The third week of June was a big one for 53-year-old Marlow Eldridge, a 7-Elite heeler from Nampa, Idaho.
“I told my wife,” Eldridge said, “this is where it all began.”
Indeed, on June 20, 1995, Eldridge and his bride, Audrey, were wed in Lake Tahoe, just down the road from Reno. A short 23 years later to the day, he commemorated their anniversary by winning $60,000 in the #12 High Desert Showdown with his long-time friend and roping partner, Molly Hepper, of Klamath Falls, Oregon.
“We’re going to have some fun tonight,” Audrey, a 4-Elite header, offered after Eldridge’s win.
But first, their son Jaylen, 15, would compete in the Junior BFI. The following day, daughter Candida, 19, competed in the Charlie 1 Horse All-Girl, and then the week wrapped up with Jaylen, who is currently heeling as a 7-Elite with 158 points in fourth place in the Jr. NFR Open standings, competing and winning in the second Jr. NFR qualifier.
“It was a fun week,” the father of three confirmed as he was heading down the highway to Jaylen’s next Jr. NFR qualifier in Gallup, New Mexico, with his 17-year-old daughter, Rieta—the volleyball athlete in the family—while Audrey and Candida, a 5 header who won the #12 Pick or Draw with her brother at the 2017 Mountain West Team Roping Finals, were entered up to rope in Homedale, Idaho, at the Rope and Run, in which local competitors compete for a chance to enter at the Snake River Stampede in July.
As a long-time truck driver, Eldridge is no stranger to the road, though he typically gets to stick closer to home.
“I used to have my own truck,” he said. “I took it out to Louisiana and Florida and found out I couldn’t be away from home. That didn’t work out very good.”
When Eldridge returned home, he and his boss figured they’d give dirt trucks a go.
“Dirt trucks stay home all the time. You’re home at night and that works best for me.”
As far as trucking goes, Eldridge hit pay dirt when it comes to bosses. His is Christie Gumb, the mother of the current leading PRCA Rookie, Jeff Flenniken, who is holding the top spot over his nearest competitor by nearly $3,000.
“She really understands the situation,” Eldridge said of his boss, though he equally understands how important it is to keep a truck on the road. “You don’t dare park your truck because [the client] will find somebody else that wants to do it. So we’ve got to keep it going. Christy found another fellow who can fill in for me and it has really helped.
“We came home Friday after the BFI and went to a roping in Washington on Sunday. I came back and drove on Monday, and then we left again Tuesday night for Gallup. And she understands.”
Of course, the road isn’t all wind-in-your-hair easy-breezy, as most big rig operators will tell you.
“I was talking to an older guy the other day and he said that, years ago, people respected him and looked up to truck drivers. It was a respectable occupation.”
And even though Eldridge’s routes are restricted to the valley, the disregard for truckers plays out as dangerously for him as it does for any long-haul operator.
“I don’t think they understand,” Eldridge explained, “when I’m loaded, I’m so heavy that, if they pull in front of me, I’ll run them over. It’s just that simple. I’m at 96,000 pounds.”
Trucking, the industry that moves America, is all about physics and logistics: Heavier loads necessitate a greater stopping distance, and more miles require more time. They’re concepts that are in no way foreign to Eldridge, until he thinks about the logistics of being a professional cowboy, like his nephew, Dakota Eldridge, who has qualified for the NFR every year since 2013 in bulldogging and is a competitive team- and tie-down roper.
“Anytime I think my schedule is hectic,” Eldridge said, “I talk to him and see where he’s going, and I can’t keep it straight it my head.”
Still, the family gets a lot of joy from following Dakota’s career and celebrating his successes.
“We enjoy following him and we feel like, in a little way, we’re a part of it. We’ll go to the NFR to watch him and go down to the World Series ropings.”
This year, though, the hope is that there may be two Eldridges at the NFR.
“We decided back in January that the Jr. NFR had to be the priority,” Eldridge said. “So hopefully Jaylen will qualify for that and get to go to Vegas and that’s where we’ll be.”
With such a strong focus on Jaylen’s opportunities, Eldridge found himself wondering what he’d signed up for as he drove into Reno.
“It’s funny. The kids rope a lot and I don’t rope like I used to, so I was thinking to myself, how smart is this for me to be coming out here like this and putting up $1,000 when I hadn’t really been working at it like I should have? But it turned out.
“Going into the final round, I knew if we just made a good run, we’d probably be no worse than third. We caught, and the other teams kind of had some bad luck. But Molly and I have roped together quite a bit and I’ve known her forever. We were due.”
Despite the week’s big wins, when Eldridge gets to rope with his wife and children back at the home arena again, he imagines things will remain pretty basic.
“We’ll probably just do what we do: Catching. We really don’t work on anything other than trying to catch and make our horses work right. Not any of that fast stuff. I don’t rope fast anyway, but just making our horses work right at home seems like that pays off for us.”