Bob Ottmar has seen all 73 Moses Lake Roundups over the years

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Moses Lake photographer Bob Ottmar, center, is pictured with Moses Lake Roundup clowns John Wilson, left, and Karl Doering.

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MOSES LAKE — Bob Ottmar drove his truck through the security gate just outside the Moses Lake Roundup rodeo office. With a nod and a smile, the security guard waved him on through, his pick-up slowly making its way toward the rodeo arena like it has for the past 53 years.

In some ways, he’s something out of those old black and white photographs he was famous for taking along the rodeo trail, back when he shot for the Rodeo Cowboy Association, before it was called the PRCA. The custom saddle and tack maker from Moses Lake got out of his truck, properly stowed it away under the grandstands down by the timed event end where his father George used to work at the first Moses Lake Roundup in 1943.

George started Bob on this remarkable journey when his boy was still in diapers. Now, over seven decades later, Bob Ottmar is synonymous with the Moses Lake Roundup, having been to every single one of them over the course of the 73-year history.

It’s not just that Ottmar has been to every single Moses Lake rodeo that makes his journey so remarkable, but the fact that the 73-year-old former bareback and bronc rider has seen every single event. For the first 20 years, the Roundup was a two-day rodeo with seven events daily. In 1963 the Columbia Basin Rodeo Association moved into the current facility at the Grant County Fairgrounds and turned it into a three-day show. So if you do a little calculating, it turns out he’s seen around 1,393 rodeo events in Moses Lake alone.

“I was born in June and back then the rodeo was in September,” Ottmar recalled. “My dad was involved in the very first rodeo and just sort of took me along. He used to work the calf chutes at the timed event end. He went to every one from 1943 to 1959 and I just kept the family tradition going.”

On Friday night of the 73rd edition, arena announcer Will Rasmussen took a special moment to recognize Ottmar and his incredible story, telling rodeo fans of the remarkable journey of a man sitting in the box seats, looking at another opening night with the splendor of a Columbia Basin sunset off in the distance.

“I was at the Greeley (Colo.) Stampede over the Fourth of July and had a chance to sit down with (Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame announcer) Hadley Barrett and listen to all the history of the things he’s seen,” said Rasmussen, who is on the road over 150 days, traveling to rodeos around the country. “We need more people like Bob that truly love our sport. He was a longtime rodeo photographer, so those images will live on forever. But the history he can provide on just this event alone. He has seen the evolution of rodeo go from ranch hand against ranch hand to a multi-million dollar industry. Men like Bob are a treasure. Sometimes we need to shut our mouths and open our ears and listen to what they have to say. We can learn so much.”

Considering that Bob was born in June of 1943, he was in diapers for the first three or four and literally cut his teeth on Moses Lake rodeo. The first Columbia Basin Rodeo in 1943 was held at the lower end of Wheeler Road, adjacent to Safeway where Bob’s son Joe runs Pioneer Muffler & Brake.

“Rodeo’s changed quite a bit. Way back in the ‘40s, they used to round up all buckin’ horses over here off of Crab Creek and the Sand Dunes. They put on the rodeo with the wild horses from the area,” he said. “The ranchers would bring in their calves and steers, but the horses used to run wild between here and Ephrata.”

The last wild horse roundup was in 1953. The Columbia Basin Rodeo Association has gone with professional bucking stock ever since, but the name, Moses Lake Roundup, pays homage to the origins and Ottmar’s been there every step of the way.

Over the course of 73 years, the names and faces tend to blur together he said. But he has seen some of the legendary cowboys. Six-time World All-Around Champion Larry Mahan put him on his first bareback horse.

“Larry was a pretty good friend. You get to where you see them all over the region, at Ellensburg or Pendleton. But almost all of the great cowboys came through here at one time or another,” said Ottmar. “I saw Chris LeDoux (world bareback champion and Emmy nominee).”

He’s seen Bill Linderman from Red Lodge, Mont., who won all-around titles in 1950 and 1953. He saw Jim Shoulders of Henryetta, Okla., who won his first all-around title in 1949 and later won four consecutive all-around titles from 1956-59.

“My dad gave me that early interest in rodeo and I’ve loved it ever since,” Ottmar said.

The Moses Lake Roundup won Small Rodeo of the Year in 2011, and won Large Rodeo of the Year in 2013 and Bob Ottmar has seen ever ride and watched every timed event.

Local photographer and saddle maker Bob Ottmar has seen all 73 Moses Lake Roundups.

 

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