Old trailer conjures up memories of roping, riding, competing
October 11, 2017
Compared to today's rodeo rigs, a trailer belonging to six time world champion steer roper Fred Lowry was a pretty basic piece of equipment. Without a gooseneck, living quarters or a generator on top, the cowboys of old really "roughed it" on their rodeo runs.
Although rusted and worn out now, at one time Lowry's trailer was an object of pride, and something Oklahoma residents can still enjoy.
Years ago, Lowry's nephew passed along the trailer to Prairie Song a pioneer "town" near Dewey, Oklahoma that replicates life in the 1880s.
A close look at the falling apart trailer, reveals that the front panel is still clearly stenciled with Fred Lowry World Champion Steer Roper 1916, 1921, 1924, 1925, 1927, 1929.
Steer roping, also know as steer tripping, is still very much a sport within pro rodeo, though it isn't one of the seven at National Finals Rodeo. Instead, National Finals Steer Roping is hosted each fall for the top 15 steer ropers in the world. Participants rope a steer, then throw slack over the hip while tied on, knocking over the steer. They then dismount and tie three legs, similar to calf tying.
Lowry competed in and retired from the event before the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association, Rodeo Cowboys Association, or even the Cowboy Turtles Association existed. His six world champion titles were won at Cheyenne Frontier Days, and his 1921 win was accompanied by a calf-roping victory as well, which was done only one other time within the same year, in 1931 by Herb Meyers. Many of Lowry's world titles were won aboard his famous Quarter Horse Buster.
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Lowry was the best of his time and one of his final competitions in 1948 was in Dewey, where his trailer rests now, given to Prairie Song by Lowry's nephew. He won that competition and another in Vinita, Oklahoma, where he first competed in and won steer roping in 1909, ending his career on a high.
He went on to judge performance classes at Quarter Horse shows, flag many Oklahoma rodeos, and was named "the first rodeoer to conduct schools for rodeo cowboys," as published in True West in August 1992.
The most notable aspect of his rodeo schools, however, was that they were all for free. "He put on roping schools for people and didn't charge for them. People around here are pretty proud of him for that," Pratka said.
It was noted in Miami Daily News-Record, Miami, Oklahoma, in December 1956, that Fred's wife Kate Chouteau Lowry welcomed the young cowboys, but said, "We work first, and then we play."
One of his more famous students was his wife Kate's nephew Shoat Webster, who claimed four steer roping world titles himself between 1949 and 1955. According to Tulsa World, Webster worked for Lowry in exchange for the training. Another is Everett Shaw, who came to Fred's school when he was 15. Shaw captured five world steer roping championships between 1945 and 1962, and in 15 of his 21 seasons placed in the top five.
"Webster and Shaw were excellent examples of Lowry's teaching ability," True West states. "They were fast, of course, but they were also careful. They seldom missed the horns; their trips were honest; and they tied the legs of steers with speed and skill."
Lowry was also known for his impressive stallion, Roan Hancock, who sired Popcorn, a gelding that helped Webster earn success in many events.
"Astride his roan Hancock gelding Popcorn, Webster set records that stand today, roping, tripping and tying down steers in mere seconds," said Tulsa World.
The Lowrys passed their ranch on to Webster, as Fred and Kate didn't have children of their own. He died in 1956 and she in 1980.
James Pratka took photos and a video of the old trailer and shared them on his Facebook page recently, garnering attention from curious folk. He was in town for Western Heritage Weekend, a wild west festival.
Pratka, of Abbott, Texas, who starts colts at a place neighboring the Lowry Mangels Ranch, in Lenapah, Oklahoma, respects Lowry's horse sense. "He was a pretty good horseman," Pratka said.
"It was just kind of there, it was just standing there," Pratka said of the trailer. "It was noticeable there against the road. I rodeoed for a bit, roped calves and stuff like that, so it's cool to find out the history that he lived on this place."
Pictures of the trailer could be seen on social media over the last few weeks, and some commented that the trailer should be restored or placed in a rodeo hall of fame or museum while others said it needn't move.
"I believe it's in a cool place. People who see it should recognize it since he's from this area; it's memorialized there. It's right there where you see it, and there were a lot of tourists there," Pratka said. "A lot of people want to put it in a museum or restore it. I just don't think it needs to be restored. If he was alive, he could tell us a story behind those dents. Just like my body, there's a lot of dents and dings."
Rodeo announcer Randy Taylor is of the mind that the trailer should be restored.
"I hate to see it sit there and deteriorate. If I was [Lowry] I would want someone to take it and have it restored," Taylor said. "It would be neat if Rodeo Hall of Fame in Oklahoma City could get ahold of it and restore it."
Cathey Webster Forrest, Fred and Kate's great niece, believes the trailer to be right where it supposed to be.
"I think my dad gave that to the people who own Prairie Song. It's a really neat old town in Dewey, Oklahoma, and I think they're pretty content with where it's at."