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2015-07-30

ProRodeo Hall of Fame honors Wegner

By Judith Pannebaker BCC Editor

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As a neophyte bull rider in 1954, Bandera's Bob Wegner entered the "Granddaddy of 'Em All" - the famed Cheyenne Frontier Days. Wegner hit paydirt by winning the first go round, which paid $795 in cash - not a bad pay-off for a $50 entry fee. This August, Wegner will inducted into the ProRodeo Hall of Fame at the Museum of the American Cowboy in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

In 1966, bull rider Bob Wegner received the prestigious "Top Hand" award for winning the most money at that year's National Finals Rodeo. Despite competing in only one event, Wegner bested the other contestant who pooled points from multiple events. As "Top Hand," Wegner was presented a bronze sculpture of bull rider Todd Whatley by Grant Speed. Although scheduled to be presented for 10 consecutive years, the "Top Hand" award was never given again, making Wegner's statue - labeled 1 of 10 - the only one in existence.

In 1964, John Justin Jr., president and general manager of HJ Justin & Sons, Inc., congratulated bull rider Bob Wegner for winning bull riding's gold buckle that year at the National Finals Rodeo.



Probably the highest honor a rodeo cowboy can attain is to be inducted into the ProRodeo Hall of Fame, located in the Museum of the American Cowboy in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
In August, Bandera's gold buckle winner, the late Bob Wegner will take his rightful place beside rodeo legends Freckles Brown, Lane Frost, Don Gay, "Tuff" Hedeman, Larry Mahan, Ty Murray, George Paul, Jim Sharp, Jim Shoulders, Harry Thompkins and other bull riding greats. The induction weekend takes place August 6, 7 and 8.
Not surprisingly, bull riding consumed Wegner's life, making his championship inevitable. He held the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association Gold Card #3587.
The banty-sized Wegner first struck rough stock gold in 1964, never relinquishing his number one standing at that year's National Finals Rodeo. From 1956 through 1966, he unfailingly finished in the PRCA world standings as one of the world's top five bull riders.
During that decade, he also became the sport's biggest money winner by topping the rankest bulls and going spur to spur and chaps to chaps against the aforementioned Brown, Shoulders and Mahan. Not one for false modesty, Wegner relished describing himself as "the winning-est cowboy ever!"
The climb to the top wasn't easy, however. In 1951, he entered a wild cow riding event at a local jackpot rodeo in his native Oklahoma. As Wegner recalled, his father didn't cotton to his son's competitive bent, equating rodeo cowboys with "bums."
Later, his father gave the teenager a "20 dollar war bond and a 20 dollar bill," and this advice, "Son, you need to get a job." Wegner was on his own.
From this hardscrabble beginning, the feisty little bull rider began proving - eight seconds at a time - that he had the right stuff, eventually joining the Rodeo Cowboys Association, a precursor to 1975's PRCA.
In 1954, Wegner entered the "Granddaddy of 'Em All," the famed Cheyenne Frontier Days. Wegner hit paydirt by winning the first go round, which paid $795 in cash - not a bad pay-off in those days.
The win in Cheyenne began a streak that eventually netted him $2,500 in five weeks. "In the summer of '54, I was one of the hottest bull riders going down the road," Wegner said proudly in an earlier interview.
Later that year, he sawed a cast off a broken ankle and hopped a plane to compete in Boston, Massachusetts, where he topped seven bulls. After winning $1,400 and "a nice belt buckle," Wegner had become a major player in the RCA circuit.
He finished fourth in the world in 1956 and came in second in 1958 to the legendary Jim Shoulders. The first National Finals Rodeo took place in 1959 and featured nail biting bull riding go-rounds that once again pitted Wegner against Shoulders. The competition has been described as "one of the closest bull riding races in history." In the end, however, Wegner reluctantly settled for second place when Shoulders again bested him by placing first in the average and taking the world championship by just $1,307.
Wegner's luck changed in 1964 when he came into the National Finals in the top slot and held onto that ranking until he grabbed the gold. After finishing second in the world standings three times, Wegner finally had his hard-fought - and well-deserved - gold buckle.
In 1966, he made his last appearance at the NFR, coming up with a respectable second place finish. Reminiscing later about his glory days, Wegner said, "I was the luckiest sucker in the world!"
During his storied bull riding career, he became the only bull rider to win back-to-back rodeos in Cheyenne, Wyoming; Pendleton, Oregon and at the Cow Palace in San Francisco, California.
While competing at the Pendleton Round-Up, Wegner was badly trampled by a bull in a chute prior to one go-round. However, he gamely mounted a second bull and earned the highest score of the day - and the bull riding championship.
After retiring from the arena dirt, Wegner relocated to Bandera, the "Cowboy Capital of the World," where he perfected designs for spring loaded bull riding spurs and a shotgun bucking chute easily converted in just minutes from rough stock to timed events.
However, Wegner's favorite pastime became the informal bull riding clinics he conducted for aspiring riders. Prior to his death in March 2014, he said, "I just love living in Bandera. I've spent $500,000 in the last 20 years - just living and not accomplishing anything. Now, I want to help young bull riders."
A tip of the cowboy hat will go out to the late Bob Wegner on Saturday, August 8, in Colorado during his formal induction into the ProRodeo Hall of Fame. Thanks for the arena thrills and the great stories, Bob!

(Sources: "Bob Wegner-World Champion Bull Rider" by Pauline Thompson, Quarter Horse Journal, May 1965; and "Legendary Bull Riders Part II" by Danny Weir, 2008)