By Ben • Ben Schorzman • 

St. Paul Rodeo sparks memory of a similar event

Festival, parade and rodeo season is here.

Just a couple of weeks ago Carlton held its “Fun Days,” and Sheridan its “Phil Sheridan Days.” Coming up still are Yamhill’s Derby Days, Turkey Rama and Willamina’s Fourth of July festivities. Of course the Yamhill County Fair is also just around the corner.

The one event that dwarfs these jovial celebrations is the annual St. Paul Rodeo, which actually started Monday with a barbecue but kicks off in earnest tonight with the Professional Bull Riders tour in town. You can read all about the list of events and how the sleepy farm town of St. Paul is transformed into a megalopolis of rodeo clowns and cowboys in the banner story written by the News-Register’s new sports reporter, Doug Binder.

With so many small-town events packing the weekends, it has me thinking about one of my favorite town celebrations to attend. It has everything a rural festival should have: an eccentric main event that draws a crowd, a parade, pancake feeds, barbecues, an attached rodeo, and a following that balloons the town’s numbers to more than 10 times its usual size.

Unfortunately, it’s not in Oregon. No, the Lind Combine Demolition Derby occurs in the middle of June every year in the farming town of Lind in Eastern Washington (population 564). I haven’t attended in a number of years,  but the derby was always a go-to event for my family, considering both my mother and father grew up in Lind and my grandparents still live there.

The combine derby is the first place I saw a rodeo, when I was 7 years old and in awe of the slightly off-kilter cowboys who decided they should try and ride an angry, 2,000-pound bull for eight seconds. Perhaps that’s why talk of the St. Paul Rodeo also brings memories to the surface of hot summer evenings spent sitting in the stands.

 Not nearly on the same level as the nationally relevant St. Paul Rodeo, Lind’s event is still a snapshot of Americana when the Derby and rodeo come to town. Just across the road from the rodeo grounds is a farmer’s supply shop, and where the edge of town meets the country, the wheat fields stretch out for miles.

In Lind, the rodeo is secondary to the farmer-on-farmer crime that is the combine derby. My grandfather, Ruben, is one of the founders of the event. When brainstorming in 1988 for the Lions Club how his hometown could attract people, he  had the wacky idea of charging admission to an event where farmers climbed on their old wheat-harvesting machinery to smash away at one another. That first year, nine old de-commissioned combines smashed and wheeled their way around the rodeo grounds.

Through the years, the event has grown into a success. Playboy interviewed my grandpa for an article one year (he kept the rest of the magazine too, he once told me with a wink), and ESPN has also been in town for a stopover. The event just celebrated its 26th anniversary, and in 2012 for the 25th edition, my grandparents were the grand marshals.

Yes, it might be a stretch to say the Lind Combine Demolition Derby and the top-notch St. Paul Rodeo are sister events, but it’s not a stretch to say the two achieve similar goals: They bring a community together and invite others to share a glimpse of a way of life, and that’s what makes all of these festivals priceless.

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