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St. Paul saddles up

The 335 residents of St. Paul will each have the equivalent of 134 guests this weekend, as 45,000 fans hit town for the 68th annual St. Paul Rodeo.

And those guests will get a great big slice of home-baked Americana.

After they've parked on somebody's front lawn (for a modest sum), they'll enjoy a carnival, a western art show, a main street parade with shiny vintage cars, farm machinery, waving politicians and lots of horses led by rodeo queen Cecily Renne and her court, Tammy Cooley and Teresa Daoust Ñ and nightly fireworks.

This tiny hamlet is 7 miles west of Interstate 5 in the Willamette Valley and the third stop on the ProRodeo Tour summer series.

Rodeo fans will see the best riders in the world battling for a record $250,000 in prize money in the 10,000-seat, whitewashed stadium as they compete in bareback riding, tie-down roping, bull riding, steer wrestling, saddle bronc riding, barrel racing, team roping and junior bull riding.

St. Paul is on a roll, nominated by the Pro Rodeo Cowboy Association in 2002 as one of the top five rodeos in the country. The Outdoor Life Network will film Sunday's finals between the top dozen riders and ropers on the circuit, and the results will be televised in August.

Champions due at St. Paul include Joe Beaver, the association's two-time all-around cowboy; tie-down roper Fred Whitfield (also an all-around cowboy); bull rider Blue Stone; and saddle bronc rider Glenn O'Neill. Flint Rasmussen, the National Finals Rodeo No. 1 clown, also will be on hand (or in a barrel).

St. Paul is part four of a very busy weekend for the top cowboys, says Bill Smith, director of the St. Paul Rodeo. A lot of them also will shuttle to the Molalla Buckeroo 20 miles away, but that's a short hop compared to the big picture.

'Some of the cowboys will start in Prescott, Ariz., fly to Greeley, Colo., and Cody, Wyo., come here and then go to Calgary,' says Smith, who's the third generation of his family to run the St. Paul Rodeo. 'The July Fourth weekend is the busiest there is. It's Christmas for cowboys.'

After the dust settles on the four-day event, it's time to figure out the money.

'This town supports the rodeo 100 percent,' Smith says. 'And the rodeo donated over $20,000 to the community last year.

'The booster club makes money off concessions and donated to sports programs, building a new running track and a gym. The Jaycees give to the ambulance program, hand out scholarships and last year supplied a computer for the hot lunch program.'