The Philomath Frolic was started in 1953 with three couples dream of putting together a fun community event. In 1983, three brothers added their dream to the event and put the “Rodeo” in Philomath Frolic & Rodeo. Today, the Philomath community comes together every year on the 2nd full weekend of July for four full days of celebration that has become famous throughout the northwest.
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.
Year-by-year summary of the building of the current grounds:
1983 – A railroad trestle near Hoskins, Oregon, was torn down to supply poles to start construction of the arena. Log trucks, lowboys and cats were used in the demolition. Holding pens for the livestock were built using poles and used logging steel cable to divide and secure the pens. The arena measured 150 x 240. The first rodeo was held the second weekend in June.
1984 – A concrete slab was poured for the dance floor, 50 x 100 feet, fenced beer garden area and stage. One set of bleachers was constructed. Because of weather the committee decided to change the date of the Philomath Frolic & Rodeo to the second full weekend in July.
1985 – A second set of bleachers were constructed.
1986 – The rodeo arena was rebuilt and extended an extra 60 feet, to enable the Frolic to eventually feature Antique Tractor – Pulls. The bigger arena is also a big plus for the rodeo contestants. (150 x 300 feet).
1987 – Underground electricity, domestic water system, and an automatic sprinkler system were all installed. The underground power made it much nicer for the arts and crafts booths.
1988 – Another set of bleachers were built and will now seat a maximum of 2500 people, and provide handicap access. A caretaker was placed on the property. A single wide manufactured home was purchased by the caretaker and resides there at no cost except for own electricity.
1989 – Enlarged fenced beer garden area, now known as the Yew Wood Corral.
1990 – Added fill dirt to grounds.
1991 – Installed sixty 1000 watt, each, flood lights on five poles around the arena. Built a log building for storage and ticket office, plus fenced the beer garden area with half-round log walls.
1992 – Enlarged the concrete slab for dancing to make it the largest outdoor dance floor in the Northwest. 100 x 100 feet. Planted trees on the west side of property line and landscaping of the 11th street entrance was finalized.
1993 – Maintenance was the objective of this year. The “Desert Rose Band” (semiprofessional band) played this year at our 40th year as Philomath Frolic and the 10th year as a sanctioned rodeo.
1994 – Blacktop was laid around ticket office and Yew Wood Corral. Philomath Frolic & Rodeo was voted the “Best NPRA (Northwest Professional Rodeo Association) rodeo in the Northwest”. This award is voted on by all participating cowboys and director’s for the NPRA. There are 45 rodeos in this association. Membership is around 1600 persons.
1995 – A memorial was constructed to commemorate our departed friends of the rodeo and community. Two 12′ x 16′ highway signs on east and west ends of Philomath were erected. Philomath Frolic & Rodeo was voted the “Best NPRA Rodeo in the Northwest” for the second year in a row.
1996 – Installed steel constructed frame over roof of the bleachers. Built an announcer stand and rodeo office. Hosted Northwest Professional Rodeo Association year end finals at Philomath.
1997 – Our first event called Bull-O-Rama was held. This event is bull riding only. Hosted Northwest Professional Rodeo Association year end finals at Philomath.
1998 – The stock pens were repaired and additional paving was laid. For the third year Philomath Frolic & Rodeo was voted the “Best NPRA Rodeo in the Northwest”. Bull-O-Rama was held again in August.
1999 – A permanent roof was built over the handicap area and additional electrical and water was added to the Arts & Craft area. Additional blacktop was laid past the ticket office and in caretaker’s driveway and 200 feet down the runway. Our last Bull-O-Rama was held. Our first Tuff Truck Competition was held in August. An 85 foot long, 4 inches thick, 36 inches wide piece of wood was donated by Hull-Oakes Lumber Company of Monroe, Oregon, for a picnic table at the rodeo grounds. A cement slab was poured and a roof was partially constructed.