HALKIRK — En route to the 16th annual Halkirk Elks Bull-a-rama on Saturday, veteran announcer Les McIntyre realized he had reached another anniversary.
“In fact, 28 years ago tonight, in Hand Hills, Alta., I broke my back driving a chuckwagon, and that’s when I quit driving (chucks),” McIntyre said. “I was just thinking of that on the way up tonight. When I came through Drumheller, I was thinking, ‘Holy cow, 28 years ago, it goes by pretty quick.’ I always remember it was Aug. 27.”
McIntyre, 57, might have prematurely retired from chuckwagon racing, but the Vulcan rancher hasn’t veered from the scene. He has built a reputation as a distinct voice for chuckwagon and rodeo events in Alberta.
“This is a lot of fun,” he said of the Halkirk stop. “This is my 124th performance this year, since about March. You get pretty geared up at some of the big shows, and pressured up, and then you come out here to Halkirk and it’s a grassroots community and good people to work with, so I just come out here to have fun.”
More than 1,500 people showed up on a sunny and warm evening to watch 24 bull riders battle through thrills and spills. After the six-man short go-around, Mexican Armondo Davilla was crowned champion.
After his 1983 accident, McIntyre’s career changed direction and he turned toward a long run behind the microphone.
“Oh, a change for the better, big time,” he said with a hearty laugh. “It was probably the luckiest break I ever got … in one form or another.”
With the retirement of legendary Calgary Stampede announcer Joe Carbury in 2008, McIntyre emerged as the new voice of the prestigious Rangeland Derby.
“When I signed a deal with the Calgary Stampede, they wanted an exclusive voice for the Rangeland Derby, which they had with Carbury for many, many years,” McIntyre said.
“We came to an agreement where I gave up some of the wagon shows and kept six of the bigger wagon shows.”
“The rodeo business is still intact. I still do quite a few rodeos. My next project now is the Canadian Finals Rodeo in Edmonton (in November). I think this will be my ninth year there.”
At home with a mike in his hand, McIntyre is able to make the transition from chuckwagon races to rodeo events on multiple occasions during the season.
“It’s just a matter of doing your homework,” he said. “I do more rodeos than I do chuckwagon races, actually.”
“(The organizers) put on a good show. A lot of people work hard and they’ve got some good corporate partners. I’ve got the easiest job of the bunch.”
Perhaps the toughest job for events like the Halkirk Bull-a-rama belongs to the riders themselves. That was evident Saturday night as they tried to hang on against the tempestuous bulls from Outlaw Buckers stock contractors Rod Schellenberg and Bob Baird.
“The powerful bulls that Outlaw Buckers raises, and that Robinson and Vold raise, are some of the best bulls in the business,” McIntyre said. “And a lot of the bulls you’ll see at the Calgary Stampede and the Canadian Finals Rodeo, and the Wrangler Nationals Finals in Las Vegas, these kids are riding them now.
“You’ve got to remember that when that bull is in that chute, he’s at 100 per cent. And some of these guys have been riding hard all summer and they’re working at 70 or 80 per cent, because of their injuries, fatigue and travel and what not. When you get on a bull of this calibre, you better be at 120 per cent.”
Although the Canadian Finals Rodeo, set for Nov. 9-13 in Edmonton, is the next big event on McIntyre’s calendar, he’s never far from sports. That’s the reality, with his three sons active in multiple sports, including basketball and football, in Raymond and Lethbridge.
Oldest son Tyson, 18, is a freshman with the University of Lethbridge varsity basketball team. Conner, 16, and Bronsen, 13, also play basketball, as well as football.
“This is the cowboy of the three,” McIntyre said while standing alongside Bronsen. “He rides a lot with me and he wants to be a bareback rider someday. But I’m pushing him into basketball and football … a little better paycheque there.”