"Gizmo" McCracken makes his living as a rodeo entertainer
by Heather Berry
|Dale "Gizmo" McCracken keeps crowds entertained and the cowboys
safe at rodeos across the United States.
ambulance zooms into the pasture and seems to stop on a dime as it
comes to rest under an old oak tree. A sign alerts onlookers to “stay
back 500 feet; driver chewin’ tobacco.” The
door swings open and out jumps colorfully dressed Dale McCracken, known
to crowds as “Gizmo,” the rodeo clown.
Dale, 43, has been
jumping in and out of barrels, entertaining crowds and distracting
1,800 pounds of muscle, horns and fuzzy fury for the past 27 years
in professional rodeo circuits from coast to coast as a professional
“When I was
15, I came home from attending a PRCA rodeo in Cassville and told my
dad and mom I was going to be a bullfighter,” says
think Dad thought I should stick to breaking horses for him instead.”
Dale wasn’t dissuaded by his parents. He kept going to rodeos
and soon he met Paul Spencer, a Missouri-based stock contractor for the
American Cowboy Rodeo Association and International Professional Rodeo
me under his wing and showed me how to make the bulls buck and spin
for the cowboys. And that became my job,” says
the Barry Electric Cooperative member.
Dale applies make-up to create his character.
While traveling with
Paul to rodeos, Dale met Norman Bryant, a well-known professional rodeo
clown from Arkansas. The more time he spent with Norman, the more Dale
knew he wanted to become a bullfighting clown. With Norman nearing
retirement, he decided to teach Dale the art of clowning.
weren’t any rodeo clown colleges to attend. You either had
what it took or you didn’t,” Dale says.
His main job
as a clown is to keep the cowboys safe while entertaining the
crowd. Being a barrel man is part of Dale’s act, but it’s
also vital, as his clown antics with the barrel hide the serious
part of his job in the arena.
“When a cowboy
is riding, he usually doesn’t know where the chute
is, the fence is or which end is up,” he says. “As
a bullfighter, my job is to help distract the bull and give
the cowboy time to get their bearings.”
When it comes
to entertaining crowds, Dale turns on the full Gizmo charm
for the fans. He might appear in character as Ozzy Osborne,
Elvis or Willie Nelson — or
he might introduce onlookers to the elephant hunter, fireman
Lt. Ralph Rottenhose or his new character, a fat Barney Fife.
he loves his job, clowning keeps Dale on the road much
of the year.
thought I was nuts when I began clowning," Dale says. "Now
they're sure I am."
gone more than 200 days a year and hit 45 to 50 cities,” says
Dale. He and his wife, Janice, now plan shorter trips
because they want to be home with family, especially their 1-year-old
Dale says when you
hire him, he’s yours
from the moment the event begins until the last person in the stand
“I work a rodeo
from the hello to the goodnight. I like to be in character for the
entire event,” says Dale. “And
I do clean, wholesome shows. No smut here; you could bring your
preacher to see me perform.”
Dale says he wouldn’t
be where he is today without the support of his family. When Janice
running their store in Wheaton (appropriately called “Gizmo’s
Stop and Shop, Please”) she’s in the
bus crisscrossing the United States with Dale.
takes some pretty big money for me to leave the
Dale. “ I’d just rather be home spending
time with my family.”
eight of the 12 Professional Rodeo Cowboy Association
circuits in the United States and, in 2002, was
nominated as Comedy Act of the Year by the PRCA.
Over the years, Dale’s broken arms and ribs too many times to count.
In 1996, a run- in with a bull nearly killed
“I was in the
barrel and a bull threw his horn into it,” he
horn came through my eyelid, busted my cheekbone,
broke my nose and messed up my sinuses pretty good.
and house insurance isn’t a problem for me” says
Dale, “but hospitalization is a whole
Only a slight scar
tells the tale of that day. But an accident
in 2000 nearly blew Dale’s hand
off while performing at a rodeo in North
a fiery appearance. Photo courtesy of Dale McCracken/gizmomccracken.com.
“In the act,
I pull an old shotgun out of my golf bag. I had
my hand over the barrel and the hammer
got hung,” says Dale, staring
at the palm of his hand as if reliving
the event. “I just about blew
my hand off.”
It took seven surgeries
in 11 days before doctors could tell
Dale he might be able to keep all
of his fingers. The incident was nearly
enough to make Dale quit clowning
“While at home
recovering, I prayed and asked the Lord if he wanted me to quit rodeo.
And I asked him to give me a neon sign if I was to continue,” he
have to wait long for his sign. The next
day, he got the call inviting
him to the prestigious Cheyenne Frontier
Rodeo, the “granddaddy
of them all” according
to the bullfighting clown.
hung up from that call and said ‘Lord,
I don’t get any brighter
sign than that, do I?’”
You may contact Dale “Gizmo” McCracken at P.O. Box 492,
Wheaton, MO 64874; by e-mail at gizmo@Mo-Net.com or visit his Web site