The aptly named wild horse race.
It gets pretty lonely out there.
Bring on the rough stock.
Undersheriff Lonny Jensen said the rodeo was pretty calm. The biggest problem, such as it is, is usually under-age drinkers.
Getting ready to ride.
Spectators belly up the railing at the beer stand.
Young rodeo fan.
They earned those buckles.
If you're new to the rodeo, these are horses.
The wild horse race features some interesting gymnastic moves.
Team roping again.
A steer wrestler goes a for takedown.
Grady Richardson, a 9-year-old from Circle, nutures rodeo dreams.
Hard landing ahead.
Brought up short.
A calf roper dismounts.
Ladies breakaway, at a full gallop.
Did it catch?
Hang on there, pard.
Still on, for now.
A team roper at the ready.
The bullfighters work to distract the bull while the rider hustles away.
A bullfighter, aka rodeo clown, takes one for the team.
There's more than one way to throw a rider.
I'll just be getting off now, thanks.
It's just eight seconds, it's just eight seconds....
A barrel race stirs things up.
One thrown rider, six close observers.
Wild horse race. Pure pandemonium.
Yeah, he's happy to ride.
Colin Murnion. He earned that buckle, too.
Working the spurs.
Team ropers in action.
Swinging your partner in the community hall.
Time for dancing and conversation.
Let's run through those steps again.
Dancing to Trouble Expected,a country band out of Jordan.
Friendly wrestling outside the community hall.
BROCKWAY — Charlie Moline will tell you that Brockway is famous for four things.
In 1934 it shipped more livestock by rail than any other town in the United States.
It used to be the smallest town in the world with a drive-in theater.
Curley Fletcher was working at a ranch near Brockway in 1915 when he wrote “The Strawberry Roan,” a cowboy poem that became an enduring country-western song.
And it is home to the Brockway Dairy Day Rodeo, one of the oldest rodeos in Montana and by far the biggest day of the year for Brockway, population somewhere between 15 and 20. This year’s rodeo was held on Saturday, July 19.
Moline, whose grandfather homesteaded in Brockway in 1910, has been working the rodeo for 51 years. He said there aren’t many like it left in Montana.
“There’s nothing fancy here,” he said. “It’s kinda like the rodeos were 50 or 60 years ago.”
Brockway is 13 miles west of Circle on Highway 200. Moline said if you draw a straight line from Billings to Plentywood and another from Malta to Ekalaka, the lines intersect near Brockway, making it the geographical center of Eastern Montana.
The lines actually cross about midway between Brockway and Jordan, 50 miles to the west, but close enough. Brockway is deep in Eastern Montana, where settlements are few and cows are plentiful.
That’s partly why the Dairy Day Rodeo, in the words of announcer Ray Granmoe, is a “working-ranch-cowboy type rodeo.” It also helps that it’s an open rodeo, meaning you don’t have to be certified with any professional rodeo outfit to compete.
“It’s a good place for kids to start out, you know?” Colin Murnion said. “They can get a little taste of it.”
Murnion, of Jordan, got his start here and went on to finish third in bareback riding at the National Finals Rodeo. He and 13 other cowboys and cowgirls are listed on a sign — “NFR Contestants with Dairy Day Beginnings” — at the entrance to the rodeo.
The rodeo’s importance, though, goes beyond considerations of competition and purses. It is mostly a big social affair, an all-school reunion and a gathering of families rolled into one.
Lynn Glick was there from Pennsylvania, as was her sister, Cheryl Breitbach, from Georgia. The sisters, originally Pawlowskis, grew up in Circle and have come back for the Dairy Day Rodeo every year for the past 20 years. They usually stay a week and see all their old friends at the rodeo.
“We’ve been doing it since we were little,” Glick said. “This is where people went.”
Moline said the rodeo has always been important to families, and because of its informal nature it’s more kid-friendly than most rodeos. Young children routinely sit on the arena fences, ride horses around the grounds and stand on the platforms right over the chutes containing tons of twitching bull and horse flesh.
Grady Richardson, a 9-year-old from Circle, spent half the day on the fences and the other half on his friend’s horse. Dressed in a cowboy hat and a Wrangler shirt, Grady said he hoped to compete some day, “probably steer ridin’.” Asked how long he’d been coming to the Dairy Day Rodeo, he answered, “I almost come here all the time.”
The rodeo began in 1918 to celebrate the arrival of a herd of dairy cows in Brockway. It was canceled during the worst years of the Dirty ’30s, as that decade was known in Montana, and for a few years during World War II, but it was revived in 1946 and has been held continuously since then.
In its heyday, Brockway had 20 businesses, a branch railroad line and a high school. Now, it looks more like a used-implement lot than a town, with just a few occupied houses scattered among a collection of rusting tractors, trucks and heavy equipment, grain bins, RVs, cars and abandoned houses, trailers and buildings.
All that’s left downtown is a post office and a community hall, built in the 1930s in the Sheep Mountains south of Brockway and moved into town in 1961. It is where the dance is held after the rodeo, where hundreds of cowboys and cowgirls gather to drink, dance, carouse and let off clouds of steam.
The rodeo is west of town, just over Highway 253, which takes you 50 miles south to Terry.
This year’s rodeo, the 84th, fell on a nearly perfect July day. It can get hot — one year it hit 108 — but on this Saturday, smoke from distant wildfires kept the sun off and the heat down, and a steady, pleasant breeze kept the mosquitoes away.
The arena sits at the base of grassy bowl. Most of the spectators are up on the hill, sitting on shaded bleachers, clustered around the beer and food booths or perched on folding chairs under portable awnings.
Sitting with a dozen or more family members and friends under one awning was Dale Hubing, who was born in 1928 and grew up on a remote ranch nearly 20 miles southeast of Brockway, on the divide between there and Lindsay.
Hubing and his brother use to trail horses into town from the ranch and ride them in the races that were then part of the rodeo. They’d go to the dance in the evening, sleep for a few hours on their bedrolls and ride back home. Hubing said he’s missed only one rodeo since 1946.
“I’ve been ill a few days after, but I’ve always been well enough on the day of,” he said.
Like other old-timers at the rodeo, Hubing — whose father used to put on kids’ races with chariots drawn by Shetland ponies — couldn’t help reflecting on how much bigger it used to be.
“They used to sell 250 cases of beer in that beer tent right over there,” he said. “Great Falls Select. And the whole hillside used to be covered in bottles, come evenin’.”
Nevertheless, the crowd was respectable this year, estimated at 200 to 300 spectators, and beer sales didn’t appear to be hurting.
Roger Eissinger has been working the beer stand for going on 35 years. His son, Ty, is the president of the Brockway Commercial Club, which sponsors the rodeo, and his wife, Connie, is a McCone County commissioner. Up on the hill is where Roger Eissinger likes to be.
“I’ve been with the beer stand,” he said. “I stay away from the arena.”
The rodeo also attracted more than 100 competitors. They came from all over Eastern Montana, with a few from Helena, Wyoming and Washington state. The program was thick with cowboy-sounding names, including Tanner, Chase, Clay, Garrett, Laredo, Colt, Lawson, Parker, Wyatt and Wylee, as well as Kaycee, Madison and Riata.
Early on in this year’s rodeo, Shane Wheeler of Ashland took a hard fall in the saddle bronc event. He was thrown, but his right foot got hung up in the stirrup and he fell headfirst under his horse, which reared up and came down hard with a hoof on Wheeler’s left shoulder blade.
Paramedics in an ambulance — ambulance sponsors included the Corner Bar — took Wheeler to the hospital in Circle. He looked to be in a lot of pain, but the regulars weren’t too worried.
“If it missed his head, he’ll be all right,” said Judd Twitchell, a Jordan rancher who competed in the Dairy Day Rodeo from 1961 to 1991.
“About once every three years they haul somebody off,” Moline said. “Now we got to wait for the ambulance to come back before we can do any more rough stock.”
Sure enough, two days after the rodeo, Wheeler’s mother, Audrey, said her son was doing well. He was pretty sore, with a couple of cracked ribs and a cracked shoulder blade, she said, but “he’s gonna be fine.”
There was plenty of other excitement at this year’s rodeo. Steve Graham, one of the bullfighters — a rodeo clown without the comic routine — got thrown for a back flip while trying to distract a rampaging bull. Graham emerged with a sizable cut on the back of his head, but he went back to work after tying a bandanna around the wound.
Allison Wittkopp, a 20-year-old cowgirl from Circle, was competing in the ladies breakaway, barrel racing and, her favorite, goat tying. Why was that her favorite?
“I guess because I’m best at it,” she said. She’s been competing in Brockway since she was 5 and enters professional rodeos all over Eastern Montana and the Dakotas.
Of the Dairy Day Rodeo, she said, “They’ve put on a good rodeo for a lot of years. … They probably get the whole community out to support it. As long as they keep that going, I guess it’ll continue.”
The rodeo started at 1 p.m. and ended about 4:30, after a short but crazy wild horse race and some team roping. Everybody started gathering again about 6 outside the community hall, where there was a big barbecue.
A blood-red sun was sinking in the smoke-filled sky as adults crowded around the outside bar and dozens of kids thronged the playground next door to the hall. Other people sat on benches in the park — actually, 90-foot-long iron bridge girders that the commercial club bought at auction years ago.
The dancing started a little after 9 p.m. inside the hall. The band was Trouble Expected, a three-piece group out of Jordan playing mostly classic country and a few rock numbers. The wooden dance floor attracted lots of children, who danced with each other or older siblings and parents, older couples and no end of cowboys and cowgirls, some of them curiously imbalanced but still lively.
The real crowds were outside, though, hundreds of people in jeans and cowboy hats and cowboy boots, talking, laughing, whooping and drinking as the 84th Dairy Day wound to a close. As Saturday bled into Sunday, the crowd thinned, but not much.
By Sunday morning, with another Dairy Day in the books and the sun climbing into a now-smokeless sky, the grounds around the community hall were littered with cups, bottles and paper plates. On the grass in front of the hall were the last of the revelers, two men and a woman, recumbent but still awake, still clutching beers, their drowsy conversation punctuated by fits of laughter.
And that was it for 2014. But in another year, the quiet burg of Brockway will boom again.
Editor’s note: If you’re wondering why we’re running this story today, nine days after the rodeo, it’s because this story ran yesterday, Sunday, in the Great Falls Tribune, and we agreed to wait a day to publish it here.
Also, please note that the photo on top of this story is part of a large gallery of spectacular John Warner photos. You won’t want to miss them. Just click on the arrow in the upper right corner.