Their horses come first, but running a close second is the love cowboys and cowgirls have for their pickup trucks. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the vast ranch lands of eastern Washington state and down around Pendleton, Oregon. Picking up a new Ford F-150 in Seattle, we headed to Spokane, the Tri-Cities area, and into the heart of cowboy country before wrapping it up with four full days of rodeos at the Pendleton Roundup. During the 1000-plus miles we put on the SuperCrew -- a 4WD model with the 5.0-liter V-8 and six-speed automatic -- we averaged an amazing 23 mpg (Ford rates the highway fuel economy at 19 mpg). To get this respectable figure, we drove at a steady state on the open highway at maximum allowable freeway speeds. With the truck's 36-gallon fuel tank, the driving range was more than 700 miles, which is a nice thing to have in the wide-open spaces like those we visited.

Our first stop in Spokane was the top floor of a downtown high-rise office building where we met Fred Brown, CEO and founder of Next IT, a software giant that creates virtual online personalities for concerns like Alaska Airlines, Continental Airlines, and the U.S. Army. But Next IT was not the reason we wanted to meet Brown: We wanted to talk to him about rodeos. When he's not developing software or flying around the world to meet corporate clients, he's a Professional Rodeo Cowboy Association steer roper. Originally from Peace River, Alberta, Canada, Fred attended engineering school at Texas A&M, where he earned his tuition and covered his expenses by steer roping in PRCA rodeos. He supplemented his winnings by doing what is called "match roping." He would challenge the world's best steer ropers to compete against him in winner-takes-all competitions with sizeable jackpots. Today Brown still competes in PRCA events like the Pendleton Roundup and the Calgary Stampede. He also breeds and trains quarter horses for ropers. He's not tied to any particular make of pickup truck, but he uses a cut-down Peterbilt to transport his horses around the West.

In the bucolic, meadow-covered foothills just north of Spokane is a place called Cowgirl Co-op, where two cowgirls (Shannon Morse and Jill Smith) have partnered to create an organization strictly for women. At the Co-op, there are two goals. The first is to help women become empowered. Women from all walks of life -- empty-nest moms, single women, Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans, anyone who feels disconnected and seeks empowerment -- can come to Cowgirl Co-op for weekend retreats to develop horsemanship and riding skills. By learning to control a 1200-pound animal in the company of like-minded women, visitors gain strength and self-confidence.

The second part of the Co-op's mission is to train the horses so they don't get spooked around vehicles. Without dismounting from her horse, Shannon opened the door of our F-150's cab and pressed the animal's massive chest against the inside of the truck and the steering wheel. The horse showed no fear. At Cowgirl Co-op, Shannon and Jill depend on their pickups to haul horses and feed, tow ranch equipment, and to meet and greet guests at the Spokane airport and bring them out to the ranch for their retreats.

In Kennewick, Washington, we met up with bullfighter Rowdy Barry. Bullfighters are the cowboys who distract the bull when the bull rider alights or gets bucked off (it's usually the second scenario). In the arena and on foot, the bullfighter's task is to get the bull to "want to kill him" and not the bull rider. Rowdy -- his mom named him after the Clint Eastwood character in the 1950s TV series "Rawhide" -- has lived up to his mother's expectations and her fascination with the Old West. In addition to flying to PRCA rodeos all around the country to bullfight, Rowdy owns a ranch in Kennewick where he raises roping and bull-dogging steers for professional rodeo cowboys who need livestock for practice. He also provides steers for the large rodeo livestock companies that hold events like the Pendleton Roundup. But Rowdy's life doesn't stop there. He's also a bronze sculptor specializing in Western art, and he paints and designs labels for wineries in the Columbia River basin. He drives a Ford F-550 XLT Super Duty with a gooseneck hitch, which permits him to do it all, from towing livestock haulers to delivering bronze sculptures to visiting wineries.

Bucking broncs and bulls show the cowboys plenty of action at the Pendleton Roundup.

In nearby Pasco, we heard about a group of old-timers (guys ages 55 to 90 years old) who still cowboy, and we watched one of their team roping competitions. Team roping is an open-range cattle-management technique, a skill that's used on working ranches today. It requires two cowboys: The header lassos the steer by its horns while the heeler ropes its rear legs. Once the steer is roped, the horses back up and keep the lassos tight so the cowboys can dismount and administer whatever care the cow needs.

The Pendleton Roundup has run for the last 100 years. Each day, there's a full rodeo with bull riding; saddle and bareback bronco riding; Indian relay races; calf, team, and steer roping; barrel racing; and wild-cow milking contests. We enjoyed all four days of rodeos. The town of Pendleton triples in size during the week of the Roundup, with festivities held day and night at the rodeo stadium and on the streets of downtown Pendleton.

We talked with some of the cowboys who came to compete. Dave Motes was far from his home in Tolar, Texas, finishing at the Roundup after three continuous months of rodeo competitions across the West. He's competed in rodeos for the last 40 years and has well over a million dollars in winnings. He uses a Dodge HD 3500 to tow a gooseneck trailer transporting horses to the rodeos. He's been to the Wrangler National Rodeo Finals in Las Vegas 22 times, won four times, and won the World Title once. At an age when most of us are thinking about our 401Ks, at 59, Dave competes on the PRCA rodeo circuit as a header in the team roping event. That's genuine true grit.

SOURCE

Pendleton Roundup
800/457-6336
www.pendletonroundup.com