By Jolee Lautaret
Preston, Idaho — In 1934 the small community of Preston, Idaho decided to host a rodeo for the town's entertainment. Although the first year was a success, organizers felt it had been a little hot during daytime performances and made the radical decision—at the time—to move to a night show.
"The community of farmers and ranchers wanted the performances to be in the evening," says current rodeo chairwoman Kris Beckstead.
The first night performance of the Preston Night Rodeo was achieved thanks to a circle of cars with lights turned on to illuminate the arena.
"After that, they raised enough money for lights," continues Beckstead. Thus, "That Famous Preston Night Rodeo" was born. "I think there is a rodeo back East, maybe in Mississippi, that had night performances around the same time but we're pretty sure we were the first in the West."
Eight decades later, That Famous Preston Night Rodeo is still going strong—missing only one year during World War II because "all the cowboys were in the Army." It has become a favorite stop for professional rodeo athletes, particularly the ladies of the Women's Pro Rodeo Association. With close to $100,000 in total purse, $5,500 of which is added to the WPRA barrel race, the rodeo annually attracts the top competitors.
"We feel like, the better the cowboys, the better the show for our spectators," says Beckstead. "Even if our fans don't always know the top cowboys, the quality of competition is such that everybody can tell [how good they are]."
Beckstead leads a band of seven rodeo committee members, who are joined by about 100 volunteers during rodeo week. None are paid for their time, donating their efforts out of passion for the rodeo and for the community.
Beckstead herself grew up in Preston and notes that she probably attended her first performance of That Famous Preston Night Rodeo at about age three. Likewise, her husband is a native of Preston and though both moved away to attend school, they came back to the small town on the southern border of Idaho to raise their family. Getting involved with the rodeo was a natural step for the pair.
"My father was on the committee and my husband's grandfather was too. I think there has been a Beckstead on the rodeo committee for at least 50 years," she laughs. "Rodeo week, we're not home at all from Monday through Sunday, so you've got to be married to someone who is supportive."
In fact, the entire community supports the rodeo. Beckstead notes that no matter what they need, they just have to say it's for the rodeo and the community comes out in force, whether it's last minute electrical work or needed equipment for set up.
"The entire community is great," says Beckstead, noting that there are just about 5,000 people living in Preston with another 7,000 in Franklin County. "But we sell 16,000 tickets for the rodeo."
Full houses are a given for the rodeo and Beckstead noted that all three performances in 2015 were sell-outs. An added big screen, video board helped fans keep up with the action this year and PRCA Announcer of the Year Wayne Brooks and funnyman John Harrison were on hand too.
"The crowd was well entertained!" said Beckstead.
"More people come home to Preston for the rodeo than during Christmas," she laughed. "We have a lot of people plan their family reunions around the rodeo and I'll get calls all the time from people wanting to know the dates of the rodeo so they can plan."
Along with rodeo action, Preston hosts a sidewalk sale and nightly parades during rodeo week as well as a carnival. There is even a golf tournament and chuckwagon breakfast.
"We are just the rodeo, we are not with a fair," says Beckstead, noting that That Famous Preston Night Rodeo pays for itself every year without the benefit of tax payer dollars that often accompany fair rodeos. The financial windfall is no doubt in large part thanks to the all-volunteer staff, some of whom have been with the rodeo for three decades.
The Preston rodeo was named the Wilderness Circuit's Large Rodeo of the Year for Idaho in 2014, an award the committee is rightfully proud to have earned. In addition to their generous purse, the committee provides a breakfast for contestants on slack day as well as hospitality each performance.
"The barrel racers seem to like us too," laughed Beckstead, noting that the committee had won awards with the WPRA for their ground conditions. "We rake after every barrel racer. We feel that keeps the conditions the same for everyone."
Perhaps no barrel racer has benefited as much from Preston's now famous ground conditions more than Neola, Utah's Nancy Hunter.
During the 2015 edition of the rodeo, held July 30-August 1, Hunter and her great gelding Fuzz were crowned the champions with a fast time of 17.14 seconds, just edging 2012 WPRA World Champion Mary Walker for the title. In fact, the top 10 money winners were separated by just over two tenths of a second.
It is Hunter's fourth Preston win in five years and third in a row. She won second in 2012. Her five year haul here is $9,392, $2,080 of which came from the 2015 win. A year ago, she set what is believed to be the arena record with her time of 16.91 seconds.
Hunter is ranked seventh in the WPRA World standings and the win in Preston, along with a fourth place finish in Idaho Falls, has surely sealed her second trip to the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo.
In addition to its lucrative purse for those chasing Wrangler NFR and Wilderness Circuit Finals Rodeo qualifications, the Preston rodeo is also a stop on the WPRA Tour. Points are awarded to top finishers at each WPRA Tour stop and the standings are used to place competitors into limited entry rodeos such as the Calgary Stampede the following year.
With a successful 80th rodeo in the books, Beckstead and her fellow volunteers are already looking to next year.
"We'll have a meeting next week to run through the pros and cons from the rodeo while it's still fresh and then we'll have another meeting in October, go to the NFR in December and then get busy about March."
For more information on That Famous Preston Night Rodeo, visit them on-line at www.prestonrodeo.com.