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OLDEST RODEO CLOWN IS ALSO FAMOUS NOW

Published: Thursday, July 26 1990 12:00 a.m. MDT

"I always thought you had to be dead to be voted into the hall of fame," said rodeo clown Wilbur Plaugher.

But Plaugher, who is definitely not dead, has been selected to take a place in the ProRodeo Hall of Fame in August.Since 1979, when 82 individuals and animals were honored by being inducted into the Hall of Fame, 14 more names have been added to the list of rodeo greats. Plaugher will now see his name among the legends of rodeo.

Another favorite of Ute Stampede fans, rodeo announcer Chuck Parkison, is also on the list.

Plaugher was named ProRodeo Clown of the Year in 1982 at age 60. Now, near 70, he is the oldest clown on the rodeo circuit but said he has no intention of quitting and plans to continue as a rodeo clown as long as he is healthy. The business is short of rodeo clowns as it is, he said, and experience is worth a lot.

Obviously, he has the experience. "I performed in my first rodeo in 1940.

"I'm healthy and never smoked or drank or did things that make a guy shorten his life," Plaugher said.

Over the years he has put more emphasis on the entertainment part of the clown act. At first, he said, he just wore a clown outfit and did the things he usually did, like ride bulls and broncs.

Later, he was a bullfighter, but he has given that up. "There are a lot of young kids around willing to fight bulls," said the 6-foot-3-inch-tall clown.

He keeps planning new acts for the arena. "I'm planning something new now," he said.

Plaugher performs many specialty acts using trained animals - one favorite of crowds is his monkey who rides the back of a dog, like a miniature barrel racer.

He doesn't count how many rodeos he does in a year, he said. "Maybe I do about 30, maybe."

The first rodeos he worked in the 1940s were done mostly for fun. Then he discovered, as he totaled his earnings, he was doing quite well financially.

"So I started rodeoing and I've been doing it ever since."

At first, he competed in bull and bronc riding events and by 1946 he won $6,000 at Madison Square Garden in New York in the all-around competition. "That was a lot of money then," he said.

He was able to buy a 550-acre ranch and kept on accumulating land and now lists his occupation as "rancher." His special interest is developing crossbreed cattle.

Plaugher could have chosen other things to do. He performed at a rodeo in Australia for the queen and royal family and could have stayed there and worked rodeos.

He also could have made a career of acting. "Fess Parker is a friend of mine," he said. He was a regular on the old "Daniel Boone" series and Parker wanted him to take up acting. He turned down an offer to be on `Bonanza."

"This is more fun," said Plaugher. Actors "sit around all day waiting" for their time before the cameras, he said, and it gets boring. "To me, it just isn't all that interesting." However, he has performed in several movies.

Plaugher was a co-founder, with Mark Schricker, of the Cowboy Chapber of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes in 1974. "I was raised in a Christian home and I accepted Christ when I was a young kid," said Plaugher. He often speaks at churches in cities he visits with the rodeo.

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