By Terry Lidral

The metal sculptures on the gate of the entryway to the Caldwell Night Rodeo have been a familiar sight to fans and those who pass by for over a quarter of a century. The matching set of broncs and riders is an emblem of the Western Heritage and traditional rodeo that is the CNR. For designer and metal sculptor, Elden Waltman (a lifelong resident of Caldwell), they brought a special sense of pride. The sculptures were a collaborative effort between Waltman and another Caldwell resident and metal sculptor, Bob Gerdes.

rodeo gate gets an upgrade

In 1990, the Caldwell Night Rodeo Board of Directors decided that the main entrance of the CNR grounds needed a gated front entryway. It was the consensus of the Directors that the entry way should be bordered by masonry pillars with a span of metalwork in between. After much discussion and selective designing, the plan took shape.

The simple pillars and the plain black metal bars of the gate were quite ordinary and so, in April 1991, a proposal for a set of metal sculptures was presented to the CNR Board by then CNR Board Director, Gene Betts. Betts, who is the current CNR Director of Operations, explains the process: “Bob Gerdes was a resident of Caldwell who was well known for his metal sculptures,” Betts told us. “Pieces of Gerdes’ work were displayed at the College of Idaho’s President’s house and in other prominent places around the city. People knew and respected his work.”

Gerdes agreed to come up with a design concept for metal sculptures that would decorate the metal bars of the new entryway.” He drafted a sketch for a pair of large sculpted pieces to be put on each side of the metal gate,” said Betts, speaking about the popular metal sculptor’s proposal. “It was a design that was a good representation of our rodeo, so I took his sketch and presented it to the Board.”

The sketch of matching broncs and riders was a concept that fit CNR’s image perfectly. The Board accepted the proposal and gave Gerdes the green light to proceed. The draft was presented in April and the plan was to get the finished sculptures in place by opening night of CNR in August of that year.

locals partner together

To build the actual sculptures, Gerdes took his design to Darwin Feller Trucking, a Caldwell trucking company with experienced metal workers who worked with metal on a large scale. That’s where Elden Waltman came into the project. “Dad worked for Darwin Feller Trucking for nearly 50 years,” said Waltman’s son, Darwin. “He started out driving trucks on the milk routes and hauling potatoes. Then, he hurt his back and they put him in the shop doing metal fabrication.”

In their metal shop, Darwin Feller Trucking put together their own trucks to haul potatoes by having their employees plan and cut out metal parts. Through his work building potato trucks, Elden Waltman learned the craft of metal fabrication. “He cut everything out by hand using a cutting torch,” said Darwin Waltman of his father. “He loved working with metal and he was really good at it.”

The elder Waltman began working in ornamental iron and developed a real love for the art of metal sculpture. When he was offered the opportunity to create the sculptures that Bob Gerdes had designed, Waltman accepted the project with enthusiasm and a goal of perfection. “He could make a weathervane in a matter of minutes, but he was real particular about his work,” Darwin Waltman explained. “He’d measure, mark and go back again to check to make sure he had everything just right. He was absolutely meticulous.”

Even with his checking and rechecking, and the fact that he was working with large pieces of metal from a detailed design, it took Waltman only a couple of days to complete the sculptures from start to finish. “He was a little nervous at first,” Darwin Waltman remarked.

“Once word got out, a little bit of everybody came by to see what my father was doing. There were big crowds of people watching. But he eventually got used to having all those people around watching him work with his acetylene torch.”

A piece of rodeo history

The sculptures were made in large pieces that were transported, likely on a flatbed trailer, to the rodeo and assembled onsite. The metal was bolted on for security and later painted to keep the surface of the sculptures from rusting. “My Dad was really proud of those sculptures,” the younger Waltman told us. “Every time he’d drive by, he’d look at them and he’d feel good. But he was a very humble man.” Waltman was so humble that not many knew that he was the creator of the sculptures that have been adorning the CNR gates since the entryway was built over 30 years ago.

Waltman passed away in August of 2017. For his family, the metal sculptures are a reminder of a man who took great pride in his work. They can rest assured that his artwork will be admired for many years to come as rodeo fans from far and wide pass through the gates and enter our western lifestyle that is the CNR.

Written & published in August 2018.

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