Dare to be a cowboy, or at least get to know one

Originally published by The Teton Valley News, Aug. 16, 2016

For Fred Crane, it all started with a dare.

Some thirty-five years ago, Crane was at a rodeo where the announcer didn’t show up. And anyone who’s ever been to a rodeo knows the announcer is an essential part of the show. Recognizing Crane’s knack for loquacity, someone pointed to him and said, “You’re full of s***, why don’t you do it?”

Crane’s been announcing rodeos ever since.

“I figured out they’d let me in free,” Crane said. “And then they gave me money!”

Crane is in demand at rodeos throughout the west, and is a fixture (and some would say the main draw) of the Teton Valley Rodeo, of which he’s also a half-owner.

Listening to Crane announce, you’d think he had just moseyed in off the range and was thinking out loud about what was transpiring in front of him. He shares humorous insights: “That horse is gonna buck clear ta’ Tetonia!” and pieces of wisdom: “Only two things in life as easy as it looks is spending other people’s money and falling off a horse.”

But rodeo announcing is harder than it looks.

“Everybody’s a critic,” Crane says. “When you turn on that microphone, you have to expose yourself.”

Drawling out “cowbonics” in an easy, country kind of way seems simple enough, but Crane points out, “You have to make everybody happy.”

There are the contestants, whose names you have to pronounce correctly, and who like to compete to certain songs, which can’t be too loud. There’s the audience, some of whom are listening intently for the score after each ride (or attempted ride), and some who just want to be entertained.

“Why am I up there telling them what just happened?” Crane says.

It’s his job, he explains with a grin, to fulfill “the three E’s”: “educate, entertain, and inform.”

“It’s a responsibility we have,” Crane says, “rewarding the sponsors and the people who came to see the rodeo.”

Crane’s rodeo, which he runs with Lane Hillman and Carol Petersen, is “a professional rodeo with amateur contestants.” It’s a chance to get kids started early, so they can graduate to tougher horses and bulls, where it’s “big risk and big reward.”

Crane says rodeos aren’t cruel, like some people think. The animals are fed well, taken good care of, and “only work eight seconds a week,” Crane says.

“They live the real deal life for a horse.”

Bulls also have a pretty sweet set up surviving at the rodeo, according to Crane. Bulls are typically killed by the time they’re three years old because “they partied too hard and had too many girlfriends.”

Crane says the Teton Valley Rodeo is all about the local support and appreciation. He’s sure to cheer on the losers, and give the stars a little more of a hard time.

“97 percent of the competition loses every time,” Crane says. “Those are the people I need to take care of.”

Crane says he also feels a special obligation to the people who are less fortunate, who maybe made sacrifices to make it to the rodeo: those who “might not have as many choices in what they can do with their day.”

Crane says of his announcing job, “If you’re scared to be yourself, you’re not going to be any good. It takes a certain attitude to go in there and do a good job.”

There’s no doubt Crane’s colorful life has made having that “certain attitude” easier.

A Virginia native, Crane “just kept moving west.” He ended up in Colorado and then Idaho, making Teton Valley, a place he says “is for everybody who doesn’t like the hometown God gave ‘em,” his home 15 years ago.

Crane’s house is a stone’s throw from downtown Victor, though it feels like it could be an outfit on 10,000 acres somewhere in the Wild West, with horse trailers, dually trucks, roping dummies, and a pack of cattle dogs setting the cowboy scene in the front yard.

“We stay pretty western,” says Crane, wearing a cowboy hat and Skoal-ringed Wranglers, with flip-flops on his feet. “We don’t look it all the time, but we don’t care.”

Crane came to Jackson Hole in 1984 when it was a different place. He says of the cowboys who ran the town back then: “You walked in backward so they thought you were leaving. You didn’t want to mess with them.”

Crane has had his fair share of wild antics, run-ins, and close-calls.

“Yeah, I’m an outlaw,” he says, always grinning.

He spent some time with Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show in Kuwait in the 80s, as part of “some cultural exchange deal.”

One story involves near devastation of Jackson’s Wort Hotel, which Crane says he remembers because, “I had to re-shape my hat!”

Crane claims he “failed at every event in rodeo.”

“There’s no place to hide,” at the rodeo, he says. On a bucking bull or a bronco, “It’s like being in a car wreck on ice with a semi coming at you.”

“I wasn’t any good,” he says, which a champion buckle on his belt and stitching on one of his saddles contradict. “I could always ride a horse pretty good,” he admits.

Life, it seems for Crane, is all about making and taking dares, especially those you give yourself.

“It starts with a dare,” he says. “You have to dare to be a cowboy. You won’t be accepted as one if you don’t dare to get on a horse.”

Crane says “Character’s the main thing you gotta have.” And if you’ve met Fred Crane or heard him announce, you know “the suntanned hero of the golden West” is nothing but character.

“He never shuts off,” Crane’s son Cache, a rodeo star in his own right, says of his father. “You don’t want to have to announce after him.”