75 Years in the Making

Redding Rodeo Set to Celebrate 75th Anniversary…

Red Rock was the right bull at the right time and Lane Frost was the perfect cowboy for the situation at hand when the two squared off on that Saturday night in May during the 1988 Redding Rodeo.
Red Rock, who had never been successfully ridden in 309 attempts, had been named the 1987 Professional Rodeo Cowboy Association Bucking Bull of the Year. Frost, a lanky Oklahoman with a winning smile, had been named the 1987 PRCA World Champion bull rider.

Frost had had two run-ins with Red Rock at previous PRCA rodeos in 1985 and 1986, and then two more in 1988 when Red Bluff-based stock contractor John Growney took the bull out of retirement and set up the “Challenge of the Champions” between Frost and his longtime nemesis.

The Redding Rodeo has been entertaining fans since 1949. Photo by Jon Lewis

Red Rock won the first two challenges, in Red Bluff and Clovis, and was proudly sporting a 311-0 record when Frost settled onto the 1,700-pound bull’s back and shocked the rodeo world by staying aboard for the required eight seconds. That bit of PRCA lore is just one piece of Redding Rodeo history that will be celebrated when cowboys and cowgirls gather May 17-20 to commemorate the rodeo’s 75th anniversary.

From its humble beginnings as a one-day affair on the Shasta County Sheriff’s Posse grounds, the Redding Rodeo has grown to a four-day event that adds an estimated $8 million to $10 million to the local economy. Last year’s total payout was $219,000, a purse that keeps Redding ranked among the top 40 rodeos in the country. The Redding Rodeo was inducted into the ProRodeo Hall of Fame in 2016.

Lane Frost riding Red Rock. Photos by Sue Rosoff.

The rodeo’s future is even brighter, says Bennett Gooch, president of the Redding Rodeo Association. The Friends of the Redding Rodeo was recently incorporated as a nonprofit organization that will allow it to compete for grants to fund facility improvements, educational programs and efforts to preserve rodeo history.

The rodeo’s historic Posse Grounds arena has been in the news of late, thanks to an unsolicited offer from Populous Inc., K2 Development, the McConnell Foundation and Turtle Bay Exploration Park to purchase 45 acres of city-owned riverfront land — including the Civic Auditorium and the rodeo arena — and transform it into an ambitious mix of event centers and mixed-use residential, restaurants and public space opportunities. The Redding City Council rejected that proposal and opted instead to update a specific plan to guide development on 500 acres of riverfront land stretching from the rodeo arena to the Cypress Avenue bridge.

John Growney and Red Rock. Photo by Sue Rosoff.

During that process, many in the community expressed their support of the rodeo and its longtime home by the river. “We are grateful for the incredible backing from the community that we have received and the support for continuing to hold the Redding Rodeo on the same grounds it has been for 75 years,” Gooch says.

“The timing is perfect,” says Ted Bambino, a member of the Redding Rodeo Association’s board of directors. “We were surprised to see the support from the community for the rodeo. It’s a big deal for us.”

Bambino says the rodeo is capitalizing on the momentum and has added Cindy Schonholtz, the rodeo’s first full-time staffer, with the goal of securing grant funding to improve the facility and polish up the rodeo’s status as a leaseholder with the city of Redding. “There are a lot of positive things going on,” he says.

John Growney and Lane Frost. Photo by Sue Rosoff

One of those positive things will be the return of John Payne, the rodeo performer who goes by the name One Arm Bandit. Payne, who lost the use of his right arm in an industrial accident, first appeared at the Redding Rodeo in 1988 and remembers well the excitement in the arena when Frost rode Red Rock.

Payne also remembers the late John Balma, the former Shasta County Sheriff and Redding police chief who headed up the Redding Rodeo. Payne says he met Balma at the National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas and Balma hired him to perform in Redding.

“He said $1,200 for two performances, and $1,200 for me was like $12,000. I was flat broke, I owed $100,000 and was living with my grandmother with my wife and two kids. I hadn’t heard of Redding. I didn’t care where in Northern California it was, I was going to go get it,” Payne says from his home in Oklahoma.

John Payne, the One Arm Bandit, will perform at the rodeo. Photo courtesy of One Arm Bandit & Company

That Redding Rodeo exposure launched a career that has seen the One Arm Bandit named the PRCA Dress Act of the Year 15 times. “Everybody was wanting to hire me after John Balma and Redding brought me to the West Coast,” Payne says.

“It’s quite an honor to be thought of enough to be selected for 75th anniversary,” Payne adds. And as Gooch and Schonholtz are fond of saying, work is underway to clear the way for another “75 years of buckin’ by the river.”•

About Jon Lewis

Jon Lewis is a Redding-based writer with 37 years of experience. A longtime San Francisco Giants fan, his interests include golf, fishing and sharing stories about people, places and things. He can be reached at [email protected]

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