By Dave Gragg
Call it a Tucumcari tradition.
Six cowboys and cowgirls took a trail ride through the Trails West Lounge on Thursday night, kicking off this weekend’s Route 66 celebration with a throwback to an earlier era.
“It started years and years ago,” said Bob Bonds, one of the wranglers to grab a beer from horseback Thursday night. “Some cowboys decided to ride through the bar.”
Bonds said he had a 1946 picture of himself riding through Jerry’s bar on Main Street in Tucumcari. A rodeo in town that day began with a parade that some of the cowboys were in.
“I don’t know how it came about, but a bunch of us rode our horses through the bar,” he said.
Bonds said there was no history to the tradition, it’s just gone on for years.
“I know fellas, hell, been dead for 50 years, that used to ride in bars,” he said.
The picture of Bonds in 1946 eventually made its way into the hands of the president of New Mexico’s Route 66 Association, Johnnie V. Meier.
Meier set up Thursday night’s bar room ride as the official start to Tucumcari’s third annual Route 66 celebration that coincides with the International Route 66 Magazine’s second annual Roadie Gathering.
“It celebrates the individuality of people who live on Route 66,” he said of the trail ride.
Before the excursion began, Meier made a few disclaimers. He first said there was no guarantee that the horses wouldn’t get scared and start running amuck. Anyone with fears for his or her safety should leave.
No one did.
He said if there were any local, state or federal officials who had a concern about the ride, they should say something before it began.
Again, other than a few catcalls, the room fell silent.
Then, the horses and their riders came in through the back patio door of the building, made their way to the bar to pick up a beer (the riders, not the horses), circled around the pool table and back out the rear door.
Other than a black eye from a ceiling fan, there were no incidents — not even a wayward bomb from the back of a horse.
The trail ride was just the first of the activities in this weekend’s Roadie Gathering celebrating Route 66 and its aficionados.
The next night, performers from Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff hit the stage at the Tucumcari High School Auditorium.
“It’s not really a play,” said the writer and director, NAU theater professor Mac Groves. “It’s more of a revue. There’s no plot. The (International Route 66 Magazine) called it a hootenanny-style musical seminar, which I liked. I wish I had thought of that.”
The magazine’s publishers, Paul and Sandi Taylor, talked Groves into taking his show on the road, and Tucumcari is the first stop.
The hootenanny featured a cast of seven with a five-piece band. The cast arrived in town Tuesday to set up and rehearse.
What would normally be a 7 1/2 hour trip from Flagstaff turned into a 12-hour tour of Route 66 attractions that Groves wanted to see, said performer Becky Theonnes.
“I love Route 66,” Groves admitted, who said he really got into the spirit of the Mother Road when he moved to Flagstaff.
“It’s from when travel was an adventure.”