Rick West and His Steer Tour the Country




TIPTON, Ind. - Some people earn money to go to college by taking a job over the summer.  Others earn it by having rich parents.


Rick West earns his college money by taking a big steer around the country.


For more that 20 years, West has spent part of the year traveling around the country showing unusual animals.  When he first got into the sideshow business with his uncle West showed things like two-headed calves and 6-foot-long lizards.


Now however West, who lives in Nacogdoches, Texas stakes his income on two animals, "Big Bill" and "Big Jim" at places like the Tipton County 4-H Fair, where he is this weekend.


"Big Bill" is a Holstein steer that weights 3,500 pounds and stands about 6 feet tall.  "Big Bill" may be big but is still can't match Howard County's "Old Ben".  When "Old Ben" died in 1910, he weighed 4,720 pounds and was 6 feet 4 inches high.


"Big Jim" is a Belgian horse that weights 2,700 pounds and measures 18 hands almost 6 and a half feet.  The normal size Belgian horse weight 1,700 pounds and is 17 hands tall.


"They're the finest animals you'd ever care to see," said West summoning up his best carny pitch.  "Some people think that we're exploiting these animals but we're not.  You go to your average riding stable and you'll see that we keep our animals in better condition.


"They get walked every day and have six months out of the year to roam around." he added. "Not too many show animals have that kind of luxury.  Actually, there's not much difference between our animal and others.  Ours are freaks if you consider seven-foot people freaks."


While some people would think that showing "freak" animals around the country might be a little strange for a guy who's a graduate of the University of Wisconsin and is attending classes at Stephen F. Austin University in Texas, West certainly doesn't.


"Hey this is a lot better tan just sitting on your bull working all day," he said.  "I get to travel six months out of the year, see a lot of the country and make some money besides."


But making money off of larger than life cows and horses just isn't what it used to be.  Sadly, the carnival sideshow are becoming things of the past.


"Audiences are a little more sophisticated," West noted.  "They don't go for the bearded ladies and snake woman like they used to.  Also, you've finding fairs to be more amusement parks than anything else.  Independent operator like myself just can't afford to stay in the business for long."


While there's still a market there however, Rick West will be back stering his prized for 25 and 50 cents a peek.


"I feel 'Big Bill' and 'Big Jim' have agricultural educational and entertainment value." he said.  "I don't think you can have a better bargain than seeing a finely-conditioned animal for only 25 or 50 cents.  People particularly kids, like to see things like this, animals that show what can happen in nature."


"Big Jim" resume roaming the prairies and Rick West heads back to school.


"At least I'm not strapped when they ask me to "What I Did On My Summer Vacation." he laughed.


Article by John Scborg Tribune Staff Writer -  Kokomo Tribune July 24, 1982

Photo by Greg Pawluk - Kokomo Tribune

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