When the bulls and horses, cowboys, livestock exhibitors, and fans converge on Abilene for the annual fair and rodeo, so do the bucks. And it’s not the bulls that provide the “bucks.” It’s the “presidential flashcards” that the attendees spend in town.
The Central Kansas Free Fair and Wild Bill Hickok Rodeo generate about $1.8 million over their ten day run each year, says Glenda Purkis, Director of the Abilene Convention and Visitors Bureau. The nearly two-million dollar amount is a conservative figure, she says, and important. The fair and rodeo “draw more people than any other event in our city.”
This year is the 68th annual rodeo, with entertainment planned for everyone. Rodeo clown Lecile Harris returns with his brand of rodeo comedy, and an estimated 500 cowboys and cowgirls will compete July 31-August 3. The first night of rodeo, July 31, is Bulls, Broncs, and Barrels, with the three events of bull riding, saddle bronc riding, and barrel racing. The next three nights of rodeo, August 1-3, include all seven pro rodeo events: the three from Wednesday night, plus team roping, steer wrestling, tie-down roping, and bareback riding.
The Central Kansas Free Fair runs August 1-6, with the team demo derby on August 4, the combine derby on August 5, and the 80 and newer modified derby on August 6. The chainsaw artist returns, as does the Central Kansas Free Fair’s Got Talent show, a hot dog eating contest, the carnival, and the King Arthur Baking Contest. And the perennial favorite parade is Thursday, August 1 at 4 pm. The parade is huge, says Purkis. “I know of families that plan their trip back to Abilene to visit relatives during the rodeo so they’ll be here for the parade.” The parade has over 100 entries, and the streets are lined with spectators. “If you go down Buckeye or Third Street at 8 am on Thursday morning, there are chairs already sitting out on lawns.”
The fair and rodeo “bring families home, bring families together, and bring people to town.” Purkis’ favorite part of the rodeo is the Ft. Riley Cavalry presentation of the American flag each night. “Seeing everyone in cowboy boots and hats, it reminds us what a great cow town we are. And that’s how Abilene got started, as a cow town. The fair and rodeo retain that history, bringing modern day activities into the mix.”