Mouths were motoring and hands were up as businesses fought to bid on chuckwagon drivers. More than 150 people attended the 13th annual Ponoka Stampede World Professional Chuckwagon Association (WPCA) canvas auction held at the Ponoka Branch of the Royal Canadian Legion on March 20.
Each professional chuckwagon driver was called individually to the front by the auctioneer and their accomplishments and backgrounds were highlighted before the bidding began.
For 36 drivers the total amount bid was $304,500. The total is down from last year’s record breaking $500,500.
The auction was broadcasted via the Internet at Agrimart.ca and businesses were also able to bid by phone.
Blake Butterfield, president of the Ponoka Stampede Association, was slightly taken aback by this year’s numbers but understood that it would have been tough to exceed the total from last year.
“I was really happy with the turnout but a little surprised that it took such a hit this year,” he said. “There were some good bargains this year. We broke records last year and it would have been nice to break last year’s record. It’s understandable because agriculture is not that good right now and there are a lot of cutbacks. Maybe we will more than recover next year.”
Two time defending WPCA champion Kelly Sutherland tied for the highest bid at $25,000 sponsored by Underground Oilfield Consulting. Mark Sutherland, who finished 12th in last year’s WPCA standings was also sponsored for the same amount, his high bid was from Swamp Donkey Oilfield Services. Luke Tournier, third in the 2007 standings was the third highest with $20,000 sponsored by Glencoe Resources.
The 2007 Ponoka Stampede Tommy Dorchester Dash for Cash winner Jerry Bremner received a bid of $10,000 from Trailblazer RV Centre.
Longscore Saloon and Calnash Trucking Ltd were two local businesses that sponsored a driver. Longscore Saloon was the proud sponsor of driver Jason Johnstone from Bashaw for $4,000 and Calnash Trucking Ltd. supported Dave Bensmiller with $4,500.
Murray Schur manager of Calnash Trucking believes in the importance of the canvas auction and the value of sponsoring a driver.
“It’s a company that believes in the youth and what they contribute to the sport of rodeo and the professionalism surrounding it,” he said. “We’ve been a proud sponsor of the Ponoka Stampede for many years behind the scenes helping out and promoting the stampede for a greater Ponoka and a greater show.”
Bensmiller was pleased to be sponsored by Calnash and recognizes the significance of being supported by these businesses.
“It’s great, it was a very good response from the sponsors and they’re a major part of us,” he said.
Driver Troy Flad also knows how critical it is to be backed up by businesses and enjoyed the auction. Flad was bid on by Dwight Green Oilfield Consulting for $8,000 and Flad believes that without the support of businesses and the public chuckwagons would be facing a crisis.
“It was great, we need sponsors. They’re the biggest part of it and behind that is the fans and supporters. If you don’t have that you wouldn’t have chuckwagons.”
An exciting announcement at the auction was that this year the Ponoka Stampede will be televised on Shaw TV.
Butterfield believes that the coverage will be beneficial to the Stampede.
“Many more people will be able to see it and hopefully it will build into something that will show our final performance,” he said. “It’s a big deal.”
Highlights of the Stampede will be aired for an hour and a half every night at 9 p.m.
After many years of sponsoring a tarp the Pride of Ponoka organization will be awarding the fastest chuckwagon Thursday to Monday $1,000 per night.
The drivers and their sponsors will be seen at the 72nd annual 2008 Ponoka Stampede June 25 to July 1.
The first WPCA event of the year takes place in Grande Prairie May 28 to June 1. In 2007 the WPCA named the Ponoka Stampede as the top race committee of the year. This is the seventh time that Ponoka has received this honour since 1981.