Rodeo and hunting are two lifestyles that often complement each other — one season picking up where the other leaves off — but Colby Lovell […]
Back When they Bucked with Bobby Rowe
Written by: Maya< Back to Articles
story by Lindsay Welchel
It was around 1940 that a young Bobby Rowe went to his first rodeo. It became the doorway to a lifetime filled with the sport. Rowe, now 81, has been a multi-event competitor, as well as a stock contractor and rodeo producer. He became the 1965 IPRA World Champion Saddle Bronc rider and has a treasure trove of stories and experiences from his life spent on the rodeo road.
At around 6 years old, Bobby’s father bought his older brother a horse from the sale. “They got him home, got on him, and of course he threw my brother off and tore up the saddle, and that kind of hooked me right there. I thought ‘well shoot, that’s what I want to do, but I don’t want to get thrown off,” Bobby laughs.
It wasn’t long before Bobby and his brother were entering rodeos. At first they stayed near home in New York.
“I always thought, ‘we never will amount to anything coming from here,’ but when we found out it didn’t matter where you were from, it was however bad you wanted it, why that helped us a bunch, because when we nodded our head we figured we could beat anybody.”
Bobby also found out something else about rodeo. It was everywhere, and you could make a living at it.
The opportunity was his for the taking. He left the family farm at an early age and hit the road.
“When we found out there’s rodeos down in Florida all winter, there’s rodeos in Georgia, we headed south and to heck with milking cows,” Bobby says and adds, “Back then there weren’t any schools like there are now, so if you learned something, you learned it on your own, and I finally learned to keep my mouth shut and just listen and watch.”
Bobby started competing in four events; saddle bronc, bareback, bull riding and steer wrestling. He also did Wild West-type shows where cowboys got paid by the head, so he’d get on as much stock as he could in a performance. When thrill shows got blended into rodeos, where daredevils would do car stunts, Bobby did that too. “I might go out there and crash a car and run back, get my chaps back on, spurs back on, go to the bucking chutes and get on a horse or bull or something,” Bobby laughs.
When he broke his leg, he was in the concession stand frying burgers and taking tickets. “You didn’t lay around and expect to make any money, you had to get out there, whether it was on crutches or whatever.”
When he wasn’t competing, Bobby ended up in Georgia working for a stock contractor. He was in charge of hauling all of the stock to various rodeos. Through this, he found a career in stock contracting and producing rodeos. He also found love.
Bobby’s work led him to meeting his wife Lenore, a barrel racer. They married in 1957.
“Lenore and I got married. I was putting on a rodeo in Florida, we had an afternoon performance and then a night performance, so as soon as the afternoon performance was over with we hauled boogey to Georgia to the courthouse to get married and got there, and the courthouse was locked up,” Bobby recalls. It was a holiday, and so Bobby called in a favor to his influential boss who persuaded the disgruntled judge to come open the courthouse and marry the young couple.
“I told [the judge] I sure thank you, and she said ‘just get the heck out of here,’ Bobby laughs. He and Lenore hurried back to the rodeo, and that night she won the barrel racing, and he won the bull riding. “We did good, and we thought ‘man oh man we should’ve got married when we were 10 years old. We’d have been rich by now.”
Lenore and Bobby moved into the bunkhouse on the ranch he was working, and he remembers with humor how he’d gone back to focusing on his stock after a few days, and his young bride was trying to help him, but at one point he had snapped at her.
“Finally she said ‘to heck with this mess,’ and she went to the house. The boss’ wife told her ‘There’s two ways you can do it, you can go out there and pack your stuff, I’ll put you on a bus, and you can go on home, or you can go out there and get a stick and tell him ‘now it’s you and I,’ so first thing I knew she was coming across the fence with a stick in her hand,” Bobby laughs.
Their marriage stayed strong for decades after that. Rodeo only made their love story richer. Lenore went on to greatness as a trick rider and specialty act known for the ability to train her performance horses. She performed around the world. “You talk about a showman, now she was,” Bobby says.
Bobby and Lenore raised two sons, Bill, who competed some in rodeo and Justin, who went on to be a world champion in saddle bronc just like his dad.
Sadly, Lenore passed away of breast cancer in 2005.
Early on, Bobby worked for Loretta Lynn and husband Mooney’s Longhorn Rodeo and competed in his four events. He won the world in saddle bronc in 1965. Then, Bobby’s rodeo company, Imperial Rodeo Productions, put on many events, including the Salem Stampede Rodeo, beginning in 1968 in Virginia, and the Dickson Stampede Days Rodeo, founded in 1988 by Bobby and Lenore, in their hometown in Tennessee.
Bobby admits he had to slow down on his competition when producing rodeos and focus on the finer details of the show.
“I always had in mind those people sitting over there in the seats. I wanted to make sure they were having a good time. I couldn’t be thinking about stock I drew and still paying attention 100 percent on putting on a good rodeo, so that was my main concern. That was one of the first things I learned, if you don’t do it quality then don’t be doing it.”
But Bobby was 72 by the time he fully quit competing in the steer wrestling.
“I was trying to set a record; the oldest man to run a steer. I had good intentions but the old steer he had intentions also, so it didn’t work out the way I wanted it to,” Bobby jokes.
These days, Bobby is living in Oklahoma to be near some family for a while before heading back to Tennessee. He’s still producing some, namely the Salem Stampede, but he’s cut down on his schedule.
Rodeo has had a life-long impact. “In rodeo, you’ve got to believe in yourself. When you crawl up that chute, if you don’t have it in your mind that you can ride this son of a buck until the sun goes down, you better take off your stuff and go on home. That’s something I learned early on, believing in myself and honing on my abilities all the time. You never can get as good as you can get, you can always get better.”
And that’s still his motto with every rodeo he produces.
Story also available in our August 15, 2015 issue.