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SHERIDAN — Comprised of Si02 (silicon dioxide), CaC03 (calcium carbonate), and various other minerals, hydrocarbons, gases and water, dirt may seem elemental. But when it comes to making dirt an ideal foundation for one of Sheridan’s most popular events, there’s nothing elemental about it.
Lane Stolz, maintenance supervisor at Sheridan County Fairgrounds, and his crew of three men have been working for weeks to make the dirt on the arena and the track the best dirt they can for this year’s Sheridan-Wyo-Rodeo.
For the last week and a half, they have dropped thousands of gallons of water on the arena per day and worked the dirt with various tractors and implements. For a week before that, they worked the dirt every other day. And now that rodeo week is here, the crew will work around the clock to maintain the dirt for each day’s slack events and each night’s rodeo.
“All these Wyo-Rodeo guys are saying how happy they are with everything,” Stolz said. “The dirt is the biggest thing. If it’s not in good shape, they’re not happy.”
It’s a dirty job, but someone has to do it, and they have to do it right. For a rodeo, the dirt needs to be 6 to 7 inches deep, Stolz said. It needs to be soft and airy, moist but not muddy and definitely not dry.
If it’s too shallow, horses will slide around and struggle to stop, posing danger for horses and riders alike.
It it’s too deep, ropers run the risk of breaking the legs of calves if they get stuck in the dirt when the rope is pulled tight.
“Dirt is so temperamental,” crew member Dakota Smith said.
During Rodeo Week, the maintenance team begins work at 4 a.m. They use a water truck to dump four or five loads of water on the arena. Each load is approximately 1,500 gallons for a total of 6,000 to 7,500 gallons dropped before slack starts at 9 a.m. It takes about 10 minutes to fill the truck and 10 minutes to dump it, Smith said.
Once the water has been dropped, crews use the cultipacker — a piece of agricultural equipment with multiple saw-toothed roller wheels that is pulled behind a tractor — to stir up the dirt, bringing moisture to the surface, crushing dirt clods and compressing stones, Stolz said.
After the cultipacker, out comes the arena-vator. It looks similar to the cultipacker, but is smaller and serves a slightly different purpose, Stolz said. It uses hooks to give the dirt a final fluff-up before the cowboys, cowgirls, clowns and livestock sink their boots and hooves into it.
The crew works the dirt following slack, adding more water if needed and making sure it is just right for the evening rodeo. The arena must be ready by 6:30 p.m. sharp. Per Professional Rodeo Cowboy Association rules, the dirt is not worked during the rodeo unless there is a downpour of rain and judges deem it necessary, Stolz said.
And then, after bucking broncs, snorting bulls and competitors fallen and victorious have beaten the arena to a pulp, the crew does it all again.
While bedazzled spectators file out of the grandstands and carnival riders whoop and scream into the night, four men crawl into their water trucks and tractors. They drop seven or eight loads of water — 10,500 to 12,000 gallons — and mold the dirt into an ideal foundation for the Sheridan-Wyo-Rodeo. They wrap up about 1 a.m. and have three hours until their next work day begins.
“Mountain Dew is a staple. And coffee, and energy drinks,” Smith said. “We try to sleep as little as possible.”