SHERIDAN — While most people take time off work and enjoy themselves during the Sheridan WYO Rodeo, the week entails around-the-clock labor for others. Members of the Sheridan County Fairgrounds maintenance crew work 15 to 20 hours every day of the week, starting most days before the sun rises and ending well after it sets.
The four-man crew handles the unseen aspects of the event, including dirt care and grounds clean up. Summer is easily the busiest season of their job, and Sheridan WYO Rodeo provides the most labor-intensive week. Maintenance members prepare for about a week before the event and kick it into high gear the Saturday before rodeo begins.
The days are well-structured, so the employees know what to do; it just takes a lot of time.
“Besides just random things, it’s basically all to a T,” maintenance crew member Evan Spahn said. “Exactly when they say it’s going to happen, that’s when we do it.”
Spahn and his coworkers arrive around 5 or 6 a.m. every day and prepare for morning slack events by using a water truck — which carries about 1,500 gallons — to soften the dirt in the arena. When slack concludes in the early afternoon, the crew gets the arena ready for the evening rodeo events. That entails more watering, plowing, raking, digging and otherwise moving the dirt around as needed.
On an extremely hot day like Tuesday, when temperatures rose above 100 degrees, the crew had to stay late into the night when the air was cooler and the dirt could absorb moisture.
“Half the time you put eight truckloads (of water) down and can’t even tell, because it’s so hot,” Spahn said.
The dirt can be different depths for different events, so competitors sometimes ask them to add or take away dirt in certain areas.
“Barrel racers like it deep,” maintenance crew member Dakota Smith said. “Rough stock like bronc and bull (riders) like it not so deep.”
The crew members constantly keep an eye on the weather as well, which greatly impacts their jobs. The worst case scenario is consistent rain, which renders the arena nearly useless.
“If it’s too wet, then they can’t have much of a rodeo,” Smith said. “If it’s dry, we can always add more water. If it’s wet, we can’t take it away.”
Other responsibilities include cleaning the parking lots and trailer lots. They also take care of nearly 300 animals stalls. Shoveling and raking stalls is universally agreed to be the worst part of the job, especially for those crew members with allergies. Smith said five to six tons of stall waste — straw, hay and manure — are disposed during rodeo week.
When not watering, cleaning, plowing or shoveling, the members are on standby, helping with any odd jobs and working on something that needs repair. They get lunch and dinner provided most days and can take a short afternoon break if necessary.
Dakota Smith said a slightly enjoyable aspect occurs during the rodeo competition because the work is less stressful for those few hours and they can socialize with spectators a bit.
“After the night calms down, you kind of get your second wind of energy,” Smith said.
The crew members can’t go out with friends, though, because they have to take care of the arena after rodeo competition and then get up early and do it again the following day.
“That’s the downside of working at the fairgrounds,” Smith said. “The whole town is doing all kinds of stuff every day, and we’re up here working all day … Everyone else, it’s like a vacation for them. We’re like, ‘Yeah I’d love to go out and have a beer with you, but I have work at 4 tomorrow morning.’”
Despite the long hours this week, the crew members don’t get much of a break after rodeo because the fairgrounds are jam-packed with summer events. There are events pretty much every weekend through the end of September. There is a monster truck event next week, followed by the Sheridan County Fair, which is nearly as busy as the rodeo.
The days off are staggered, so two of the members take a day or two off at a time.
“Even if we don’t have an event here, there’s always something going on where someone’s needed,” Smith said.
Long summer work hours come with the job, and for the maintenance crew members, the hours stretch even longer during Sheridan WYO Rodeo week.