“Rump has always been a clown.”
In the grade school classroom, in the crowd, at the rodeo, but that ornery kid grew up, and he’s still a clown.
Officially, the best rodeo clown in the country, proven time and again, with a twice repeat last week.
Abbyville, Kansas, native Justin Rumford was a two-time winner at the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association’s annual awards banquet in Las Vegas.
Rumford won both the Coors Man in the Can and Clown of the Year awards before a packed house of 1,032 people at the South Point Hotel, Casino & Spa’s Grand Ballroom.
Known as Rump by just about everybody involved in rodeo from every aspect, Rumford gets the moniker as short for his sir name, further exemplified by the backside action Rumford presents as is unique now-traditional feature throughout every rodeo performance.
“This feels great,” Rumford said. “Last year, I set a goal to work as hard as I could and try to do this (be named the best rodeo clown) again, and I’m just very thankful for everybody who voted for me. I’m so happy right now I’m about to cry.”
This was the fourth consecutive year Rumford was honored as the Clown of the Year, and Rump also was the Coors Man in the Can in 2013.
“It really means a lot,” said Rumford about his double awards.
John Harrison was the Comedy Act of the Year for the second year in a row. “I’m just glad Rump doesn’t know how to trick ride,” said Harrison.
Dusty Tuckness was named the Bullfighter of the Year for the third year in a row. “I’ve been very blessed to win this award, ” Tuckness said. “This is always humbling to know my peers in this industry believe in me this much.”
One would have to admit, “rodeo is in the blood” of Justin Rumford whose grandparents owned and operated Rumford Rodeo Company, headquartered at Abbyville, for more than a half century.
Then, Floyd and Lola Rumford’s son, Bronc Rumford, with his family, took over management of the rodeo business, automatically putting Justin Rumford into the rodeo world from the start.
Bronc Rumford continues active in all phases of rodeo today as pickup man, chute boss and coach of the Fort Hays State Rodeo Team, to just name a few of many rodeo affiliations.
The only difference between Justin Rumford and a stand-up comedian, is that he’s doing his job from the middle of a rodeo arena instead of a stage with a spotlight.
Rumford, who now lives in Ponca City, Okla., is a rodeo clown at events from coast to coast, with a twofold rodeo job.
He provides the laughs and banters with the announcer, but during the bull riding Rumford’s more dangerous task begins. As a barrel man, Rump provides an oasis of safety for bullfighters and bull riders, in case an angry bull decides to chase them.
Rumford grew up competing in junior high, high school and college rodeo, and was then a full time professional rodeo steer wrestler.
A serious knee injury put a hiatus to that, but while recovering, Rump served as assistant rodeo coach at Southwestern Oklahoma State University in Weatherford, and helped with the Cody, Wyoming, Night Rodeo, before becoming a truck driver for stock contractor Beutler and Son Rodeo.
Never considering being a professional rodeo clown, Rumford explained, “I worked the Pretty Prairie, Kansas, bull riding, and they gave me $1,000. I thought, why the heck am I working so hard for $800 a week, when I can make more than that in a night? So, I jumped ship for the clown life.”
In addition to working more than 100 rodeo performances around the country annually, Rumford has served as the barrel man at the National Finals Rodeo, the Ram National Circuit Finals Rodeo, the College National Finals Rodeo, and the Prairie Circuit Finals Rodeo.
The prestigious yearend rodeo awards are voted on by Rumford’s peers and rodeo committees. “I don’t know if I deserve them, but I’m fortunate to accept the awards. It’s unbelievable,” Rump appreciated.
In September of 2013, Rumford and his wife Ashley became the parents of triplets, daughters Livi and Lola, and a son, Bandy. “I have a 44-foot trailer, and I can bring the whole family with me, ” Rumford proudly acclaimed.
“My title may be rodeo clown, but my job is to be an entertainer, keep the crowd going,” Rump emphasized. “I’m not a bullfighter, I don’t mess with the bulls. I’m like the official ‘fun-haver’ of the rodeo.”
To be honored as the best rodeo clown in the world, Rumford said, “You can’t just stand there and tell stories the crowd has heard a jillion times. You have to use what you see on Facebook or twitter, or movies. So much of our audience is younger, and they know what’s happening. You have to be in tune with your audience.
“There’s actually a lot more to being a barrel man that people think. You have to be able to read bulls, know how to move, be in tune with the bullfighters It’s not just a guy in a barrel, waiting to get hit by a bull. There’s so much science to it, and timing and movement,” Rumford said.
“Justin’s always been kind of a clown at heart,” said wife Ashley. “He is very funny. Justin has a wonderful sense of humor, so it is a natural fit.”
The life of a rodeo clown is on the road 10 months of the year. Ashley quit her job as a registered nurse and with the children travels with Rumford to avoid long separations.
“I love it,” she said. “Justin and I both have gypsy souls. We love to see new places and experience new things. We have a rodeo family everywhere.”
Justin Rumford’s “monkey suit” isn’t a tuxedo. His monkey suit is a monkey suit. Gorilla, actually. It is part of his rodeo clown’s act. He also packs an Evel Knievel outfit, a Spider-Man suit and his old high school basketball uniform, which he admits is a bit tight.
“It’s the most awesome job. I work for myself, the pay is great, you get to pick where you go, and unlike when you’re competing, I can tell you every day I’ll be working from now through next year.
“I love the life of a rodeo clown,” Rump concluded.