For most people vacation means a time for rest and relaxation, but for Gerry residents Bruce and Paula Gustafson, their vacation for the past twelve years means working 14-16 hours days preparing and serving the more than 3000 barbeque beef dinners that are part of the 72 year tradition of the Gerry Fire Department’s PRCA rodeo, which runs Wednesday through Saturday nights this week.
For Bruce, who is a machinist at Chautauqua Machine Specialties and also the fire department president, his day begins at about 5:30 AM when he and his two “pit boys” arrive at the rodeo grounds to get the wood fires started. The “pit boys” are Tyler LeBarron, who is in his seventh year at this job and his cousin Mike Lee, who is in his first year. Their main job, a dirty and smoky one, is to keep the fires burning for the next 10 hours to steam the potatoes and cook the approximately 1000 pounds of beef each day.
After the beef is loaded into the cooking pans and the fires started, Tyler and Mike assist Bruce in peeling 300 pounds of potatoes in a mechanized peeling machine. Meanwhile, Bruce begins the job of combining the ingredients for the 100 quarts of the secret barbeque sauce, which will simmer all day. Bruce also keeps constant check on the meat, regulating the temperature by raking additional coals under the meat as needed for the nine hours it takes to bring the beef to perfection.
At about 7:00 AM, Paula Gustafson, whose regular job is with the Chautauqua County Health Department, arrives and begins the supervision of at least a dozen volunteers who “eye” and quarter the potatoes, while others prepare the fresh ingredients for the salads, as well as helping her take care of the dozens of details which are necessary to get the dining hall ready for serving which will begin at 5:00 each afternoon.
By late afternoon the kitchen is buzzing with even more activity as the tender cooked beef is ready for slicing in the meat room, Bruce is making about 90 quarts of gravy from the drippings from the beef, and the potatoes are put into cheesecloth bags and browned in cooking oil in large iron kettles. As the final details are completed, the serving crew arrives and take their places to serve beef, sauce, tossed salad, corn, cottage cheese, roll, ice cream, and a drink to the hundreds of diners who will pass through the line each evening, enjoying a meal that has been a tradition for more than 70 years.
When clean-up is completed at about 10:00 PM, Bruce and Paula and their many volunteers head home for a brief rest, knowing that the process will begin again very early the next morning.
The rodeo action in the arena begins at 8:00 each evening and features more than 200 professional cowboys and cowgirls from 31 states competing for approximately $45,000 in prize money in the seven traditional rodeo events as well as entertainment by rodeo clown Matt Tarr and the daring trick riding of World Champion Haley Ganzel. This is now the longest consecutively running rodeo east of the Mississippi, and all proceeds go to the Gerry Volunteer Fire Department.
Additional information is available at the rodeo website www.gerryrodeo.org or by phone at (716) 985-4847 or 1-888-985-4847