For two years, 1915 and 1916, Philomath was the rodeo capitol of Oregon. Those who still remember the action in the wooden arena at the north end of 12th street will tell you that it was a bigger event than Pendleton, Oregon rodeo ever dreamed of having — in those days.
In 1915, pining for the grandeur of his adopted Montana plains, R.P. McClelland organized the first Round-Up. And it was a grand affair, complete with a large contingent of imported “wild” Indians and world-famous cowboys. (This was not a put-on. The purses put up for the event were rich by those day’s standards and “Buffalo” Vernon and “Yakima” Canutt and others were well-known through the west).
The rodeos were proceeded by a grand parade down Philomath’s Main Street and up 12th street to the rodeo grounds, where the fun was begun by most of the country’s best horsemen and the rodeo contestant riding pell-mell across the stadium in an event known as “the break”. Following were wild races, bucking horses, calf roping, Indian dancing and various wild parties around town for the next three days. More than 10,000 spectators jammed splintery bleacher seats in June, 1916 — when the rodeo peaked — to watch the likes of “Buffalo” Vernon and “Yakima” Canutt compete for top dollar prizes.
People flocked to the rodeo, especially in 1916, from all over the west. Most of the crowds came in from Corvallis by train, but those who had cars used them. A taxi ride from Corvallis cost .50 cents.
World War I interrupted later that year and there was never another one held. Philomath’s challenge to Pendleton for rodeo fame had blinked out at the peak of the Round-Up’s success. The scene is quieter now. Grass grows over the site of the Philomath railroad station, where hourly trains stopped on rodeo days to discharge noisy crowds from Corvallis and the rest of the valley.
The Frolic began 56 years ago (1953). One evening, during a special dinner, three couples decided Philomath needed something-like a grand parade. It was that year, 1953, that Clarence and Inez Marstall, Walter and Ida Pflughaupt, and Melvin and Esther Castle organized the first Philomath Western Frolic, then called the Philomath Buckaroo and Loggers’ Frolic. Jani Ryker was selected Queen and the parade was limited that first year.
Events were added and others were eliminated. Some of the events have been a trail ride, a logging show, a carnival, a truck rodeo, dances, a Lions Breakfast, an old-time community picnic, a Sunday Union Church service, and various displays and exhibits which took place during the Frolic.
In 1983, the Frolic Committee decided to make some changes again and bring back the idea of a rodeo. Twenty-one acres of land was leased from Skirvin Farms (owned by three brothers, Carl, Walt and Paul Skirvin), off South 13th Street utilizing the old airport runway. Plans were drawn and the community was invited to really get “involved” in the creation of the rodeo grounds. In six weeks the committee took a bare piece of land and with volunteer labor and donations built a rodeo arena. The work was accomplished after regular work hours and on weekends. The results more than speak for themselves. The community now has an arena that meets the standards, and is sanctioned by the Northwest Professional Rodeo Association. The contestants themselves gave it their hearty approval by the performances in 1983. They were unanimous in their statements that they were most impressed by the arena and that they were looking forward to being able to compete in the arena for many years.
If you would like to see a year-by-year summary of the building of the current arena please click here.