Like father, like sons | TSLN.com

Like father, like sons

Ruth Nicolaus

The Heils: Mike, father Randy, and R.C. (from left to right), volunteer their time each year at the Buffalo Bill Rodeo in North Platte. They work behind the scenes: and Randy running gates, and R.C. as the out-gate man, opening and closing the gate behind bucking horses and bulls. Courtesy photo

Randy Heil hasn't missed a year of the Buffalo Bill Rodeo since he was thirteen years old in 1965.

The North Platte man began attending the rodeo as a kid, and then, in the early 1980s, began volunteering at it.

And his sons R.C. and Mike have followed in his footsteps.

It all began when Randy heard the committee could use a little help setting up the turn back fence, the panels set up in the arena during the bull riding to keep the bulls bucking close to the chutes. They are no longer used, but when they were, it took a lot of man power to set them up in a hurry so fans didn't have to wait for the bull riding.

Randy volunteered, and soon R.C., who was a youngster, was helping, too. Terry Miller, R.C.'s mother, had been a trick rider so R.C. was familiar with rodeo, having traveled in the summers with her to rodeos where she trick rode.

R.C. was thirteen when he began helping his dad at the rodeo. And after the fence wasn't used anymore, the Heils stayed on as volunteers, each helping in their own ways: Randy as the gate man for the entrance behind the chutes, R.C. as the out gate operator, where the bucking bulls and horses go after their ride, and Mike as the gate man for where the specialty act comes in and out of the arena. Mike also unties calves during the tie-down roping.

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For R.C., as the out gate man, he's in what can be a dangerous spot. Horses and bulls are bucking and running as they head to the out gate, and often a pickup man is behind them, sometimes with a rope around them. R.C. could get hurt if he's not careful; he never has been, but "you've got to be paying attention," he said. And there's not a better place to watch the rodeo, he said. "The only people who have a better seat than me are (announcers) Randy Corley and Hadley Barrett." He sees what the fans don't see; what goes on once the horses and bulls are run through the stripping chutes and the bareback riggings, bronc saddles and bull ropes are removed. "There are a lot of things the fans don't ever see. There can be some wrecks back there (behind the chutes)."

R.C. is quick to acknowledge his fellow volunteers who the fans never see, those behind the scenes running the stripping chute. "I have good help behind me. There are three other guys back there, and that helps. It's a big team effort."

Randy, who is 62, figures he has never missed a year of the Buffalo Bill Rodeo since 1965. He may not have made it to all four performances, but he's made it to the rodeo at least once each of those years.

Even last year, as he was recovering from knee surgery, he didn't miss the rodeo. "I went out there on crutches," he said, "and stood up there against the fence, at the north end of the bucking chutes, where I'm usually at."

The Buffalo Bill Rodeo is produced by volunteers, so the Heils know their time and efforts are appreciated, and they love being involved. "We know everybody, and every year we come and help and do whatever we can," Randy said. Mike agrees. "You get to see friends you don't get to see that often."

The rodeo takes place June 17-20 at the Wild West Arena in North Platte. It begins at 8 p.m. each night, with tickets ranging in price from $7 to $20. Tickets can be purchased online at NebraskalandDays.com, at the NebraskalandDays office at its new location at 2801 Charlie Evans Drive (at the Wild West Arena), and at the gate. For more information, visit the website or call 308-532-7939.

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