Eastern Oregon Livestock Show, Union, OR, Jun 9 (Track #87)

-- Friday, June 9, 8:00am, Ketchum, ID

Nine hours it took to get here yesterday, through some of the prettiest country in the Rocky Mountain west.

The Missouri River valley through the Gates of the Mountains area, the Big Hole valley in the unspoiled southwest corner of Montana, over Chief Joseph Pass and down the steep north fork of the Salmon, following the Nez Perce retreat route from the Big Hole battlefield, as well as Lewis and Clark's return route from the Pacific, and finally all the way up the Salmon River valley into central Idaho, emerging unexpectedly into a large valley surrounded by the breathtaking Sawtooth range, to where the mighty Salmon was no more than a small creek.

Just after I'd stopped to look back at the valley from the viewpoint near the 8450 ft level of the Galena summit, there was a radio commercial from a town named Eagle out there somewhere, advertising "The Nut Fest", the world's biggest Rocky Mountain Oyster festival. Although I've had exceptional luck with radio festivals recently, I thought maybe I'd skip that one.

It was easy to see why one might want to live in Ketchum, with all that beautiful scenery so close to hand. Or maybe would have wanted to 50 years ago, before it turned into your typical foo-foo skiing village. With all the commercial development, the town had apparently outgrown its past, as it was very very hard to find anything at all honoring its most famous former resident. There was one elementary school named for him. And then, a mile or so east of Sun Valley, such a tiny sign you could drive right by it if you weren't looking carefully, a small monument tucked off in the bushes, just a stone base set next to an irrigation canal in a shady spot under those bushes, with a small plaque and a bronze bust, and a bench to sit and contemplate. I don't remember what the inscription was, exactly, but I rather imagine it should have been the following from his story "The Gambler, The Nun, and The Radio":

"You are a philosopher."
"No, hombre. A gambler of the small towns. One small town, then another, another, then a big town, then start over again."

Round about Boise on the radio The Spud Brothers introduced me to an exciting on-air contest, "Gargle This Tune".

Don't have a nun reference.

-- Friday, June 9, noonish (PDT), La Grande, OR

Every day you're learning something on the McChump Tour. Today the lesson is "Don't pay any attention to the Oregon Racing Commission website, and always believe The Racing Journal". A helpful young man at the gas station informs me that what I'm looking for is in Union, not La Grande. Which is where the Racing Journal said it was. Stoopid OR commission website.

-- Friday, June 9, shortly before 1:00pm, Union, OR

Could this man give directions, or what? "Go down this street, take a left at the light, follow the road along the tracks out to Union, turn left at the Methodist Church". And there it was indeed, in all its glory, the Eastern Oregon Livestock Show! Parking, free, was to be had on any of the dirt and gravel streets there in Union. Admission to the show grounds was also free.

The showgrounds consisted of a collection of seen-better-days wooden livestock sheds, all peeling white paint, a couple of show barns, if you could truly call them that, which made liberal use of corrugated tin, a small carnival that wasn't open until 2pm but it had all the really cool rides like for instance Tilt-A-Whirl, The Zipper, Gravitron, and oh so many more, and the grandstand, for the racing and and rodeo, all set in a nice field of mud. Concessions and offices tucked into low buildings by the back of the grandstand.

But nothing was happening. No racing. So I looked around a bit and there on the wall next to the concessions stand was a little poster about the show, with a schedule and ... oops. Racing for Friday, the opening day of the big three day meet, didn't start till 4:15pm. A $1.00 corn dog occupied a bit of time as I contemplated options for killing three hours. There was obviously no other choice: Enjoy the livestock show!

Well, first there was wandering around. Pigs, goats, sheep, and cattle occupied all the stalls, and all the stalls had little signs saying which regional 4H or FFA group had raised the animal in question, with some little signs being quite clever works of art. It was some fine looking livestock, and some fine signage. So that was over pretty quick.

Next there seemed to be some hubbub over by one of the show barns, so I strolled over. There appeared to be some cattle showing going on, with young men poking and prodding heifers and steers with things that looked like golf clubs with little hooks on the end, and the cattle were looking real good. Nice beeves. But when the judge started explaining why he'd decided to award the ribbons, it turned out he wasn't judging animals at all! He was judging the people doing the poking and prodding - the competition was for who could do the best job of showing cattle! Cool! Stock showing competition - yet another McChump Tour revelation.

This group of cattle and showmen left the ring, while another started coming in, but I thought maybe I'd go to the other barn to see what was down there. The show down at this barn was way better than the show at the previous one, as this one had simultaneous sheep and pig showing going on, with the lambs down at one end bleating away, and the pigs at the other grunting and snorting. Lambs, it turns out, are somewhat easily controlled. Each little kid doing the showing had a firm grip on his or her lamb's head and was dragging it around the ring in that manner. But pigs are a different story altogether, a feisty uncooperative bunch, which the kids attempted to control by whacking them with canes, or else smacking them with small whips that looked a lot like a jockey's whip. When I first walked in the pigs were fairly calm, but after what seemed like an eternity of the kids whacking and smacking, the pig ring was a virtual frenzy of pigs running around grunting and squealing and trying to crash through the walls, and the kids trying to control them and show them off to the judge. One red pig, a particularly non-team player type of pig, actually brought his little girl to tears with his bad behavior. All this with about 10 large sized pigs, 10 kids, and the judge in a ring about 25x40 feet. It could only have been more delicious if there'd been gamblin' on which little kid was going to win the ribbon.

After that there were sadly no more groups of pigs or cattle, but only an endless stream of lamb classes, and while I learned a lot about the fine points of showing sheep, the rest of the afternoon was kind of anticlimatic. However, the carnival had started up, so a stroll through there was good for killing 20 minutes. I avoided the temptation to "try my luck".

While most of the rest of the folks walked uptown for the big Stock Show parade, I purchased a program ($3), an overpriced glass of draft MGD ($3), and sat down to do some handicapping. Lesson #2 for the day: There's only 4 races on the opening day of the Eastern Oregon Livestock Show. If you want to see a full day's racing at the Eastern Oregon Livestock Show, you should probably go on Saturday or Sunday. And most of the program is devoted to advertising and the rodeo. The racing pp's were just a small six page insert.

The four races on the day were all thoroughbred events, three at 5-1/2f and one route of 6-1/2f. Field sizes ranged from four to six, with purses from $700 to $900. Never let it be said that the thoroughbred breed is no longer sound. Squire West in the 2nd was running his 97th race, Kyle's Ace in the same race his 100th, Triple Pirate in the 3rd his 98th, and the grand old warrior of them all, 12yo Palermo Grey in the 4th, his 160th lifetime start. This 4th race, for all of $700, also included a son of Kris S., one Pitcher of Kris. One thing about four race cards: They handicap pretty quick. I even had time to lay out my strategy for the early double (races 1 & 2) and the late double (races 3 & 4). Jocks and trainers? I never heard of a one of them. Although a girl jock name of Rita Ekins did win two of the races on the day (but no one told me beforehand).

Closing in on 4:00 the folks from uptown started drifting back into the grounds and heading for the grandstand, so I decided it was time to take the plunge myself. Admission for the rodeo/racing was $10. Youch!

The grandstands (two of 'em) here were those classic old wooden monsters, with a million aged wood supports holding them up, maybe 12 rows of wood bench seats, and a wood frame holding up a corrugated tin roof. It could have been designed by the same guy who did the Anthony Downs grandstand. There was one nod to modernity in that the sitting on part of the wood benches had been replaced by some plastic seat benches. Betting windows, concessions, and a couple of TV's that showed odds and double will pays were just back of the stands, and a bare minimum paddock was down off the left end of the rather narrow gravel apron. Out in front was a very narrow 4f track with a quarterhorse chute, and an infield dominated by the rodeo chutes and ring. Small toteboard that was basically nothing but odds and payoffs. The beautiful snowy Wallowa Mountains made for a nice backdrop, on the other side of which Chief Joseph and the Nez Perce started their long trail that I've been intersecting for the last couple of years.

Unlike at the previous two tracks, that rodeo ring wasn't going to be unused on this day, no sir. At the Eastern Oregon Livestock Show, the rodeo and the horse races are going on at the same time, making for a fast paced afternoon of non-stop excitement!

But before any of the rodeo or racing events could get under way, there was an incredible amount of Opening Ceremony type hoopla to attend to, with lots of announcements and introductions and the girls of the Livestock Show Drill Team riding around real fast and precise carrying banners with all the sponsors' names on them, and then a real, and I mean real, exceedingly, overblown, out-of-this-world introduction of the flag and exhortation of the good-sized crowd to show their American patriotic spirit. "Do ya love America, Eastern Oregon? Are ya thankful for everything America's given ya? Then let's hear it, Eastern Oregon!" And so on. For quite awhile. The master of ceremonies out there on his horse sure could talk.

But finally that was over with, except then every single rodeo and fair queen and princess in Eastern Oregon and parts of Southern Washington needed to be introduced, and they all rode down the track, one at a time, in their purtiest cowgirl shirt, real fast, waving, while their name, title, and rodeo/fair affiliation was announced, except one girl didn't ride real fast after her horse almost bucked her off. And of course let us not forget the princesses and queen of this particular Livestock Show. "She's 17 ladies and gentlemen, and she's a high-school graduate!"

Somehow, I'm not sure just how or when it happened - because this MC guy just kept talking and talking and the PA kept blasting music and it was undoubtedly the talkin'est rodeo I've ever been to so I kind of lost track of events and went to get another beer - the actual rodeo events themselves finally got started up, which meant horse racing, and gamblin', let us not forget this is a story about gamblin', was sure to follow. I hoped.

Some cowboys were out there getting bucked off horses or something and the MC was talking non-stop about the cowboys' rodeo accomplishments and their year to date earnings, and the crowd was responding politely every time the MC yelled "Let's hear it Eastern Oregon!" after a guy got bucked off or not bucked off as the case may be, when finally, thankfully, racehorses started appearing in the small paddock. This was a race for maidens, and on paper it looked as though most of these would never win a race of any sort, anywhere, except for the #1 horse which I figured at least showed some signs of life. The #3 looked real good in the paddock though, so I thought maybe I should include him in a quinella. Bareback riding was over by then and calf roping had started up, and when the racehorses left the paddock and hit the track for the post parade the MC called for the boys to hold the next calf as it was time to commence with some horse racing. The track announcer, perched some feet above the crowd, took over after that, and called out the post parade and then the race, and when all was said and done I'd won a powerful $3.80 quinella on the 3-1 finish, but lost my win bet and killed my early double. And the calf roping started right back up.

And so it went: steer wrestling and saddle bronc, horse race. Clown act, team roping, more saddle bronc, horse race. Bull riding, barrel racing, horse race. All the while this MC kept talking and talking, and the music kept blaring. The crowd wasn't responding to "Let's hear it, Eastern Oregon!" so good any more, but the MC was determined that we were going to be excited about the Eastern Oregon Livestock Show, so he resorted to the cheapest trick in the book: "Who's here from North Powder?" yay "How about Imbler?" yay "Island City, let's hear ya!" yay. I kept waiting for him to call out Chicago so I too could say yay, but it was not to happen. At least not while I was there.

For you see, when that last horse race was over, I was out of there, down about $17, and headed back to Idaho. On the way I reflected upon the fact that it sure had been a long drive for just four gamblin' opportunities, and it was sure too bad that I hadn't enjoyed even one single minute of the events of the day except for the gamblin'. And the stock showing. And the corn dog. And the steer wrestling. And the scenery. Because, well because, you just can't. It's all about the gamblin'.

Or so some would have you believe. :)