Veteran barrelman John Harrison has one of the strangest jobs imaginable, and he is part of a comedic cult of rodeo society.
Every rodeo competition, he climbs into a reinforced barrel, then gets in the way of a raging 1,500-pound bull to protect the cowboy, who just got bucked off and is looking for the fastest exit.
“At 38, I’m a little beat up, with two knee surgeries and a shoulder surgery,” he says. “My doc says I should wear a neck brace. But I still love the job.”
The other job of the barrel man is to work with the announcer to provide comedy and storytelling for the audience.
“I do a lot of off-the-cuff stuff based on what I see in the crowd. It makes it fun for everyone,” Harrison said. “This is one of the more traditional rodeos in the country, and they really run a great show.”
He has a few entertainment acts, with one involving a classic car, and another that is a satire of the rodeo queen. Every night is different, so people should come out for each one, he said. The comedy act is in stark comparison to the serious part of the job.
“It gets interesting when the bull horns the side of the barrel or is leaping up beside you, with his back leg thrashing around your head,” Harrison says. “There’s a group of us barrelmen who take a ‘clowncation’ to Jamaica every year to recover and blow off steam. We used to go to the Bahamas, but I don’t think they want us back!”