Driving Jersey:CowTown U*S*A

I’m from New Jersey.  I grew up in New Jersey, but I spent my childhood wanting to be a cowboy and I reckon I’m not the only one.  There’s something about the western lifestyle that invites our imagination, no matter where you’re from.  TV and the movies surely have something to do with it...there’s an innate sense of adventure and freedom that signifies the image of the American cowboy, even if that image isn’t necessarily, entirely true.  Surely life out west was harder and more desperate than Hollywood has portrayed it to be. 

Riding into the sunset, into the west, the last great frontier...the cowboy represents the final American pioneer.  That’s if you don’t count Neal Armstrong.  And nothing is more American than adventure and freedom, even if it isn’t necessarily true...perception, the religion of America, is what is most important and I was devout in that as a kid.

But I’m from Jersey, so I only rode a horse a handful of times and buried my guns in the backyard and eventually moved to New York.  But I moved back and it was then that I realized that you can be just about anything in Jersey, even a cowboy, and you can find just about everything in Jersey, even a rodeo.  And if there’s one driving force behind Driving Jersey it is to discover and reflect diversity, like it or not, agree with it or not...and come to think of it, that’s what America was really about.

When the idea came up to travel down to Pilesgrove, to take in the Rodeo, I took the opportunity...as much to re-imagine how the West fit into my childhood, as it was to find out how it fits into New Jersey today.

CowTown Rodeo claims to be the “oldest weekly rodeo in the United States,” stretching back to 1929.  Even more amazing than their eight decade existence is that fact that it was and continues be run by a single family, The Harris Family. 

Grant Harris, the fourth generation to run the rodeo, said his family’s history with cattle in the region reaches all the way back to Valley Forge.  Harris’ own history includes a tale of a difficult decision, to ride and compete (Grant was very successful on the circuit as a young man) or to follow his family’s line, to own and produce the Rodeo instead.  He choose family, both his own new family and  the grand one.  Harris is father to two daughters, and producing the rodeo, instead of a riding in it, made better sense to him.  Katy Harris, Grant’s younger daughter, continues to work the “home ranch” in the line of her father.

CowTown Rodeo operates on Saturday nights from May to September.  If you visit CowTown, be advised that the moment you drive onto the grounds, until you pull back out onto Rt. 40, you will believe you have actually left the state of New Jersey.  Enjoy DRIVING JERSEY: COWTOWN U*S*A.  Music for DRIVING JERSEY: COWTOWN U*S*A was graciously provided by Lee D’Arcangelo (opening theme) and Tom Spingler and Northfield (The American Dream).