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Irons in the fire: Dale and Goliath

Paul Marchant for Progressive Cattle Published on 24 May 2022

It was a typical night for a high school rodeo in Idaho ranch country. Cool but not too cold. Breezy but not windy. Far from pleasant but not miserable. The rain had stopped earlier in the afternoon, and the wind had carried on enough to mostly dry out the biggest puddles in front of the bucking chutes.

Fellow committee member Cordell and I, with our collars turned up and our hands stuffed deep in our coat pockets, settled into a spot in the venerable 85-year-old grandstands among the handful of dutiful parents and grandparents there to support their progeny in pursuit of their rodeo dreams.

As the rodeo dragged on into the night, we cussed and discussed the weather and the outlook for the coming grass year. Sometime after about the 23rd breakaway roper, our mundane conversation gained a little more spice with the addition of Dale’s presence. He was there to support his nephew, who’d already been bucked off in the saddle bronc event and was coming up later in team roping. Dale can always spin a yarn, so we were more than glad to have him there.

Dale is an unassuming character – bespectacled and probably about 5-feet-6-inches and 160 pounds, including his winter coat and spurs. If you were to meet him on the street in town, you’d probably assume him to be a copy machine repairman, in which case you’d be correct. His dad was a horseman – and as he was growing up, Dale always wanted to be a rancher, enamored by the romance the lifestyle projected. But, by his own admission, he says he appreciates the perks of his techy career when the wind is blowing in a horizontal March snowstorm during calving season.

Instead of cowboying for a vocation, Dale does it for a vacation on weekends and summer nights. He’s a longtime member of the local riding club in town and, due to his gentle nature, has an open-ended gig to work with his neighbor’s high-strung racehorse colts. He also shoes his relatives’ horses and keeps several hay burners around his place to enable his own team roping addiction. “I may be the world’s worst team roper,” he gushes, “but golly, I sure love doing it.”

Dale’s always quick to volunteer at community events, especially if there’s a cowboy element to the activity. Consequently, I, as a county fair board member, have taken full advantage of his enthusiastic work ethic and penchant for service. For several years now, Dale has been the ramrod behind the roping chutes at our annual PRCA rodeo. He and his crew of fellow volunteers spend several thankless hours a night behind the scenes at the rodeo during our fair. He loves doing it, and the opportunity to temporarily rub shoulders with world-class rodeo cowboys and NFR qualifiers seems to be more than enough salary for him.

One of my favorite Dale stories comes from a few years back at the Saturday night performance of the rodeo at the fair. We were lucky that year to have a pretty nice group of high-profile cowboys and barrel racers, including an inordinate number of NFR qualifiers, entered in our rodeo. Most of the contestants were courteous and respectful of the volunteers and their efforts, but one well-known roper had bought fully into the ethos of his celebrity ascension. After his run, which was well out of the money, he rode back behind the chutes and unceremoniously proceeded to profanely berate the chute crew and belittle our entire rodeo and community.

Dale stood as tall as his diminutive stature would allow and took the verbal whipping for several minutes. But he could only take so much. He stepped up and, glaring directly up into the eyes of the imposing cowboy diva, who was still astride his horse, pointed his finger straight at him and unleashed a calculated tirade of his own, sprinkled with just a touch of reserved vulgarity and righteous indignation.

Drawing on his inner “Opposite George Costanza,” Dale, with the strength of the surrounding hills and the force of the mighty Snake River in his normally reserved voice, uninvited the arrogant interloper from ever stepping foot in our county again. Though the reaction of those few who witnessed the David and Goliath moment was slightly more restrained, it was akin to a standing ovation in a crowded theater.

In that moment, Dale was the embodiment of every underdog who dreamed of standing up to the bully and forcing him to swallow his own front teeth, and although he had a little explaining to do the next morning to his pastor, who was seated just above the roping chutes and witnessed the whole glorious spectacle, Dale enthusiastically embraced his moment of glory.

Here’s the best part of the story, though. Dale has never necessarily been identified by that moment, nor did he ever want to be. That’s what makes Dale and his story so special. His tiny act of bravery, though not carried out on a battlefield or in the halls of government, shines a bright light on the fact that ordinary folks can do extraordinary things, that we all have greatness inside us. And, even though it may make a glorious story, the everyday goodness of everyday people like Dale are, in the end, just as epic as the made-for-movie moments.   end mark

Paul Marchant is a cowboy and part-time freelance writer based in southern Idaho. Follow him on Twitter, or email Paul Marchant.

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