Roger Todd (left) tightens his rope just before making the turn left so Peter McBride can rope the legs during the Billy Evins Memorial Roping event in Vale. (The Enterprise/Jayme Fraser)

VALE – The work for the Vale 4th of July rodeo begins on cold dark winter mornings or with the drizzle of a Malheur County spring.

That’s when rodeo board members, led by president Jim Mendiola, carefully plan how they will solve the logistical test the county’s biggest rodeo represents.

“We meet monthly and about March, April we really start to kick into gear,” said rodeo board member Don Hodge.

To many, the rodeo represents fun, cowboys and bucking broncs.

Yet, it is also an event that attracts huge crowds during a four-day period the first week in July. The rodeo continues daily through Saturday, opening each night at 8 p.m.

Tickets are $10 for ages 12 and older and $6 for children aged 6 to 11. Children under 5 are free. Tickets are available in Vale at Malheur Drug, Mal’s Diner and Dentinger’s Feed and Seed.

 “It is a pretty big deal for Vale. It is a lot of work. But it is a lot of fun,” said Mendiola.

The Vale 4th of July Rodeo is woven into the very fabric of Mendiola’s life. A lifelong Vale resident, he stepped onto the rodeo board when he was 22. He said he never competed at the rodeo but rode in the Billy Evins Memorial Roping event several times. Mendiola said he followed a family tradition.

“We have been going to rodeo since I was a kid and it was sort of a natural deal to get involved,” said Mendiola.

Mendiola, 54, operates his own construction business but during the spring – and especially in June – life is consumed by the rodeo.

“I’ve been down there (at the rodeo grounds) four or five hours every night,” said Mendiola. Putting on a rodeo with the scope of the Vale 4th of July Rodeo isn’t as simple as bringing in stock. The upkeep of the grounds exhausts time, money and resources. The effort, Mendiola said, means constantly juggling priorities.

“The hardest part is probably finding the time to keep my business going. It’s tough to do both at the same time,” said Mendiola.

Prep work for the 104th edition of the rodeo was especially grueling as the rodeo board poured money and time into several upgrades.

Spectator seating along with a new concrete walkway and a handicap accessible pad will be new additions this year to the rodeo arena.

Mendiola said a new set of aluminum bleachers, 28 feet wide with 10 rows of seats, are going up on the northwest corner of the arena and the concrete for the walkway and handicap area was poured in early June.

The walkway is six feet wide and extends 80 feet from the arena to the double entry gates by Wadleigh.

Mendiola said his crews also completed some minor repairs to the bucking chutes and replaced wooden bleachers in several areas of the arena.

“We’ve done a lot of work down there this year,” said Mendiola.

Hodge said the board tries to focus on creating a “family-oriented rodeo.” The event also helps the local economy, said Hodge.

 “We probably bring into the community a couple hundred thousand,” said Hodge.

Mendiola said the board aims for a unique local feel.

“It’s a friendly atmosphere. We have a lot of local events in the rodeo and a lot of local people. I see all my friends and it is almost like a homecoming deal,” said Mendiola.

Just north of the rodeo grounds and tucked inside ageless trees, Vale’s Wadleigh Park will be humming this week as the Vale Chamber of Commerce hosts Oregon Trail Days.

Vendors from across the region along with events for children will sprawl across the park during rodeo week. The event kicks off Wednesday when visitors can grab a breakfast of pancakes and sausages, courtesy of the Lions Club.

At Oregon Trail Days, finely-woven quilts will be on display, along with a fun run, a big dunk tank to support local emergency service organizations and little kids riding their stick-horse steeds.

 “I am excited. I grew up in Vale and I like seeing everyone come to the park,” said Grace Schuler, secretary for the Vale Chamber of Commerce.

Visitors who get a slice of local flavor can walk to A Street Wednesday at 5 p.m. for the Vale 4th of July Rodeo Parade.

There, kids will scramble as candy flies from merchant floats and rodeo royalty from every point of the compass trot down the street waving and full of smiles.

At the parade, the past and present collide in a mix of colors and sounds of horses neighing and kids shouting – a classic display of Americana.

The parade, Oregon Trail Days and the rodeo are separate events tied together by a four-day western festival where – at least for a few days – time seems to hesitate and then stop.

Reporter Pat Caldwell: [email protected] or 541-473-3377.