Jim Barrett knows rodeo. He has been working the Payson rodeos since 1959 when he first came to the community from Phoenix. He was rodeo boss from 1972 to 1984 and now is the arena boss for the community's rodeos.
"I messed around with it in college and had friends who rode bulls and saddle broncs," Barrett said.
It has been fun, he said. One of the most comical events was back when the rodeo was at Rumsey Park.
"One of the bareback horses kicked out a board in the bucking chutes. We had replacement boards already cut and crew ready to fix the chutes. We fixed it and I went over to Roy Honeycutt, the stock contractor, and asked if we had time to paint it," Barrett said, chuckling over the memory. "Honeycutt said no other rodeo committee he worked with would have messed with fixing that chute in time for the next event."
Then there are the times livestock have actually escaped the arena.
Twice, while the rodeo was at Rumsey, a bull escaped and "dinked a car. And both times I knew the people who owned the car," Barrett said.
Once, all the livestock escaped -- the calves, the steers, the bulls, the horses.
"It was 1973 and Walt Alsbaugh, Roy Honeycutt's father-in-law, was the stock contractor," Barrett said. "Sunday, after the rodeo, he put all the stock into the arena to feed. Sometime during the night, somebody opened the arena and the next day we had stock strung from Rumsey almost to the golf course."
So, Barrett and a crew of local men, including Jake Randall and Dwight Haught, mounted up and rounded up the stock so Alsbaugh could get them to the next rodeo.
Roy Honeycutt had a bull named "Roy" that was notorious for jumping the fence, Barrett said. It had to be kept in a separate pen. The bull jumped the fence at Rumsey and wandered off into some brush.
"I found him," Barrett said, but the bull did not appear too cooperative, so he just left it and it came back down to the arena in the evening.
From Payson, Honeycutt was taking his stock to a rodeo in California, stopping at Waddell to rest the animals at a feedlot. "He said he wasn't going to take the bull, but he jumped the fence and got in line to get on the truck, so they took him anyway."
When Barrett first started working Payson rodeos, the event was held on the property where Bashas' is now. But most of the years he has been involved, the arena was at Rumsey.
"There was a lot of nostalgia there," he said. "I don't think they needed to burn the old grandstands. The dirt was great in the arena."
The Rumsey arena was high maintenance though. Barrett said it would take two weeks to get the place in shape for the rodeo. Things had to be rebuilt and painted.
"But it was a good time. We'd have potlucks, ice-cold beer and sodas."
The arena was leased by the rodeo committee with the understanding that when the town incorporated the property would go to the town for a park.
Barrett said the Payson Event Center arena is state-of-the art. It was designed by a local engineer, Tom Loomis. The work to prepare it for a rodeo takes only a few days instead of a couple of weeks.
Barrett had a chance to make some recommendations for the plans and also help get it built.
"It took about two years. There were a lot of trees to be cut."
Over the years Barrett has seen some of rodeo's top competitors in the Payson rodeo, world champions such as Ty Murray, Roy Cooper, Clay O'Brien Cooper, Cody Hancock, Cody Custer and Tom Reeves.
When he began working the Payson rodeos local cowboys could compete. "They just had to show proof of residency and insurance. But the PRCA phased that out, everyone who competes today has to have a PRCA card, even in barrel racing."
Barrel racing is going strong, he said. In the spring rodeo there were about 50 competitors and they have around 150 at the rodeo in Laughlin, Nev. which he helps work the arena for Honeycutt.
While the competitors in rodeo have become professionals, the prize money has also increased. Barrett attributes that to the professional sponsors who support the sport.
"We can award more than $3,000 added money for each event now. In the past, if we could scrape together $1,000 we were doing good."
Local sponsors have made a difference too, by buying banners and signs for the arena, they help keep the arena in shape and provide additional funds for the various expenses involved in putting on the rodeo.
"The town crew does a great job of getting the arena in shape for the rodeo," Barrett said. But he has his own crew, people he knows and has worked with for years, working the arena. Over the course of a rodeo, he has about 35 people working with him, including his son and daughter.
"My son started taking the heel ropes off when he was only 4 and he is still helping.
"My daughter puts out the barrels. She started working the rodeos, doing different things, when she was 6."
Ernie Schmidt has some young people helping out now, Barrett said. "They're a good group. New blood. We need it. We joke you have to be on Medicare to work the arena, we call ourselves the Medicare Misfits."
Barrett is part of the Payson Pro Rodeo Committee, which is chaired by Bill Armstrong. The committee works year-round to promote the rodeo and raise funds for a scholarship program that helps student in the Payson Unified School District.
The committee's "Rodeo Jail" will be on the streets this week to raise funds for the program.
While Barrett does not need any more volunteers to help in the arena, he said the chamber can always use people for the rodeo. To volunteer, call the Rim Country Regional Chamber of Commerce at (928) 474-4515.