by Sue Cole, Mules and More Editor
photos by Porch Pig Productions
My yearly trip to Clinton, Arkansas, to watch the National Championship Chuck Wagon Races is one of the highlights of my year. This was the 31st year for the event held on the Bar of Ranch. I was once again joined by friends, JoAnn Edwards of Eureka, Mo., and Virginia Bertz of Higginsville, Mo.
Not long after I purchased Mules and More, 26 years ago, my late husband Gene and I had been hearing about the chuck wagon races held on Labor Day weekend. So, we drove down on a Friday just to check them out. At that time the races weren’t nearly as popular, or as well attended, as they are today, and we were able to find a motel room at the small motel in town. Today, if you are wanting to reserve a room, you must call several months in advance. I still remember meeting one of the contestants Jason Wilf of Pleasant Plains, Ark. at the motel; Jason has a way of never meeting a stranger, and he and his family are still competing with their mules.
Ordinarily Labor Day weekend in Arkansas finds the temperatures in the 80’s, 90’s and sometimes 100+ degrees, with high humidity. The first year we attended I don’t remember it being extremely hot, but I do remember it pouring down rain, and almost all of the spectators gathered beneath the roof of the pavilion Dan had constructed; this pavilion is still standing, but it certainly wouldn’t hold but a very small portion of those watching the races (held rain or shine) from the top of the bluff. This year the weather was absolutely perfect, for the first time I can remember.
The races are still as exciting as they were the first time I attended, only now there are just a lot more events and a larger number of contestants. Over the years I’ve watched Dan and Peggy Eoff add new events and entertainment, as well as adding the length of time people are permitted to camp at their ranch.
Everyone entering the gates to the ranch is required to purchase an arm band; these arm bands have the wording “Horses & wagons have the right of way.” Looking out from underneath our little canopy on the bluff, right below Dan and Peggy’s house, campers are assembled below as far as the eye can see. We have an excellent view of the race track/field, being able to see both the starting line and the finish line, as well as the entrance into the river for the Snowy River Race.
We arrive on Friday before noon in order to get settled in by the time the Oklahoma Land Rush race begins promptly at 1 p.m. From that time on there is something happening on the track for the next 2-1/2 to 3 hours.
Next up is the Saddle Mule Race, the most exciting event of the weekend for our family, as my grandson, Cole Basham of Bland has competed in this event for the past nine years, winning eight of those nine with his black molly mule BB. Eleven riders on mules were lined up this year, ready to mount when the gun was fired. Once again BB won the first heat with a time of 46.2 seconds, the fastest time of the weekend.
The 4-Up Mules consisted of 17 wagons and was won for the second year in a row by S&S Express, Benton, Ark., Jeremy Sumler and Lee MacDonald.
The Oklahoma Land Rush had 38 entries and was won by Triple B, of Marshall, Ark., young driver John Wayne Daniel. Outrider winner was Kateland Allen, Dike, Tex.
The Bronc Fanning event had 12 contestants and was won again for the second year in a row by Patrick Wood, with 162 points on two head.
The Buckboard event had 34 wagons competing and was won in a run-off by Bar H Ranch & Rodeo, Pleasant Plains, Ark., Brent Henderson, Madelin Martin, Cody Bean.
The Big Mules race had 38 teams and was won by Dumb & Dumber, Wilberton, Okla., Cary MacFadden, Perry Murdock, Ben Hartwick.
The Snowy River Race had 8 entries and was won by Mark Brown. It was a thrill to watch Linda Bailey of Wild Bunch Horse & Mule Co., Malvern, Ark. competing, as I have watched this young lady grow up on the back of a mule. She is quite the cowgirl.
The Classics Division had 40 wagons competing and was won by Cadillac Cowboys, Quitman, Ark. Austin Dotson, Kenneth Barger and Lane Holman.
Among veteran participants acknowledged were Jason Wilf, Pleasant Plains, Ark., and Jason Swart, both for 30 years, and Pee Wee Harris, Travis Mannon, Larry Stallings, Jim Waddle of North Little Rock, Ark., and Jill Rhoda for 25 years. Five, ten, 15 and 20 year veterans were also acknowledged.
Announcers Danny Newland, Dean Holman and Andy Stewart kept the crowd informed of times, winners and information about contestants.
Vendors row is a great place to shop for that new pair of boots you’ve been needing, tack for your mule, or just about anything ‘country and western’ you could wish for, I even found a new purse to purchase. Food vendors provide everything from a cold drink to a huge turkey leg or that delicious bloomin’ onion.
Dan and Peggy have thought of everything to keep you entertained while enjoying some great Arkansas hospitality in the small town of Clinton, and especially on the Bar of Ranch. I can’t begin to describe how exciting and entertaining the National Championship Chuckwagon Races are, so mark your calendars now for Labor Day weekend 2017…we hope to see you there.