Blowdown! 

 

Or maybe I should call it a blowup…as that’s exactly what happened.

 

I was playing the Stutsman County Fair in Jamestown, North Dakota, back in the spring of 1971. It was my first fair after leaving Florida. My next spot would take me into Canada.  I was showing one of my uncles Giant Steers and was setup across from the grandstand. We didn’t stake down the 20’ x 24’, red & white show barn back then. If a storm came up, we’d park the horse trailer on one side of the barn and the pickup on the other and throw a rope over the barn and tie-it-off on the vehicles.

 

After setting up and bedding the steer, I headed to the camper, a 9 foot cab-over unit that slid into the bed of the pickup, for some shut eye.  During the night the camper started to rock violently as the wind picked up. Jarred awake, my first thought…I had to get the barn tied down.   Quickly slipping on my jeans, I jumped out of the camper. Gawd, it was blowin’ up a storm. Before I got the rope out of the trailer it started raining. Then the hail hit and the wind kicked up a notch. There I stood in the dark, drenched to the bone, pelted by hail, holding the rope in one hand and helplessly watching as the barn shuttered, levitated eight or nine feet into the air, and rocketed off toward the grandstand. As it increased altitude I thought it just might clear the grandstand and set down in one piece on the infield.

 

It didn’t…

 

Clipping the top few inches of the grandstand at 30 or 40 mph it exploded, scattering parts and pieces across the infield.

 

The steer was still standing in his pipe pen, his straw bedding had blown away. The teaser tarp was tied to the front of the pen (a 10’ x 6’ tarp that allowed the fair-goers to see the steer’s back from out front, enticing them into paying the small admission to see the mammoth bovine). The wind was blowing so hard by this time that the completely horizontal, flapping tarp was actually dragging the metal pen across the gravel parking lot. The steer, acting like this was an everyday occurrence, was walking along trying to keep up with his pen.

 

I dropped the rope and ran over and cut the tarp free. Opening the pen, I lead the steer to the closest safe haven, the cattle barn. 

 

Tornado…

 

At first light I began to realize the size and power of the storm. Rides, shows, and trailers were turned over and laid there looking as if they’d been in a demolition derby. There was little to save from the Giant Steer barn. The metal frame was so bent and twisted it had been reduced to scrap. The plywood was busted and splintered. Only the barn door was salvageable.

 

However, the steer was safe.

The truck and trailer were undamaged except for some hail dings.

All I needed was another barn and I would be back in business.

 

Then my help quit…

 

No problem, I’ll run the show by myself.

 

The plan…

 

I called my uncle and told him what has happened. He said he had a spare barn. It was new and had a couple coats of red paint but the front had not been lettered. That’ll work. I’ll letter it when I get to Canada. I located a farm where I could board the steer for a couple days. My uncle would drive north from Florida and I’d head south. We would meet up at a truck stop in St Louis, transfer the new barn to my trailer and I would head back north to round up the steer.

 

The following week, I arrived at my first spot in Canada a day before the

fair opens.

 

It’s raining...

 

I’m in the horse trailer hand-lettering the front panels of the new barn as rain leaks in through the air vents and the back doors.

 

“See BOZO, the World’s Largest Steer”

“10,000 Hamburgers on the Hoof”

“Alive!”

 

Finally getting the barn set up, I was standing back admiring my lettering the first day of the fair and noticed the Z in BOZO was backwards.

 

What the…?

 

I quickly realized what had happened. Working in the tight, leaking quarters of the horse trailer, I had mistakenly turned the **pounce pattern for BOZO upside down in my haste to compete the lettering. You couldn’t tell the other letters were upside-down, they looked no different right-side-up or upside-down…but the Z looked backwards. I don’t remember anyone asking about the upside-down Z... maybe they thought we painted it backwards on purpose! 

 

ShowBiz…you gotta love it.

 

Rick West

 

Image - Rick West with Bozo the World's Largest Steer.

 

 

 **Pounce patterns…the lettering design is laid out on Kraft paper and the outline of the letters are traced with the pounce wheel. The teeth on the wheel punch tiny holes along the edge of the letters. The pattern can then be laid over any surface you wish to transfer the design to and taped in place. Using baby powder or ground charcoal in an old sock you dab along the perforated lines transferring the lettering to the piece you wish to paint. Pounce patterns can be reused numerous times.

 


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