Sunday, July 29, 2012

Frank Santos - 1950 Buckle

While attending the Salinas California Rodeo, competing in the Gold Card team roping, I visited with a bunch of my comrades (old and new), which I enjoy doing very much these days, since I’ve semi-retired from the rodeo business.  Along the fence I bumped into a young all-around cowboy/friend of mine, Lane Santos, who is just starting out in the professional rodeo world.  He told me he was there, roping with his uncle Blaine (Santos) in the team roping, and when I asked him about the calf roping, he gave a reason that I immediately remembered having once myself. 

Frank Santos, DVM
Back in the day, before I’d gone pro, I wanted to compete at Salinas, except nobody could work Salinas on a permit (anymore).  Salinas stopped taking permits (around 1959 or 60) and I told Lane he had his grandfather to thank for that.  I explained, they stopped taking permits because the last time they let a guy compete on a permit he beat ‘em up so bad, there wasn’t a pro left standing.”   The pros used to let all the young guys in that they could, to build the purse, until one time they got their tits in a ringer.  Them old pros had never heard of a young gun, named Frank Santos, who was getting a college education.  He was putting himself through school by working rodeos on a permit.  As a result of the Frank Santos massacre, the pros vowed, never again would they allow themselves to be slaughtered by someone on a permit.  Hence, they stopped accepting permits.

In mentioning his grandpa, Lane pointed over my shoulder.  Low and behold, there sat Frank Santos on his horse, carrying his rope and ready to do battle.  Frank was up in the Gold Card.  I walked over and told him I was just talking to his grandson letting him know he had his papa to thank for not being able to compete here on his permit. 

I also shared with Frank a discussion I had earlier with Martin Lucero.  Martin asked me how long I’d been coming to Salinas, and when I did the math on that (1968 to 2012), I summed up 44 yrs straight I’d been working Salinas.  With that, I told Frank, “I ought to be the oldest guy coming here.” 

Frank quickly set me straight with an historical story.  He clarified that he was the oldest guy competing there (he’s 3/4s of a century old), and then said, “But I can tell you one better than that.  I bet you can‘t find anybody a horseback competing today that is wearing a Salinas buckle dated 1950.” 

In that instant, amidst my thoughts about whether they even gave buckles back then, I glanced toward his belt and noticed, sure enough, he was wearing that distinguished Salinas Champion “1950” buckle. 

Frank’s first time at Salinas, he was 12 years old competing in the Junior Stock Horse class (in 1950).  Today, Frank was competing in the Gold Card as strong and as fierce a competitor as any of us.  He’s been my hero since back before I competed pro, my hero and my mentor.  To see and listen to his rodeo wisdom as the years go by is astounding.  He continues, still, to go at it with a subtle, yet eminent flame of desire to win and is still very capable of beating any of us.  Frank depicts the true spirit of rodeo-cowboy heroism, and vast over-sight has left him not yet inducted into the Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame, but he’s definitely at the forefront of my personal Rodeo Hall of Fame.  

The point of my story, however, is that Salinas belt buckles have been famous throughout rodeo.  Trevor Brazil has won championship buckles at most major rodeos, but only just this year won his first Salinas belt buckle, which he told me was a significant achievement to him.  Some of us have been fortunate enough to win buckles at Salinas, and I bet there’s not one who doesn’t cherish that award as a lifetime dream.  Still, to be competing for another Salinas buckle in 2012 while wearing a Salinas buckle from 1950--are you kidding me?  That’s an impressive, unique feat that only one guy in the world can claim.

That’s all I know…

Rope Smart!

The Lion