Longtime Cheyenne Frontier Days Volunteer Manages Horses Behind the Scenes

Chuck James runs Frontier Park’s barns and equine operations

Chuck James brushes his horse Kiwi inside the AA Barn. Kiwi is one of several horses James loans to Cheyenne Frontier Days for participants to ride during the show. John Contos, CFD’s general chairman rides Kiwi. (Wyoming Truth photo by Kristine Galloway)

By Kristine Galloway

Special to the Wyoming Truth

CHEYENNE, Wyo. – Some of the most important work for large events is work the public doesn’t see. Those behind-the-scenes support workers are the foundation that holds up the operation.

Chuck James, 72, is a major part of the foundation supporting Cheyenne Frontier Days (CFD), though he’ll deny that if asked.

James runs the AA and BB barns at Frontier Park, among his many tasks.

“I’m gonna be missing a lot of this because there are so many little things that I do,” he said, laughing.

Six days before the 127th CFD kicked off, James, one of CFD’s longest-serving volunteers, sat down with the Wyoming Truth at the AA Barn in Frontier Park to reflect on his experiences volunteering for the “Daddy of ‘em All,” the world’s largest outdoor rodeo and Western celebration.

It might be safe to say that his big responsibility is looking after the show’s horses, particularly parade horses. Of the approximately 40 horses he manages, some belong to James, some are on loan from his friends and others are courtesy of stock contractors, particularly Smith Pro Rodeo.

James brings horses to events, including the bucking horse roundup the Sunday before CFD starts. He works with veterinarians and unloads and stacks most of the hay for horses around the park— about 135 tons.

James assigns stalls for most of the barns on the west side of the park and keeps horses for VIP participants, such as Gov. Mark Gordon and rodeo queens, including Miss Frontier and her lady-in-waiting. He also manages the camping spots at the park for various participants.

Chuck James sits in his office inside the AA Barn on July 16 after the bucking horse roundup. James’ office is a repurposed horse stall in the barn, enabling him to be surrounded by the horses he loves while at work. (Wyoming Truth photo by Kristine Galloway) 

Perhaps most importantly, James works with everyone who rides a horse in the CFD parades and other events, including the committee chairmen and military personnel. He helps match the best horse for each rider depending on their riding experience.

James relies heavily on his young barn workers, often teenagers, to tell him about each horse’s temperament. He said there are usually 10 to 12 people, himself included, who work in the barns.

“I couldn’t do this without the people who help me,” he said. “I do all the talking, and I get all the glory, but those people are the ones that do all the work.”

But Randi Evans, 29, said James is essential: “[The chairmen] wouldn’t have horses to ride if it weren’t for him.”

Evans started working in the barns when she was in the seventh grade. That was before James took over, so she’s been with him as long as he’s been running the barns.

“He’s like a second dad to me now. He’s just really kind,” Evans said.

Outside of CFD, James was a civil engineer and worked many years for the Wyoming Department of Transportation before he retired several years ago. 

But CFD and horses have always held a special place in his heart.

“When I was a little kid, I’d sit over there on the east side stands, and when it would rain all of those guys would be wearing yellow slickers,” James said. “I always wanted a yellow slicker, because I thought that was an indication that you were important if you had a yellow slicker out here.”

James has several of them now.

Decades of service  

After all his years with CFD, James can’t give a true calculation on how long he’s been a volunteer.

“I actually started riding Shetland ponies in the parades when I was 10, so that would have been 60-plus years ago,” he said.

James said he started working in the AA Barn when he was about 22. But he joined the Grounds Committee, technically, about 30 years ago.

Regardless of whether he’s been volunteering for 62 years, 50 years or 30 years, James is an essential part of the barns at the park.

He has an office just inside the main doors of the AA Barn—a former horse stall with a loft above it. The office is now a fitting place for a man who loves horses as much as James does. The small room is filled with a worn metal desk, a refrigerator, snacks and various horse tack – some of which James will show off because a friend made them by hand.

James may be a Grounds Committee member, but he said the AA and BB barns don’t belong to any CFD committee, and he aims to keep it that way.

Keeping the barns independent, James said, allows him to make the best decisions for every committee and volunteer; he mostly reports directly to CEO Tom Hirsig.

James, native to Cheyenne, became involved with CFD as a kid because his parents were friends with Don Kensinger, who ran the AA Barn in the ‘50s and ‘60s. James said Floyd Humphrey replaced Kensinger and eventually asked James to take over.

“It gives me a chance to be a cowboy for two months,” he said.

Volunteering for CFD also allows James to meet new people and see old friends every summer. And there are always the horses.

“That’s why I’m here,” he said. “As long as my health is good, I imagine I’ll be here a while.”

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