel. Awards were handed out and the new Trail Boss for 2006, Marie Gaspari–Crawford, said about the drive, “This was one of the best years ever. All of you guests were fantastic, and you quickly picked up the art of being a buckaroo, handling your horse, and being a cattle drover.” Marie went on to point out the paying guests were ahead of schedule every day and drove the cattle without incident or injury. 2005 was a great year for the Reno Rodeo Cattle Drive.
Marie closed by saying, “We hope to see all of you horseback next year for the 2006 Reno Rodeo Cattle Drive.”
The 2006 Reno Rodeo Cattle Drive will be held June 11-15, 2006.
The cost is $1,600.00 per person, which includes your horse rental, ground transportation in Reno, all meals and bar, some cool goodies and an amazing Western vacation experience.
For more information, contact Reno Rodeo at 800-842-7633, ext. 101 or www.renorodeo.com and click on “Cattle Drive”
Reno Rodeo 2005
In a personal interview with Alan Kingsley, Executive Director, Reno Rodeo Association, said about the 2005 Reno Rodeo, “This is the 86th year for this rodeo. We are called ‘The Wildest, Richest Rodeo in the West.’ This rodeo is ranked number two for the richest payout to professional rodeo cowboys and cowgirls in North American outdoor rodeos. The tradition of the early rodeos were outdoors and we take great pride that this rodeo is still an outdoor event. This year (2005) the rodeo has nine evening performances and we have added two new events, Extreme Bull Riding and the Pace Picante Shoot-Out. The current top twelve in each sanctioned PRCA event will be here to compete in the Shoot-Out. This will be like going to a mini–National Finals Rodeo with the caliber of stock and cowboys competing. These added events will have national exposure with TV coverage by OLN, ESPN, and ESPN2 and CBS. We are flattered that the PRCA asked us to host these events.
“The two richest one-day team ropings in America will be also be held here during rodeo week. Perry Di Loreto hosts an amateur team roping and Bob Fiest hosts an Invitational Pro-team roping.
“Since 1986, the Reno Rodeo Foundation has been committed to enhancing and enriching lives of Northern Nevada families by donations to children with extraordinary needs, building community partnership, and providing scholarships to the University of Nevada, Reno. Funding for these various projects comes from contributions from the annual all-volunteer Reno Rodeo, Reno Rodeo invitational team roping events, sales of the Nevada ‘Rodeo State’ license plates, ‘Rhythm and Rawhide,’ a fund-raising event produced in conjunction with the Reno Philharmonic Association, and grants and donations from foundations, organizations, individuals, and corporations. There is an estimated 33.2 million dollar impact on the total Reno/Sparks community during Reno Rodeo Week.”
Reno Rodeo 2006
Jerry David, 2006 Reno Rodeo Association Committee President, says, “This is the 20th anniversary of the Reno Rodeo Foundation. This will be PRCA Hall of Fame rodeo announcer Bob Tallman’s 30th year announcing the rodeo. Bob says, ‘To the contestants who enter this rodeo, if you win, it will change your life economically.’ Stock contractor Cotton Rosser of the Flying U Rodeo Company, has been involved in the Reno Rodeo for over 50 years, both as a contestant and a stock contractor. Every year there are some event changes and it is going to be a great rodeo in 2006. We look forward to seeing all of you in Reno at the ‘Wildest, Richest Rodeo in the West.”
We would have to say that Reno, Nevada, and the Reno Rodeo Association and Foundation have captured the Professional Rodeo market in a big way!
For information concerning Reno Rodeo 2006 contact:
Steve Schroeder, Synergy Communications
Alan Kingsley, Executive Director, Reno Rodeo Association
775-329-3877 ext. 104
Article by Mike Laughlin
Photos by Lee Raine