Posted: Nov 3, 2013 9:21 AM
Updated: Nov 3, 2013 9:21 AM
COAHOMA, Texas (AP) Your hat blowing up isn't the sort of thing you forget.
One of the acts during Quail Dobbs' 35 years as a rodeo clown centered around a faux hat-cleaning operation.
"He would buy these old cheap hats at the western store that nobody wanted and have some cowboy put it on and play like it was really his hat," Quail's wife, Judy, told the Abilene Reporter-News (http://bit.ly/17xZYnZ ) .
During the gag, the rodeo clown would put it on a machine, then pretend like he was cleaning it only to have the hat blow up, using a small charge.
It was fun and entertained the crowd. But there was another crowd in the arena looking for entertainment, too bulldoggers, also known as steer wrestlers.
Quail and the bulldoggers enjoyed giving each other a hard time. Once, they sneaked into Quail's dressing room, nabbed his own hat and replaced the cheapo straw one in the act with Quail's.
By the time he figured it out, it was too late.
"It dawned on me, 'Yeah, those bulldoggers got to me again,'" Quail said, shaking his head.
"He got the hat and realized it was his own," Judy added. "But the show had to go on, right?"
"So I went ahead and 'blowed' it up," he said, chuckling. "And of course, all those bulldoggers were laughing and slapping each other on the back. The crowd didn't know what was happening, but those bulldoggers did."
Quail's rodeo clown career ended in 1998, and he started a new career as a Howard County justice of the peace right after. Quail served as J.P. for 15 years, retiring this year.
"I've tried the last 15 years, to weigh the consequences and do a fair job," he said.
That could be tough, he said. Sometimes as judge he had to be the bad guy.
"I look at it this way, if my friends can't understand what I've got to do, then they weren't really good friends to start with," he said.
Quail has been inducted into the Texas Cowboy Hall of Fame, the Texas Rodeo Cowboy Hall of Fame, the Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame and, most recently, the National Cowboy Hall of Fame.
"They've got so many of them, it's hard to keep up," he said.
He is only one of three clowns to work as both barrel man and bullfighter at the National Finals Rodeo. He was also named the PRCA Clown of the Year twice.
"I set some goals," he said. "I wanted to go to the National Finals as a bullfighter and I did. I wanted to go to the National Finals as a barrel man and I did, so I fulfilled my dream."
Perhaps one of his biggest honors, though, was having his picture painted on the side of the water tank off Interstate 20. Wearing full rodeo clown makeup, it greets eastbound travelers coming from Big Spring.
While Coahoma has been his adopted home, Quail was born as Marvin Dobbs on the other side of the Big Country in Albany some 72 years ago.
"My dad had a boot and shoe repair, we lived in the back of that shop," he remembered.
They moved to Abilene, then later to Colorado City where he acquired his nickname from a childhood friend.
Apparently the hair on young Marvin's scalp in those days was possessed with something of a wild twist up near the back. He recalled asking his friend, "Why 'quail?'"
"He said that it looked like I had a topknot and because I ran like one," Quail recalled.
After high school, Quail went to a bareback-riding school in South Dakota. During that time, he dropped by a rodeo in Buffalo, Minn.
"George Doak was the rodeo clown and he showed up with a barrel and nobody to get in it," Quail said. "I told him, 'Hey let me try that barrel, I've been a clown all my life.'"
"That's what my teachers in high school said," he added.
Judy said her husband wasn't normally much of a prankster during his rodeo career.
"He was pretty serious about the rodeo clowning," she said. "That sounds funny, but in order to be successful you have to know what you're doing and, you know, there's some skills to comedy."
One of which is being able to roll with the changes, despite distractions like the bulldoggers.
In another of his acts, Quail had a small baby pig he kept in a sack on his back. The gag went that there was supposes to be a huge Russian boar on the loose and Quail was looking for it. He'd fire a blank from a gun and the piglet would come running out.
But when he wasn't looking, a bulldogger stole the baby bottle the rodeo clown used to feed the piglet. Dumping out the formula, they replaced it with something they felt was a lot more "fun".
"I couldn't work her in the arena because I didn't know what was wrong with her and nobody else knew," Quail said. "I got a hold of the baby bottle, opened it, and it was straight whiskey."
What's a drunk piglet like? Not anything you'd want in a rodeo.
"Crystal Gayle was performing and I was the act before hers," he said.
He approached the stock contractor, a cigar-chomping man he remembered as Mr. Steiner.
"Hey, I can't work that pig," Quail told him.
"Well, 'cause the bulldoggers got her drunk."
That night, Quail and Judy drove to another town, hoping their porcine partner would sleep it off.
"The next morning, poor little Petunia or whatever her name was, was still drunk," Quail said. "Had her a big hangover."
And those bulldoggers? Why get mad when you can get even?
At a rodeo in North Dakota, he caught up to one of them
"I don't know if he was guilty completely or not, but he looked it anyways," Quail said with a chuckle.
During Quail's old hat gag, this time it was the cowboy's brand-new Stetson that ended up feathering the air over the arena.
"Oh, my mama's going to kill me!" the young man exclaimed.
Well, Quail thought, if there's one person you don't want to mess with it, it's Mama.
"I told him I'd pay for it," he said, chuckling. "I needed it."
Information from: Abilene Reporter-News, http://www.reporternews.com,
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