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Contact Ted Harbin
Payne brings a charge to Roundup Rodeo
DODGE CITY, Kan. – John Payne is a cowboy, and he’s quite proud of it.
So when he has faced adversity, Payne has tackled it head on, just like most other cowboys. When he was electrocuted and brought back to life 39 years ago, he dealt with it. It was a life-changing event that led to his right arm being amputated, but it didn’t take away from the man, the cowboy Payne has always been.
Now he makes a living showcasing his talents and the unique brand of ranching he uses on his piece of land near Shidler, Okla., near the state’s northern border. John Payne of the One Armed Bandit & Co. will be the featured act at the Dodge City Roundup Rodeo, set for 7:45 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 1-Sunday, Aug. 5, at Roundup Arena.
“I’ve always been a showoff, and I’m pretty good at showing off with my animals,” said Payne, who works the business with his son, Lynn, 36, and daughter, Amanda, 33. “It’s kind of like a paid vacation. You get to travel all over the country and get paid for it.
“But I like to show off the talents of my animals and my horsemanship.”
And while his children have their own version of the act, Payne is the original One Armed Bandit, a shout-out to his ability to overcome all sorts of adversity. When he was electrocuted in June 1973, he fell 25 feet to almost certain death. His work partner revived him with CPR. But the voltage did plenty of damage – the electricity exited his body through his abdomen, leaving a nasty hole there and on his left leg.
His rodeo career began in the mid-1980s, when he went to an event close to his home. He told the folks at the 101 Wild West Rodeo in Ponca City, Okla., that they could get a better act if they hired him. He put something together, then went back to ranching. That’s when legendary announcer Clem McSpadden called Payne.
“He was the one who prompted me into pursuing a career in the entertainment business in ProRodeo,” Payne said. “Clem told me that I could do that and make a heck of a living at it. Heck, I’ve been in business 23 years now.”
It’s a pretty good business. The One Armed Bandit & Co. has been named the PRCA Specialty Act of the Year 10 times, including the past two seasons.
“He’s not scared to be a cowboy,” said Jesse James Kirby, one of the elite saddle bronc riders in Pro Rodeo from Dodge City. “He can make whatever happen, whether he’s riding a mule or a horse, and he can make those buffalo do anything you can think of.”
Payne has been amazing people for more than two decades. He has a custom-made trailer that he utilizes in the act, allowing himself and the animals a rather high perch to show off to the fans. It takes guts and true horsemanship skills to handle the act.
“First of all, he’s got one arm,” said Boyd Polhamus, the three-time PRCA Announcer of the Year who has called the action inside Roundup Arena every year since 1999. “It’s one thing for someone to do it. It’s amazing in its own right, but John’s got just one arm. No one else can copy that.
“You’re riding, messing with buffaloes. You’re a stud. There’s just something about that buckaroo. He’s just got a buckaroo look to him. He just looks the part. It’s a Wild West show. He is, by himself, an eight-minute Wild West show. It’s going to be Western, and it’s going to be fun.”
People will see that every performance of the Dodge City rodeo.
“The first time I ever saw his act, I had never seen anything like that before,” said Kirby, whose grandfather, Floyd Kirby, was one of Roundup’s founders. “He could round up those horses or those buffalo and get them herded up that trailer.
Polhamus has seen the act at rodeos all across this land. He knows what to expect, and he’s still amazed when the rig wheels into the arena.
“If his act goes according to plan, it’s going to be awesome,” Polhamus said. “If it doesn’t go as planned, it’s going to be awesome.”