Masters of the fire pit

Anyone who has ever worried about fixing family supper at home should follow Bruce and Paula Gustafson of Gerry as they prepare and serve more than 3,000 barbeque beef dinners during the four nights of the Gerry Fire Department’s 69th annual PRCA rodeo, July 31 through Aug. 3.

The Gustafsons, who have worked at the Gerry Rodeo for more than 20 years, took over the duties of the dining hall in 2006 and have continued to take their vacations from their places of employment – Bruce at Chautauqua Machine Specialties and Paula at the Chautauqua County Health Department – to prepare the dinners which are as famous as the rodeo itself.

For Bruce, each day begins at 5 a.m. as he starts the wood fires in the open pits and loads about 1,000 pounds of top quality beef into the pans where they will cook for eight hours. Paula arrives about 7 a.m. and begins her duties supervising the preparation of the meals for a 5 p.m. serving time with the help of 40 to 50 volunteers, including children who wash silver ware, senior kitchen veterans who arrive early to peel and “eye” the potatoes and cut lettuce, and men who slice the meat.

By the time serving begins, they will have made 50 quarts of the “secret recipe” barbeque sauce, 40 quarts of gravy, peeled and quartered more than 500 pounds of potatoes, and added tossed salad, cottage cheese, corn, ice cream and drinks for the rodeo fans to consume in the newly renovated and air conditioned dining room.

By the time clean-up is done, it is usually 10 or 11 p.m., and Bruce and Paula head home for a few hours of sleep, knowing that very early the alarm will ring and the entire process will start all over again. By the time the week is over, their “vacation” has worn them out, but they will go back to work knowing that they have done more than their share for the fire department’s major fund raiser.

See RODEO, Page B3

This rodeo is now the longest consecutively running rodeo east of the Mississippi and will feature more than 125 professional cowboys and cowgirls competing for $40,000 in prize money in seven rodeo events. Action will begin at 8 p.m. on Wednesday, July 31 and continue each night through Saturday, Aug. 3, with a matinee on Saturday at 2 p.m. and a free kids’ rodeo Saturday morning at 11 a.m. Dinners are served nightly from 5 to 8 p.m.

Addtional information is available at the rodeo website or by phone at 985-4847 or toll free at 1-888-985-4847. Presale tickets are available online at