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Nell Henderson

Inducted in 2015

NellJanPicThe timer’s function is to accurately and reliably provide times for events, even those done electronically, in case of a malfunction.  As Ken MacRae, a recent inductee of the ERHOF, points out “The timers have a very specific and critical task. Thousands of dollars are paid out often with only tenths of a second separating winners from non-winners. Up until about the middle 1960s, the committees could use local people as timers but since then a timer must have a PRCA timer’s card, and undergo training. The Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association always uses two timers. There is a degree of judgment involved as the exact moment the barrier flag signals the beginning of the run and the exact moment the flag judge in the field signals the end of the run by dropping his flag.”  Henderson’s precision and reliability when reading these flags are what earned her the honor of timing for the NFR. It is the accuracy of her judgment that rodeos came to rely on.

As MacRae further explains, “In the Ellensburg riding events, the start of the eight second duration of the ride is signaled by a flagger at ground level in front of the bucking chutes. That flagger signals the start of the ride when the front feet of the animal first touch the ground as it turns out of the chute. The clocks start at that signal and end at eight seconds when the timers activate the horn. The timers also back-up the timing in the barrel race.  In the barrel race, electronic eyes start and end the run, which is recorded in hundredths of a second. Should the electronic timer fail, which almost never happens, the back-up time is official.”

We tend to think of the rodeo as those three or four hours during the big show, but a timer’s day can be a long one because the slack also needs precise timing and backup.  Art Stoltman recalls that a national roping champion was once very dissatisfied with the time clocked electronically, claiming it was way too slow.  He appealed to Henderson’s stop watch, and it had the exact same time as the electronic one.  So the timing is not only for electronic malfunctions, but also a way of deflecting complaints.  Because of slack time,  Henderson would often start her rodeo day at 5:30 in the morning and not be done until seven at night.  She got into timing because her family participated in rodeos, and she thought it was “natural” to volunteer.  It might seem a little unnatural to put in such long days, but she did it at Ellensburg for twenty-three years.

Henderson’s involvement in rodeo, however, went beyond timing.  For the Columbia Pro Rodeo Association (CPRA), she kept a newsletter called “Nell’s Notes” in which she outlined rule changes, time schedules, and other protocol issues for cowboys moving from one event to another.  In her resignation announcement to the CPRA, she said, “I can’t tell you how much I have enjoyed this job and the people who I’ve had the pleasure to talk to, work with, and meet over the last 15 years. I know once I step back I’ll lose contact with a lot of you and that makes my heart sad. It’s just ‘Rodeo,’ it’s what we do – and that doesn’t leave room for much else.”  When she recalled timing at the Ellensburg Rodeo, she said, “Just how does a person put into words all the good memories of the Ellensburg Rodeo? It is the people you work with that make for the many good memories.”  Her induction into the Ellensburg Rodeo Hall of Fame is for the public recognition for all those years of diligent, precise work.