Photo by Allen Russell
“What an exciting time,” says Pat Linger, reflecting upon the early years of the Montana Pro Rodeo Circuit Finals.
In 1977, he was one of four founding members to pitch the idea of a circuit finals to Bill Chiesa, general manager of Montana ExpoPark in Great Falls. With his approval, the real work began.
“Everybody pulled together to make it happen,” remembers Linger. “It seemed like everything was donated because we weren’t sure if the spectators were going to come or not!”
Contestants, stock contractors, and contract acts all pulled double duty as volunteers. If there was a job needed done, someone jumped in to do it.
“It was a real concentrated effort,” says Linger.
The weather was no help, as he recalls. That first Circuit Finals in 1978 saw temperatures far below zero. Commercial- grade hoses had to be purchased to water the animals because the garden hoses in the 4-H barn kept freezing up, even as the water was running. The timed event folks had no heat in their warm-up building. On the last day, the sky was dumping snow on the bareback riding horses on their way from the barn to the arena.
“Someone found a board, and we all took turns using it to scrape snow off horses in the bucking chutes, so we could set our riggings on them,” laughs Linger.
Though there were many challenges to overcome, it was a quality rodeo and a whole lot of fun. The Montana Pro Rodeo Circuit Finals showed great potential.
“There was a positive attitude about it,” remembers Linger. “We knew we had something good.”
Step by step, the Circuit Finals committee worked to ensure that each year’s event was better than the last. Even in recent years, the event has continued to grow, thanks in part to the incredible camaraderie of the “Montana Pro Rodeo Family.”
“So many great people have worked the Circuit Finals,” says Linger, looking back on the past 43 years and ahead to the 44th annual event. “I’m so excited to see how far it’s come.”