2017 Calgary Stampede Canvas Auction: Perspectives from a Newbie

Four months before guests gather to watch the chuckwagons race at the Calgary Stampede, potential sponsors for the chuckwagon canvases gather on Stampede Park to place their bids. The 2017 Canvas Auction, presented by GMC, took place Thursday, March 23 and set the stage for the always long-awaited and much-anticipated GMC Rangeland Derby. As a born and raised Calgarian, I’ve been to the races plenty of times, but seeing the other side of it at the Canvas Auction put a whole new perspective on the build-up to, and community pride of, the drivers and support for the sport.

Left to Right: Princess Brittany Lloyd, Queen Meagan Peters, Indian Princess Savannah Sparvier, Princess Lizzie Ryman

Left to Right: 2017 Stampede Princess Brittany Lloyd, Queen Meagan Peters, Indian Princess Savanna Sparvier, Princess Lizzie Ryman
















As folks gathered on Stampede Park, hearty handshakes were given between bidders and drivers, while naturally curious fans gathered in a separate viewing area to see how it would all play out. In the Boyce Theatre where the action was happening, drivers were led onto the stage one-by-one by the 2017 Stampede Royalty; Indian Princess, Savanna Sparvier, Stampede Queen, Meagan Peters, and Stampede Princess’ Brittany Lloyd and Lizzie Ryman. The drivers were put under the spotlight, with the highest bidder winning the right to sponsor the driver and have their brand advertised on the canvas of the particular sponsored wagon. Continue reading

Meet the rookies!

Introducing Dustin Gorst and Cody Ridsdale; both chuckwagon drivers will be competing for the very first time in Calgary this Stampede 2017.

Dustin Gorst

For years he has raced the Calgary Stampede track; holding steady until the klaxon blared, then leaping fearlessly onto the back of an already flying, high-powered thoroughbred.

Dustin 1

As an outrider, Dustin Gorst is a veteran competitor at the Stampede. He has also driven the track as the demonstration driver. But for the first time in 2017, Gorst will be among the 36 drivers guiding their thundering teams around the track in pursuit of the championship and a share of more than $1.15 million in prize money. It is a sport that’s in his blood. Continue reading

Stampede History Moment Presents: Merry Christmas from the Cosgraves

Dick Cosgrave looms large in Stampede history. Arena director, long-time chuckwagon record holder, stock breeder…Cosgrave did it all. Lesser known about Dick and his wife Olive is that they sent out great Christmas Cards! So this year, we celebrate the holiday season with some flashback greetings from the Cosgraves.

Cograve Christmas Card 1 Calgary Stampede

If only Santa had thoroughbreds instead of reindeer.


Cograve Christmas Card 2 Calgary Stampede

Writing the Stampede 2013 catchphrase, 60 years prior.


Cograve Christmas Card 3 Calgary Stampede

“As Christmas rolls around again, We’re just now dryin’ out, From that ’65 Stampede so wet; we coulda fished for trout.” Also applicable to 2016.


Cograve Christmas Card 4 Calgary Stampede

New event for next year’s Stampede: reindeer-wrestling.


Cograve Christmas Card 5 Calgary Stampede

“So with Christmas fast approachin’, It’s nice to make your home, Amongst obligin’ neighbors, who leave their livestock roam” …Remember western hospitality this holiday season.

Today, fourth-generation driver Colt Cosgrave and outrider Chad Cosgrave continue the tradition of competing at the Stampede started by their great-grandfather in 1926.

A Wet and Great Stampede!

Yes, it was the wettest ten days I can remember in my 30+ years of volunteering (and in fact I now hear it was the rainiest 10 days since 1927), but definitely a lot of bright spots and great memories from the 2016 Stampede:

1. Pre-Stampede, on Wednesday, July 6 and Thursday, July 7, I was very busy with large and in some cases record crowds at the CBC Breakfast, the Alberta Children’s Hospital Parade, Tourism Calgary First Flip, the Field Law and Miles Davison LLP parties and Parade committee kick off BBQ. No question from those events that the city was very much looking forward to celebrating Stampede this year.

David Gray, host of the Eyeopener on CBC Radio (L) interviewing Codey McCurrach, chuckwagon driver (R) at the CBC Breakfast

David Gray, host of the Eyeopener on CBC Radio (L) interviewing Codey McCurrach, chuckwagon driver, (R) at the CBC Breakfast

Pancakes being flipped at the First Flip breakfast hosted by Tourism Calgary

Pancakes being flipped at the First Flip breakfast hosted by Tourism Calgary

2. Parade Day is always special and I never take for granted the thrill of being on horseback riding along the downtown parade route in front of hundreds of thousands of cheering spectators. Parade Marshals PB&J (Paul Brandt and Jann Arden) were great ambassadors for Calgary and the walking entry of about 100 representatives from the various Fort McMurray agencies involved with the emergency first response, re-location and re-settlement of that city received a huge and well deserved show of appreciation.

parade 2016)

Waving hello atop of Pa – the horse I rode this year from the Stampede Ranch

3. The Stampede Rodeo was great all week (even during the downpour on Finals Sunday, which I would argue just made it that much more challenging and exciting). Barrel Racer Mary Burger became an instant Stampede hit during the first go around and then continued to win over hearts and fans by pulling in the big prize on Sunday. Getting to award announcer Ron MacLean his own bronze for his 25 years of involvement with the Stampede Rodeo was also a very special moment for me.

Ron and Bill

Ron with his bronze and me

4. More often than not, the GMC Rangeland Derby and Evening Show faced the wettest moments of each day. The track held up magnificently and kudos to all the drivers for night after night of exciting and safe racing. The TransAlta Grandstand Show was one of the best I can recall and was designed in such a manner that “the show could go on” each night notwithstanding the weather. Great job by Dave Pierce, the Grandstand committee and all others involved in producing and putting on this show.

Exciting finish to one of the chuckwagon races

Exciting finish to one of the chuckwagon races

The Young Canadians of the Calgary Stampede performing in the Grandstand Show incorporating water in the show

The Young Canadians of the Calgary Stampede performing in the 2016 Grandstand Show incorporating water in the show

5. The Stampede is a great place to see, meet and host people and that includes politicians from all levels of Government. His Worship Mayor Nenshi rode in the Parade and then to his credit attended every community event in the city, or so it seemed. Premier Notley also rode in the Parade and she and many of her cabinet and MLAs attended many Stampede events on Stampede Park. We even had Justin Trudeau and his daughter Ella-Grace on Stampede Park for a few hours on Friday, July 15 (though as you can see from the attached below, even our Prime Minister was not spared the rain). PM visit 6. Beautiful Enmax Park and the new home of Indian Village was a hit with our guests and one can only imagine how popular that area of Stampede Park will become in future years with better weather. Photo Credit: Bill Marsh / Calgary Stampede 7. The main Midway attractions (Dog Bowl, Peking Acrobats and Bell Adrenaline Ranch) all received deservedly rave reviews. The Agriculture programming was also outstanding and saw big crowds for Cowboy Up, Stock Dogs, Heavy Horse Pull, Steer Classic and all the exhibits in Agrium Western Event Centre, such as the Cattle Trail and many others.

The Canine Stars at the Dog Bowl

The Canine Stars performed incredible tricks at the Dog Bowl

Heavy Horse Show in the Scotiabank Saddledome

Big crowds came out to watch the Heavy Horse Show in the Scotiabank Saddledome

8. By far the most enjoyable moments for me throughout the ten days was hand out the President’s Certificate of Appreciation to surprised long term Stampede volunteers all over Stampede Park. Such a privilege to honour so many deserving people who have given so much to Stampede and to their respective committees. Many thanks to Jennifer Jenson and Shane Ellis for taking care of all the logistics and making this work with my crazy busy Stampede schedule.

One of the recipients of the awards - Jill Cross.

One of the recipients of the awards – Jill Cross.

Thanks to all of you for what you do for Stampede. Hope all the employees and volunteers of the Calgary Stampede have a great and relaxing (and warm and dry) rest of the summer. You all deserve that. Bill

In It to Win It – Here Come the Bensmiller Brothers

It could be considered a pretty high-stress situation. But Kurt Bensmiller is keeping his cool about this year’s Calgary Stampede.

“I’ll be going there to win, just like every year,” he says. “Whether the cards are in my favour? We’ll see in mid-July.”

What Bensmiller and many others will be waiting to see, is whether he can capture a third straight championship at the Calgary Stampede’s GMC Rangeland Derby. Only three men have ever managed that in the event’s long and storied history. Rolling in to the first races of the season, Bensmiller is not letting that get to him.

“If there’s any pressure, it will be what I put on myself,” he says, adding he’s feeling good about the strength and depth of his barn with 16 new horses added to his team of veterans this spring.  But in Calgary, 35 other chuckwagon drivers will be looking to turn up the heat, setting their sights on knocking Kurt Bensmiller from that top spot. Among them – his younger brother, Chance.

(L) Chance Bensmiller (R) Kurt Bensmiller

(L) Chance Bensmiller (R) Kurt Bensmiller

“If anyone dethrones him, I hope it’s me.”  For years Chance Bensmiller has worked with Kurt, training  in the spring at his elder brother’s home.  But after getting the call from the Calgary Stampede this past fall, Chance decided to change things up.

“I decided to take a different approach on my own, to focus solely on my own horses. I had some things I had to work out.” Despite making the decision to train separately this season, Bensmiller still maintains a strong connection to all of his family in the sport, including father and former Stampede Champion Buddy Bensmiller.

Chance Bensmiller at the 2013 Calgary Stampede

Chance Bensmiller at the 2013 Calgary Stampede

“A lot of guys don’t have a big family like mine. Having my dad, Kurt and brother-in-law Vern (Nolin), that family support is huge.”  While Kurt is the recipient of much of their father’s assistance, Chance claims another family advantage – brother David, a talented and much sought after outrider.

“David’s my first call,” says the younger Bensmiller. “Words can’t even describe how much pressure is lifted off my shoulders knowing he is holding my lead team when the horn blows.”  For Kurt, family is a big part of what brought him into the sport, and what keeps him racing.

“That’s one of the biggest reasons I got into this,” he says, adding “Not many people can love their job as much as I do and be lucky enough to share it with family like I do.”

(L) Chance Bensmiller (R) Kurt Bensmiller

(L) Chance Bensmiller (R) Kurt Bensmiller

As for sharing the wagon box this summer at the Stampede, like they have in the past, both Bensmiller brothers are hoping it just won’t be possible.

“Hopefully we’re both in late heats, and too close” Kurt says with a smile in his voice. “We’ll be too close to help each other. That’s a good thing.”

Fun Fact:

The Bensmillers are among four sets of brothers set to compete at the Calgary Stampede in 2016. There are also four father-son combinations.

Chuckwagon Drivers get ready to race under a new Calgary Stampede invitational format in 2016

The Calgary Stampede is introducing a new qualification process that is changing the way we select chuckwagon drivers for the GMC Rangeland Derby. Under the new format, drivers are now being invited to compete in 2016 based upon rankings of safety, competitiveness and professionalism.

1 Continue reading

2014: The Year of The Chucks

Persons with “horse personalities”, according to Wikipedia, are said to have some of the following characteristics: very active, possessed of mental thought processes characterized by lightning-quick speed to the point of faultiness, self-confident, ambitious, fond of exercise, and temperamentally impatient to the point of explosiveness. Does this description of persons born under the Horse sign mean that horses possess these characteristics?

Layne Bremner & Russian-6

I asked Layne Bremner about one of his Chuckwagon Horses, Russian. ‘They all have their own personalities and Russian is a quiet, laid back horse, though every spring he realises racing season is coming. It’s time for work and he starts getting excited about it’. Hmmm… the fond of exercise characteristic certainly applies to Russian during race season. So how does a horse (very active and fond of exercise) spend his training days as he works on that mental thought processes characterized by lightning-quick speed attribute? Layne says, ‘we start him off at a mile, at a light jog and slowly build up. By the time racing season starts, he can be around 4-5 miles of jogging. They get their racing wind – like a sprinter. When they race, it’s a short race: 5/8’s of a mile, so they can then do the short blasts quick like a sprinter.’ Lightning-quick speed – check!

Layne Bremner & Russian-4

What about Race Day? Is Russian self-confident, ambitious? Layne says, ‘they have a sense that its race day from all the people and activity’. But what about the: impatient to the point of explosiveness characteristic? Layne laughs, ‘Some [horses] do something called stall walking where they lean back and forth in the corral -just like a person pacing. Russian doesn’t do this – he is calm and relaxed’.

Researching The Year of The Horse, there is a wealth of information describing it to be a time of victories, fortune, high energy and decisive action. This appears like it could also be referred to as The Year of The Chucks.

2014: Year of The [Horse] Chucks

2014 marks the Chinese Year of the Horse. Your Chinese sign is a Horse if you were born in 1942, 1954, 1966, 1978 or 1990 and astrologers see wood as providing fuel for the energetic horse sign. Well hey – doesn’t that sound like it should also be The Year of The Chucks?

1926 Chuckwagon Finals

Chuckwagon races are based on the cowboy tradition of breaking camp after a cattle round-up and then a race for home. The first races mimicked range practice: each entry had a food wagon with chuck box, water barrel and camp stove, all drawn by a 4-horse team and guided by 4 outriders. The race began with the outriders loading the stove and gear into the wagon; the rigs then raced around barrels in the centre of the arena, ran a half-mile circuit of the racetrack, and finished by unhitching the team and firing up the cook stove. The first outfit to make smoke won.

1997 Buddy Bensmiller chuckwagon driver at the Calgary Stampede

Of course the Chuckwagon races of today have been slightly modified. Races conclude, not by firing up the stove, but by crossing the finish line in front of the grandstand and a cheering audience. Perhaps this year, they should fire up that old wood-burning stove again.

Bringing the Farm to the City: Don’t miss Aggie Days

Aggie Days is back for another exciting year! The free, family event takes place this weekend, April 12 and 13, at BMO Centre in Stampede Park. Presented by the Calgary Stampede Agriculture Education committee and sponsored by Encana, Aggie Days is a great opportunity to learn about the wonderful world of agriculture. From farm machinery to farm animals – Aggie Days has it all. Come on down and take in all the interactive displays. And of course there will be several new exhibitors and new displays this year.


The Reynolds-Alberta Museum will have a 1912 antique tractor on display for you to sit on and snap a photo with. Their exhibit will also feature other educational demonstrations of machines such as a grain grinder and butter churn.

From antique tractors to antique fire trucks. The Fire Fighters Museum of Calgary is bringing its antique horse drawn fire truck to Aggie Days.

And of course there will be plenty of cute animals. You can find different breeds of sheep at Aggie Days including hair sheep, which have a mixture of hair and wool that sheds naturally in the spring, therefore they do not require shearing.

Besides having dairy goats and their adorable kids on display, there will also be Boer meat goats at this year’s Aggie Days. The Boer goat is a breed raised for meat production.

Let’s not forget about the horses. Check out the new life-sized horse that you can rope from, as well as hoof health demonstrations, horsetails to braid and much more. And the blacksmiths are back to teach you how to trim horse hooves and explain why this is done.

Ever wanted to climb onto the seat of a chuckwagon? The Calgary Stampede Chuckwagon committee is bringing a chuckwagon to Aggie Days and giving you the opportunity to climb aboard.

This year there will also be a brand new Incredi-Pull, brought to us by the Calgary Stampede Draft Horse Town committee. Test your “horsepower” as you harness up and prepare to see if you can pull more weight than everyone else.

And don’t miss meeting Lady, the star of the 2014 Calgary Stampede poster. Lady will be walking the red carpet and giving out hoof print autographs.

2014 CS poster

New to Aggie Days this year is the Calgary Horticultural Society. At this display you can find a wagon filled with veggies and herbs that you can grow at home no matter how small your space is.

Slow Food Calgary will also be joining Aggie Days this year and will feature interactive seed starting activities at their exhibit.

The Calgary Corn Maze and Fun Farm is back and they’ve kicked it up a notch this year. The maze will feature new scarecrow décor and quizzes to test your knowledge about Alberta crops such as corn.

Finally, the Alberta Canola Producers Commission will be launching a new children’s book called Cut! To the Chase. The book promotes healthy foods including oils low in saturated fat such as canola oil. And Jump with Jill, the World’s Only Rock ‘N Roll Nutrition Show, will be at Aggie Days to teach you about healthy eating.

Cut! To The Chase

For more information on all that Aggie Days has to offer visit http://ag.calgarystampede.com/events/aggie-days/

Don’t forget to Like Aggie Days on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/CSAggieDays, Follow Aggie Days on Twitter @CSAggieDays and Follow Aggie Days on Pinterest at http://www.pinterest.com/csaggiedays/

Stampede Spirit Surrounds Us

So…the Canvas Auction was last night.  Am I still a little bit jazzed this morning?  Maybe…  Ok, definitely.  That is one of those events that signals that Stampede is approaching rather quickly, and we are all super excited about it.  We’ve been up to our eyeballs with Stampede this week, from the AGM to the Canvas Auction, and it reminds me of what a phenomenal organization the Calgary Stampede is.  At the AGM on Monday, we met past royalty, long time volunteers, and people who were attending their first Stampede AGM.  It was amazing to see the array of people who all gathered under the Stampede umbrella, and it really made me proud to be a part of this organization.  They are people who dedicate countless hours all for the love of the Calgary Stampede.  It’s humbling, and reminds me that the worth of something cannot always be quantified.

Volunteering to teach us where to stand for the Canvas Auction

Volunteering to teach us where to stand for the Canvas Auction.



Continuing with the theme of volunteerism, we went to the second annual Marit Cup, a fundraiser put on by Calgary Christian School that was held in memory of Marit McKenzie, an amazing girl who passed away last year.  She was a student at CCS, and was actively involved with the David Foster Foundation during her final year of high school.  She continued to give after her passing, by donating all of her organs and tissues.  Seeing the legacy that was left by Marit made me realize that age has absolutely nothing to do with helping others.  At 18, she was able to do more than most people do in a lifetime.  She gave all that she could, and then some.

With Bruce McKenzie and a teacher from CCA at the Marit Cup

With Bruce McKenzie and a teacher from CCA at the Marit Cup


What I saw Wednesday should not only make her family proud, but her community as well.  Although she was not an official volunteer of the Stampede, what she left behind was the true embodiment of the Stampede spirit; generosity, hard work, and helping your neighbour. It just goes to show that the spirit of Calgary Stampede can be found everywhere, in everyone.  This city, and the people in it continue to amaze me with their depth of character and commitment to community.

The Princess Shootout at the Marit Cup

The Princess Shootout at the Marit Cup
















I am proud to be a Calgarian, and a part of the Calgary Stampede.


The Quest Continues – Job Interview: Chuckwagon Driver

If you’re a regular reader of my blog posts (and let’s face it, these bad boys have developed an extremely loyal following), you’ll know that I’m on a quest to co-drive a Chuckwagon. With my co-driving options shrinking as each day of Stampede passes, I’ve realized that I may need to consider other options.

Replacement Driving!

I don’t know if “replacement driver” is the technical term, but just like any other sport, injuries can happen, and when they do, these cowboys need a reliable driver to take their place and drive their outfit.


Unfortunately, Jamie Laboucane badly injured his right leg in June 30 and was not going to be able to drive his own outfit.  I headed down to the barns for a “job interview” with Jamie and maybe learn a little more about the other candidates.  This wasn’t going to be an easy interview, Jamie has high expectations – he’s been driving for 7 years and this is his 3rd Stampede.  He finished 2012 tied for 5th with his Dad (Brian) in the Canadian Professional Chuckwagon Association standings.  Dad Brian has been driving for 44 years and this is his 34th Stampede.  It looked like I would have to bring my “A” game to the interview.

Jamie leg

Jamie’s first concern was that I would have a hard time getting into the Chuckwagon while wearing a skirt.  As you can see below, he clearly underestimated my desire to drive for him. What you won’t see is an awkward time-lapse of my “unusual” entry into the Chuckwagon, what you will see is my amazing “driving face”.

Driving face

I thought my chances were looking up until I learned a little bit about the lead candidate – Doug Irvine. Doug Irvine started outriding for Jamie’s Dad, Brian in 1993 when he was 15 years old.  He then started driving in 1998 at the age of 20 – using an outfit he had bought off Brian.  Doug also had one of his best year’s in 2012 and has a similar driving style to the Laboucane’s.  He’s also driving his own outfit in this year’s Stampede.

Doug on Doug's wagon

Wait a minute?  He’s ALREADY driving in Stampede?  What happens if Jamie’s wagon has to drive against Doug’s wagon in a heat?  Then he’d definitely need a Replacement Driver right? This is definitely a scenario that could happen so I’m not making any evening plans as I could get the call at any moment and I want to make sure that I have time to change out of my skirt because getting into a Chuckwagon while wearing a skirt was not a high point of the interview.

Doug on Jamie's wagon


You can follow Jamie on Twitter @chuckwagonjamie but he does not need any additional replacement drivers (that’s my gig!). And, this will go down as Jamie’s best Stampede yet with his wagon (driven by Doug) qualifying for semi-final Saturday. Good luck, Jamie!


My Quest to Drive a Chuckwagon

Recently I had the opportunity to chat with chuckwagon driver Rae Croteau Jr.  He’s a pretty nice guy and was kind enough to explain a bunch of things that I didn’t know about running a chuckwagon outfit. Managing 25 high performance equine athletes is not easy, so often drivers will have a co-driver that helps them out in all aspects from looking after the horses, to hopping on the wagon after the race and taking the reins.  This made me wonder - Could I be a co-driver?  I chatted with Rae about some of the responsibilities.

Rae & Heather

A co-driver is important in helping out with everything from feeding the horses, looking after their exercise and care, ensuring they get enough rest, and even hopping on the wagon to take the reins and provide relief to the main driver.

Hockey Player in the Winter, Cowboy by Summer?

At first I thought that hockey proficiency would translate into chuckwagon proficiency. That’s because you might have noticed Curtis Glencross (from our very own Calgary Flames) as Rae’s co-driver on several occasions.  I used to be a pretty good skater, but Rae told me that Curtis’ ag background was was a bit more important than the skating factor. Glencross doesn’t co-drive with Croteau as much any more as Glencross now has a young family that he co-drives with his wife!


Instead Croteau has two guys from Mexico working with him this year. I didn’t realize that I would be competing against an international group of individuals…my chances seem a little smaller.  I also found out that looking after the horses means an EARLY start to the day (another strike against me).  These horses really are athletes and their pre-race preparation is similar to other athletes that run.

Picking the Team

Finally some good news – I like to run, maybe my knowledge of running would be helpful in getting the horses ready to race!  But with 25 horses and only 6 racing – how do you pick who runs in a particular race?  Rae explained that it’s much like a soccer team, with rookies and veterans.  Some horses are front wheelers, some are good turners.  A lot depends on which barrel he’s starting from.


My dreams of co-driving were dealt another blow when I found out that after the race, the co-driver basically throws himself into the wagon to take over the reins.  Timing it so that you actually end up in the wagon as it’s passing by… this takes some practice and is not for the faint of heart.  I’ve heard that some drivers have their wives as their co-driver…maybe I’ll be able to poke around the barns some more and talk to these tough cowgirls.

You can learn more about co-driving, chuckwagons, and other stuff by following Rae on Twitter @raecroteau

All you need is a hat!

Thus far, my quest to become a Chuckwagon co-driver has been unsuccessful. Undeterred, I decided to figure out what characteristics I might need to possess in order to make my dream a reality.  I caught up with Troy Dorchester to see if he had any advice for me.  And, I was hoping that an affinity for corndogs was on the list, but unfortunately that never managed to come up.  However, I think I’ve figured out a few things I need to work on.

Get Your Grit On

We know it takes grit; we’ve all seen those cowboys standing up on their wagons, yelling their guts out at their horses to run faster, mud flying into their open mouths, wind caught in their jackets, tugging hard on the reins as they round the final corner. I think this part looks fun, but I don’t think I’m truly tough enough.  Maybe I can do better on the next trait.

27-06-2013 6-52-22 PM

The Right Roots!

Those of us that grew up in Calgary remember hearing the same names year over year as chuckwagon drivers had sons that grew up and started running their own outfit.  I remember the first time I watched a race where Tom Glass was racing against his son Jason.  Whereas, my Dad (an engineer) didn’t exactly encourage high-risk activities.  Strike two of two!

Luck of the Draw

There’s definitely a bit of luck involved – whether it’s drawing a good barrel position, good track conditions, maybe even a lucky charm or superstition.  Whatever it is, having everything fall into place for that half mile requires a little bit of luck.

Of course if you have all three you’re probably in really good shape.  Or, your name is Troy Dorchester.  Chuckwagon racing is in Dorchester’s blood – his father and grandfather were chuckwagon drivers, not to mention his uncles (Dallas, Dennis and Dave Lewis) and his cousin Rick Fraser (a fellow Calgary Stampede competitor).  Troy won the 2012 Rangeland Derby, a feat that his father, grandfather, and Uncle Dallas have also done.  For a few years the Rangeland Derby was pretty much dominated by the Dorchester clan.  Tommy Dorchester (Troy’s grandfather) won in both 1970 and 1971.  Garry Dorchester (Troy’s father) won in 1968, a year that was also memorable as Tommy competed against three of his sons, with Garry winning it all.  Finally, Troy’s uncle, Dallas Dorchester, took the top prize in 1991.

Do Ya Feel Lucky? Well, Do Ya?

If you’re superstitious, you might think it had something to do with Troy’s cowboy hat. Let me tell you, this is a champions hat – before Troy wore it, it belonged to his grandfather.  With the hat approaching 50 years of age (understandably, Troy’s not exactly sure when it was purchased), it’s now reserved for races only. The hat goes on about 5 minutes before the race, travels around the track at breakneck speed and then goes back on the hook approximately 5 minutes after the race is over.

Tom Dorchester wearing “the” Hat

Tommy Dorchester

The hat has been a fixture on Troy’s head since the early 90′s when he asked his grandmother if he could have it after his grandfather passed away.  He did confess that he “didn’t use it for three shows” but decided to go back to it because it just didn’t feel right.  Troy’s uncle, Dallas Dorchester, even wore it when he won the Rangeland Derby in 1991, eight days after Tom Dorchester passed away from cancer.

Troy Dorchester wearing “the” Hat


The hat is largely the same as it was when his grandfather wore it.  There’s still mud on it from last year’s Calgary Stampede of course, and there’s a cowboy angel on the back that Troy’s cousin gave him.  Troy is back this year to defend his title as Rangeland Derby champion.  He’ll be wearing his hat of course, but only for the few minutes that he’s out on the track racing.

At this point I think my co-driving days are already behind me.  I definitely do not possess a lucky hat, or any sort of lucky charm.   I should probably maintain my amateur status so that I can continue to race for the fun of it!


Rebuilding After the Flood

If you’re a regular reader of the blog, you’ve been waiting on pins and needles since my last post when I talked about some of the development projects on Park, specifically, building a new Chuckwagon track. 

I have been inundated with fan mail (not really) and people wanting to know what’s involved in rebuilding the track?  Since I aim to please, I decided to track down some answers and find out just how in the heck they managed to get this done AGAIN after the recent floods. 


Rebuilding a track is not just throwing down a bunch of dirt and then celebrating with some beef on a bun; it’s a pretty complex process that started off by rebuilding the hard pan base at the north end.  Once the hard pan of the track was built, crews hauled in new materials, including pea gravel and clay to repack the underlying substrate.  Then, new surface materials are brought in and worked with harrows and packers – this is critical as it creates a racing surface that is safe for drivers, outriders, and the equine athletes.  You’ll also notice that the track has new rails, new fencing, and new lighting.  What you won’t see are things like new retaining walls that define the track surface.


Post Flood War Zone

After the flood, the process was similar, but first, crews had to haul away the surface materials so that they could reclaim and remediate damaged sections of the track.  The flooding created huge issues in turns 1 and 2 and large sections of the track were completely destroyed. 

Fixing the track in time for Stampede requires nothing short of Herculean effort.  Crews have been working around the clock to do 3 months of work in 10 days This involves a fleet of 200 dump trucks, vac trucks, and heavy equipment in a constant state of movement over the bridge.  Bobcats, graders, and payloaders were also moving around in the barns.  In the words of one Stampede volunteer “it’s a war zone”.

When that horn sounds to start the first race it will be a very proud moment for crews, Stampede officials and volunteers, and the city as a whole.  So tip your cowboy hat to the following folks who really deserve special mention for their extraordinary effort:  Keith Marrington, Stampede management and leadership teams, and all the employees and contractors that worked so hard.

One for the Record Books

Stampede is just a few short days away and we’ve never been more motivated to get everything ready for the Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth.  Southern Albertans have been hit extremely hard by recent flooding and the Park resembled a muddy swimming pool less than 2 weeks ago.

swimming pool

Crews have been working around the clock to get the Park ready for visitors and that includes rebuilding the track from the ground up.  What you might not know, is that they’ve already gone through this process once this year.


Once the 100th edition of the Calgary Stampede was in the books last year, most people took a break, did a detox, maybe even put those cowboy boots away.  I personally suffered through intense mini-donut withdrawal and was not especially pleasant to be around.


Not the Stampede.  As soon as the 2012 Stampede was complete, work began on a bunch of development projects including a new agriculture building that will sit between the track and the pavilion.  In order to make room for this new building, the Chuckwagon track had to be rebuilt.

5 Furlongs of Hell!

Doesn’t quite have the same ring as “Half Mile of Hell” does it?  This year, the Chuckwagon track is actually shorter than last year.  160 feet shorter to be exact.  Last year the track was five furlongs.  (A furlong is an 1/8th of a mile or 660 feet for those like me, that had no idea.) This means that on the first heat of the first night, a new track record will be set.  Actually, we should see a new record set several times during the 10-day event as drivers will likely beat the record set on the first run, the first night, and throughout many of the nights.


With a new record up for grabs, it’s anyone’s guess as to who will set it and what it will be.  The old track record is 1:13.26 and is jointly held by Neal Walgenbach (2000) and Jerry Bremner (2001).  Since the previous length of the track was 3,330 feet and it’s been shortened by almost one-quarter of a furlong, I’m throwing out a highly scientific guess and saying that the new track record will be less than 1:13.26.  I timed myself running 160 feet to see if I could figure out the new record and it took me almost 3 minutes.  I tried again after I carb loaded on mini donuts and it took me 8 minutes.  Moral of the story – don’t carb load on mini donuts and these equine athletes are really really fast!

In my next post, I’ll talk about what’s involved in rebuilding the track, and the superhero crews that managed to do it not once, but twice.