Golden year for rodeo |

Golden year for rodeo

Murray Arnold had the “taxi” gassed up and ready to go when his Thursday afternoon guest arrived for a tour of the 50th Annual Penn Valley Rodeo.

Arnold and the rest of the rodeo’s board of directors are champing at the bit to put on a good show this year.

Though the rodeo will celebrate its golden anniversary today, Saturday and Sunday, this marks just the third year the Penn Valley Community Rodeo Association has presented the event.

And they’re hoping the third time’s a charm.

“The first year wasn’t too good and last year it rained,” said the 81-year-old Arnold, who is serving as the grand marshall of the event.

“At 5:30, it started to rain,” said Dale Baptie, another of the nine board members, “just as the gates opened.

“You saw nine people standing around crying. We got wiped out, but that’s Mother Nature.”

With clear skies forecasted for the weekend, the PVCRA is ready to let the good times roll.

But it was just four years ago that it appeared one of the area’s longest-running sporting events had come to the end of its road.

The rodeo was originally started by the Penn Valley Fire Department Corporation in 1956, as a fundraiser for the fire department. Until 1995, the rodeo served not only as a community event but also as an annual fundraiser for the department.

The Penn Valley Hi-graders Lions Club took things over from there and ran the rodeo through 2001, when the Penn Valley Firefighters Association took the reigns and organized the event through 2003.

After the 47th annual rodeo was scrapped in 2004 because of finances, the PVCRA was formed and breathed life back into the community event.

“All nine of us understand that this thing, after all these years … it’s a community thing,” Arnold said. “It depicts the area. We just didn’t want to let it go by the wayside.”

And now they want to make sure the weekend’s a hit to ensure the rodeo will be around for years into the future.

Among the folks finalizing the preparations, several volunteers were working late into the day Thursday. John Day, who put a week’s work into sprucing up the rodeo grounds with paint, was among them. Dave Sommers, another board member, also put in more than his fair share of hours, Arnold said. Sommers not only prepared the rodeo ring, but also added a handicap ramp and stage area to accommodate wheelchair-bound fans.

Ron and Cindy Lackey also were on hand, putting their final touches on the show. Cindy was preparing to greet as many as 15 vendors of Western arts, crafts and clothing.

Ron, the manager of Plaza Tire in Nevada City, was getting dinner ready. He had the fire already blazing for the deep-pit barbecue. The pit, lined with cement and bricks, will cook beef brisket and pork shoulder over an 18- to 20-inch stack of coals overnight.

The seasoned meat is wrapped in tin foil and placed inside wet burlap bags which are placed above the coals and below tin sheeting, which is then covered with dirt to seal the heat inside. In all, dinner will be served after about 20 hours.

“That’s what you call slow-cooking. The meat will just fall apart,” Ron said, showing off the pit. “It’s an old-school thing. My dad taught me how to do it in the early ’70s with venison.

“I’ve cooked everything this way … ribs … turkey. In essence, your steaming it. And when you open up one of these bags, the smell just permeates. It’s great.”

After seeing what’s for dinner, Arnold resumed his tour of the grounds on the electric golf cart on which he picked up his guest.

He’d rather walk around the ring, but a “bad knee” is giving him fits.

“I don’t know what the hell’s wrong with it,” he says after scaling the bleacher seats of the grandstand. “Well, yeah I do. It’s old age.”

As he drove around the rodeo grounds, pointing out all the work the volunteers completed in preparation for the event, he said he was honored to have been named the event’s grand marshall.

“I thought it was great,” he said. “There’s a lot of people who deserve it more than me, but I’ll take it.”

Arnold’s not native to Penn Valley – where he arrived in 1988 – or even California for that matter. He grew up in Ohio, playing football before joining the Navy when he was 17 years old. He was too young to join after graduating high school, but his parents signed the necessary forms for him to join the World War II effort in 1943.

He served on an aircraft carrier, which took planes to larger carriers in the Pacific front. That’s where he got the idea for how he ended up celebrating his 80th birthday – jumping out of an airplane.

“I’d always wanted to do it,” he said. “In the Navy on the carrier, I saw a lot of guys bail out that had to (jump).

“I told my wife I wanted to and she said ‘Over my dead body. You’re never going to do that.'”

Well one day, he did – without telling Marilyn.

“I jumped out at 13,000 feet and free fell till about 5,000 feet when the chute opens,” he said. “You’re going about 120 miles per hour when it opens.

“When I got home, my wife said ‘Well what kind of day did you have?’ I handed her a video and said ‘You might want to have a look at this.’ I’m glad she wasn’t with me, but she said I can do it again when I’m 90.”

As active as Arnold remains, there appears to be no slowing him down.

He settled in Sacramento in the ’60s and once served as the president of the Sacramento Valley Boxing Association. Always a sportsman, he boxed during and after his Naval service and played semipro football in the Bay Area.

He’s also a brown belt in jujitsu, which he continues to practice in Penn Valley.

Though he retired from the telephone company, where he met Marilyn, after 35 years of service, he just recently ended a six-year stint of volunteering with Nevada County Search and Rescue. He also volunteers with the sheriff’s office, serving subpoenas, controlling traffic and working at the jail.

“I don’t know, I might be ready for a break, ready to let some of my chores go after the rodeo,” he said, moments before noting that the rodeo association typically begins planning next year’s event right away.

“As soon as the last one’s over,” he said. “We sit down and critique it.

“And then we start all over again.”


To contact Sports Editor Brian Hamilton, e-mail or call 477-4240.

50th Annual Penn Valley Rodeo

Gates open: 5:30 p.m. Friday; Noon Saturday; 9 a.m. Sunday

Admission: $12 adults, $5 children, 5-and-under free

(Complete schedule at

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