Dennis Gibson Construction removes the burned grandstand sections from the Philomath Frolic & Rodeo arena on Wednesday morning. (Photo by Logan Hannigan-Downs/Philomath News)

The Frolic has deep roots in Philomath.

The name has varied through the years — it was called the Buckaroos and Loggers Frolic at its inaugural event in June 1954 and the rodeo didn’t come along until 1983. No matter what the name, the summer celebration established itself as an annual tradition in this small mid-valley community.

So when the rodeo faced the possibility of being canceled as a fire ripped through a section of the grandstands late Monday night, the community responded. There were offers of free equipment and labor. Several individuals stood in line at the bank to donate to a fund that had been set up. Organizations dug deep into their checkbooks to contribute to the cause.

“It’s always been that annual summertime celebration where you celebrate everything that’s great about being in the middle of July — it’s warm, it’s summer, it’s a beautiful part of the world and you’ve got your friends, your family and your community around you.”

Those were the words of Chris Workman, a person that many folks know as the city manager. Beyond his day job, he’s also been a driving force within the Philomath Frolic & Rodeo organization, formerly serving as its president and in recent years, continuing to serve on the board of directors. Workman was among those at the rodeo grounds late Friday to witness the devastation that was going on less than two weeks before the roping and riding was scheduled to begin.

“This is that hometown celebration that people remember taking place every summer,” Workman said. “It’s great … I think it’s something that people cling to and remember.”

So, the support arrived — and fast.

Philomath Frolic & Rodeo board president Darrell Hinchberger accepts a donation from Chloe Chambers of the Philomath Scout Lodge. (Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

Darrell Hinchberger, the Frolic & Rodeo board president, appeared to get choked up for a moment on Wednesday afternoon when accepting a $2,500 check from the Philomath Scout Lodge’s board of directors. Upon receiving the check, he took off his cowboy hat and gave the Scout Lodge’s Shirley Martini a heartfelt hug.

“It doesn’t really surprise me that there’s that support there,” Workman said. “But it’s been a testament of what the Frolic means to people — those that grew up here, have gone to the parade their whole lives.

“What’s impressed me the most,” he added, “is the number of $25, $50, $100 contributions that have come in from the community. It’s really been impressive.”

The Frolic & Rodeo’s board never seemed to think that they might need to cancel the rodeo performances. There was definitely a level of uncertainty, of course, after Monday night’s fire, but the volunteers were ready to tackle the challenges ahead if the arena could be deemed safe.

“Everybody on the board has been focused on what we need to do to make it happen,” Workman said.

After the removal and cleanup is completed, the Frolic & Rodeo plans to bring in temporary bleachers for seating. (Photo by Logan Hannigan-Downs/Philomath News)

Getting permits for the demolition, making quick arrangements to get temporary bleachers on site and making sure the structure above continues to be safe were among the major questions that needed to be answered.

John McGee, a local civil engineer, answered one of the first questions by visiting the site less than 10 hours after the fire had been extinguished.

“He was out there at 10:30 (Tuesday) looking at the structure and they’re not doing a lot of physical tests but looking at it structurally at where the weight load is going and any changes,” Workman said. “It was like, ‘your I beams look great, your Z beams look great’ — he’s not seeing anything.”

The only real damage to the structure itself was fiberglass that had melted and that involves work that doesn’t need to be done before the rodeo.

“As far as the amount of work that needs to be done between now and the rodeo, everybody’s been on board with getting it done,” Workman said.

Dennis Gibson Construction dropped everything to lead a demolition crew on Wednesday morning to remove burned sections. Frolic & Rodeo board member Brian Bailey, who has a background in construction, excavating and other related work, also stepped up with a skid steer. Republic Services contributed two bins to the project — one for scrap metal and the other for burnt wood. Gravel work to level the site was to occur either Wednesday or Thursday.

A pile of debris sits where the burnt sections had been located. (Photo by Logan Hannigan-Downs/Philomath News)

“Everybody’s just been really good working with it but it has come together really, really quick,” Workman said.

Workman said the Frolic has good leads on temporary bleachers to come in. A determination needed to be made on the best configuration that would work in the space and at what cost.

“None of that’s coming in free but at this point, even if we break even on the seats, we’re happy,” Workman said. “We just want more people to be able to go to the rodeo.”

The temporary bleachers are expected to be delivered next week.

“You back them in, you unfold them, you jack them up a little bit to get them level,” Workman said, illustrating how easy they can be set up. “When the rodeo’s done, on Sunday you fold them back up, back them out and they’ll be gone.”

Those who had purchased reserved seating in the affected sections will be contacted to either arrange for new seat assignments or receive refunds.

The covering over the burned sections remained in place and the Frolic will complete any additional work that may be needed based on a pending engineering report.

“His initial view was he didn’t think anything would need to be done, but we’ll see,” Workman said.

Work remaining also includes removing any burnt fiberglass that may be hanging from the structure and pressure-washing the area just to get it all cleaned up.

At full capacity, the rodeo arena could accommodate 2,200 people. The fire took out about 500 seats.

Brad Fuqua, Philomath News

Brad Fuqua has covered the Philomath area since 2014 as the editor of the now-closed Philomath Express and currently as publisher/editor of the Philomath News. He has worked as a professional journalist since 1988 at daily and weekly newspapers in Nebraska, Kansas, North Dakota, Arizona, Montana and Oregon.