OAKDALE — Beer-vendor trucks slowly roll toward the cook-shack at the Oakdale Saddle Club Arena. Not far away, ad signs wait to be posted. A few trailers already have taken their residence for the weekend.
It must be time for the 63rd annual Oakdale Rodeo.
The Cowboy Capital of the World again has laid out its welcome mat for the best of the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association. A barrel racing session kicked off proceedings Thursday afternoon, but the pace picks up with today’s slack session at 8 a.m. Featured are the first go-rounds in team roping, tie-down roping and steer wrestling.
City-wise, Oakdale switched into rodeo mode Wednesday with the 13th annual Cowgirl Luncheon, where the working cowboys serve the women. How hot is this rodeo-week event, you ask? Two months ago, all 464 tickets were sold in 19 minutes.
The luncheon, a benefit for the Oakdale Cowboy Museum, also speaks to the continued connection between Oakdale and the rodeo. Christie Camarillo, the sister of former Oakdale world all-around champion Leo Camarillo, stresses the importance of the rodeo and the city’s western heritage.
“I still believe there is cowboy spirit left in this town,” Camarillo said. “It takes the rodeo to bring it out. These are our roots.”
The lead horse in this quest is the 387-member saddle club, which has run the rodeo since 1954. Few organizations of its size can handle the legwork of a big-league rodeo in the modern era, but this one is determined to stay in the rodeo business.
“Our club members are still very much involved,” said Escalon’s Billy Jones, the saddle club’s third-year president. “We’re proud to keep the tradition going.”
Rodeo officials, encouraged by favorable weather forecasts for the weekend, think they can build on last year. Six reigning world champions competed for a record purse of more than $127,000 – including $5,000 in added money per event from the saddle club.
One of those world champions was Trevor Brazile, the most decorated cowboy in rodeo history, who returns this year. The roping legend from Texas has won 11 all-around titles (the last eight in succession) and 19 total world titles. He clinched No. 19, thus surpassing one of his childhood heroes, Guy Allen, during Round 6 of the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo last December.
Brazile’s presence has spiced the Oakdale rodeo over the years, especially during the slack. He and partner Paul Eaves form one of the 59 team roping pairs who will compete in the first go-round today, along with 2013 world champions Clay Tryan and Jade Corkill. Brazile also has entered tie-down roping.
Preparing the stage for Brazile and his friends is the saddle club. Saturday morning’s parade will honor Dan and Debbie Vigil, club members for 37 years, as grand marshals. They’ve brought their motorhome onto the grounds this week for virtual 24-hour duty.
“I’ll go home to sleep but that’s about it,” Dan said. “The rodeo is a source of pride to us.”
More than 12,000, the best turnout in years, watched the weekend performances in 2013. One thing has changed a year later – the addition of a saddle-club monument dedicated last weekend by E Clampus Vitus.
The monument clarifies the correct pronunciation of “ROE-dee-oh,” not “Roe-DAY-oh.”
The closing words on the monument: “Don’t forget you’re in the West.”
Notes – Making his Oakdale debut is rodeo announcer Jody Carper of Hobbs, N.M. ... Advance tickets can be purchased in Modesto at Boot Barn and Crossroads Feed; Oakdale outlets Oakdale Seed & Feed, Bucksworth, Oakdale Cowboy Museum and Oakdale Chamber of Commerce; Escalon Feed; and Boot Barn and Turlock Feed. ... Marysville’s Cotton Rosser, a former all-around champion at Oakdale, brings his Flying U stock to Oakdale for the 25th year.