Of fireworks and bovine Tetris.

The last day of 2007 turned out to be a busy one for the Flounders.  First stop, nine in the morning, Down Town Fort Collins to help set up fireworks for the towns first night celebration.  It was 12 degrees outside with twenty mph winds, for the mathematically inclined that approximately equals the temperature where normal everyday objects turn into crystals, and fall on the ground and shatter.  Like last year the show was set up to fire off the roofs of two buildings located central to every bar in the down town area.  Luckily for us the show was well prepped before we even hoisted the fireworks to the roof, so we were done in about two hours. 

Off to the Ranch for a show prep of a completely different kind.

This is the first time I have ever helped wire and prep fireworks for a rodeo, and I wasn’t sure what to expect.  This wasn’t just any rodeo, it was a bull riding event.  Bulls scare the crap out of me, more than just about any other animal except bears.  This is not the first time I have been in the Budweiser event center.  I have been there to see Styx in concert and by eldest son’s high school graduation. I was not prepared to see the entire thing covered in dirt and a metal maze of pipes on the far end where the stage used to be.  It only took a few hours of climbing around on scaffolding and steep stairs to hook up all the pyrotechnic devices needed for the show. 

 bull view

Here is the view from 60′ above the arena.  Before the big show, there was a kind of junior rodeo where kids rode sheep and small bulls.  I find this ironic, as the same parents that would be prosecuted for spanking a child are encouraged to put their precious little flower on a hundred pound rampaging sheep.  These animals immediately become turbo charged as soon as the gate opens.  Man, those are some seriously tough kids, when I was that age I wouldn’t get near a dog that size, let alone get on its back. I only saw one kid step off a sheep, the rest were tossed to the ground violently.  I learned that this is called Mutton bustin. 


After we were done prepping the show, we ate and took a break.  The only thing to do was to loaf around and wait for show is to begin.  We had about two hours to kill so we watched the cowboys sort the bulls.  This was an amazing process, I watched, fascinated, for about an hour.  I had no idea why the cowboys were moving the bulls around the way there were, but I was amazed that the bulls were doing what the cowboys wanted them to do. 

 Bull maze

Here is what the maze looked like from on top of the scoreboard!

The bulls were moved out of a truck into what amounted to a maze of temporary fences not unlike the ones they use in Disney Land to move people in line for a ride.  But in this instance it was the ride is what is being moved.  There was a single line of fences about six feet wide that goes directly into the arena where two cowboys on horse back stand ready to deal with whatever comes their way.  One cowboy in a yellow baseball cap, holding a plastic stick is the only thing between a group of bulls and the arena.  He opens the fence door and the bulls head directly into the arena like they are shot out of cannon.  The cow boys some how turn the bulls around and make them run back into the hallway that they just left.  I guess the bulls were not watching because Mr yellow cap opened some doors and closed others while they were in the arena.  When the bulls run back into the hallway, Mr Yellow cap simply steps aside and gives them a whack and they run into the maze that he prepared for them.  Next thing you know three bulls are occupying a pen barely big enough for two, and Mr Yellow cap closes the door.  You can almost hear the bulls say “Doe!” like Homer Simpson.  All this happens in about twenty seconds, and then three or four more bulls are let loose.  After a while of watching this it becomes apparent that Mr Yellow cap is in fact sorting the bulls by some hidden scheme of bull priority. With in an hour about thirty bulls are all organized into little pipe cubicles.  My Yellow cap was playing life size Bovine Tetris.  These beasts are amazingly big, agile, and hostile, but somehow one guy in a Yellow cap with a stick intimidates the hell out of them.

It was getting near show time, and here were a few last minute things to do before the show was to start, one of which was to make the final terminations to the fireworks over the center of the arena. It was indeed a surreal experience; here I am at a bull riding championship, wiring explosives 60′ over live bulls.  The audio crew is doing final sound checks and they decide to play ‘Tom Sawyer’ by Rush.  Others below me are digging a trench in the dirt of the arena, for another effect that involves setting fire to the dirt using flammable liquids. 

And what you say about his company

Is what you say about society.

Catch the mist, catch the myth

Catch the mystery, catch the drift.

Here is the flaming arena effect

Later I was tasked to stand by the field when the fireworks went off with a fire extinguisher.  This was to put out any cowboys that may inadvertently catch fire. 

The show went picture perfect, but it was time for us to hustle back to Fort Collins, we only had two hours before the first show was scheduled. 

Once in Fort Collins we went back up to the roof to perform the final pre-show checks on the wiring.  The roof is quite different at night now it was cold, snowy, and dark.  We were also quite tired, after a full day of setting up two shows, carting stuff back and forth climbing stairs, and generally working hard since first thing in the morning we were tuckered out.  Ten thirty finally rolls around and its time for the first show.  It’s all simple and easy, as the boss pushes buttons and we stand around watching the show from twenty feet away.  Then we go back down stairs to sit inside a warm and cozy reception area, relax and wait for the midnight show.  It was then when the bagpipes showed up.  Apparently the best way to practice is by walking around in the hallways and play random notes.  There was no escape, so we just kind of dealt with the fact that we can be either quiet or warm, but not both at the same time.  Then they all converged into an office right next to where we were waiting and played amazing grace. They sounded great for about twenty seconds, and then it got irritating. Luckily it was time to go back to the roof and shoot off the last of the fireworks to announce the New Year.  Once the bagpipers finished playing the count down began.  Some people actually left the bars went out on to the street and watched the show.  They cheered, kissed and went back inside.  It was another hour before the roof was cleaned off, the toys were all put away, and the truck loaded.  I was chilled to the bone, tired, and felt an ache in every muscle.  Unfortunately I was also wired for sound.

I knew I wouldn’t be able to sleep with out getting warmed up, so when I got home, I had a hot bath, drank a cold whiskey, and read a good book.  By three am I was sound asleep and warm.  I am amazed that I don’t remember dreaming. 

I can’t think of a better way to start the New Year.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: