As the hungry teenager and I drove into Shidler, Oklahoma, I noticed a large sign painted on the side of a building. A pile of neatly stacked rocks with a metal sign coming out the top sat in the middle of an empty lot next to the building. I was instantly intrigued so I pulled the car over to the side of the street. I got out and took a couple of photos. A cowboy pulling a horse trailer whipped into the old gas station across the street. “Hey, lady,” he hollered at me. “He’ll be up here in a couple of minutes.” I looked at him with what I’m sure was a “what the hell” expression on my face. “Who?” I hollered back. “The One Arm Bandit,” the cowboy said excitedly. “He’ll let you take his picture.” I smiled. “Well, all right.” The teenager rolled her eyes.
I walked across the main drag to get another shot of the building. A car with an older couple inside was parked at the curb. They asked me if I knew the One Arm Bandit. “No. We’re just passing through,” I said. “I’m a photographer that wanders around northeast Oklahoma looking for interesting things to photograph.” They nodded. “We drive around, too, looking for the same thing. Do you have one of these?” The woman showed me a topographical map book of Oklahoma. “No,” I replied. “You should get one. It is great! Only twenty bucks at Wal-Mart!” she said enthusiastically. I think I will look for one the next time I’m at Wally World. I’m sure it will help me find the back roads better than a google map.
“There he is!” The older man pointed towards a guy dressed in black riding an ATV through the intersection, heading to the old gas station where the cowboy was waiting for him. I crossed the street and headed towards the men. The One Arm Bandit introduced himself as John Payne and informed me that he owned the biggest and best rodeo in the world. He walked to the pile of rocks and posed for my camera. He told me that his rodeo had been named the best in the world every year since 1989. The proof was painted on the side of that building.
He then invited us to his ranch so we could see his herd of buffalo and his Texas Longhorn. “The biggest set of horns in the world!” I smiled. Even though I was a little leery, I decided to take him up on his offer. We followed him back to his ranch, where the older couple was parked at the gate. John offered to take them on the tour also. Good. The more the merrier. We parked our vehicles and climbed into John’s hummer. I had never been in one so I thought that was pretty cool. John said I should sit in the front with him so I could get some good pictures. I obliged. We took off down the dusty dirt road and stopped at the bottom of a hill. His herd of buffalo was standing at the fence ready to greet us. John informed us that they were six feet tall and weighed over a ton. And even so, he had trained them to climb up on top of his trailer for the finale of his rodeo, which has traveled all over the world. A couple of years ago, he took his show to Saudi Arabia. His son and daughter complete the team, but because of the laws in the Middle East, his daughter had to stay home. John was not allowed to bring women into their country.
We climbed back in the hummer and continued down the road. He pulled into a gravel driveway, explaining that the house was his daughter’s, but she didn’t live there anymore because she got married and the Drummond’s had built her and her husband a new house on their ranch. “Her husband’s name is Josh. They call him Cowboy Josh and he works for the Drummond’s,” John explained. My jaw dropped. “Cowboy Josh from the Food Network show The Pioneer Woman?” I asked, sounding all girly and giddy. John was nodding. “I watch that show all the time!” I could see the teenager sinking down into the back seat. I’ll admit it. I was star-struck. The realization set in that I was being taxied around the plains of Oklahoma by Cowboy Josh’s father-in-law! The teenager was glaring at me. I quickly regained my composure.
We drove into the pasture where the biggest Texas Longhorn steer I had ever seen stood staring at us. “His horns are twenty five inches in diameter at the base and they weigh about a hundred pounds,” John told us. The poor thing couldn’t hold his head up straight. But, he seemed to get around all right.
He drove further into the pasture where his beautiful paint horses stood. “I drove to South Dakota just to buy these paints. They are the prettiest horses in the world.” They were gorgeous.
“And over there is my zebra. This particular zebra can only be found right here on the Oklahoma Savannah.” He grinned and stopped so we could take pictures.
John told us that the zebra had been bred with one of his horses and also his donkey. Therefore, he was the proud owner of a zorse and a zonkey! Yep, here’s the proof.
The tour had come to an end and we were back at the main house where we had parked our cars. A cute little blue-eyed brunette came down off the porch to greet us. “This is my granddaughter, Rowdy. She’s three and wants to be a rodeo star like her grandpa.” Rowdy has made an appearance or two on The Pioneer Woman. This time I remained cool and collected. We said our goodbyes and thanked John for taking the time to show us his ranch. He never did say how he lost his arm and became the One Arm Bandit. I didn’t ask. It wasn’t my business. It was obvious that he didn’t let it slow him down. He did own the largest rodeo in the world, after all. “That was so much fun!” the teenager laughed. I smiled. “I’m glad you came along today.” She grinned. “Me, too.” I started the car and we headed back down the dusty dirt road. It was now time to eat!