Bryan Saddle Club
(Brazos County Rodeo Arena)
Bryan, TX

The City of Bryan began as a small-town stop along Texas' expanding railway system in the late 19th century and would later benefit from the establishment of the Agriculture and Mechanical College (Texas A&M), which opened its doors in 1876, four miles outside of Bryan in what became College Station. It was so named for the railway stop.1 The Bryan Saddle Club was formed by citizens of Brazos County around the late 1940s as a horse riding club. By 1954 there were about 85 members and the club owned 13.6 acres amongst the cow pastures north of town off Tabor Road, near where it meets the Earl Rudder Freeway today.


Map of Brazos County, Texas
courtesy City-Data

At the time, the grounds contained a long, open air, wooden Rodeo arena with bleacher seating along two sides, bucking chutes and announcers booth at the north end, with roping chutes and a small concession stand at the south end. The only other buildings there then were the restrooms on the south west side of the arena. The Saddle Club, in addition to marching in local parades, used the grounds for the most part for Rodeo, dances, traveling music shows, polo and roping practice. The arena itself was often referred to as the Bryan Saddle Club, and then later the Brazos County Rodeo Arena on Tabor Road.


Satellite view of the remodeled Tabor Road Arena in Bryan, TX - Feb 28, 2003
courtesy Google Earth

On August 23, 1955 while on a week-long tour of Louisiana Hayride acts promoted and emceed by Horace Logan, Elvis, Scotty, Bill and DJ made their first and only appearance in Bryan at the arena. The tour included stops in Wichita Falls, Conroe, Austin and Gonzales and the Bryan show was reputedly booked by Tillman Franks in conjunction with local radio deejay, A.J. Winn from WTAW in College Station. Billboard magazine in Septemeber of 1955 reported that Winn, a performer also, guested on the show.


A.J Winn at station WTAW in College Station, TX
Photo courtesy Buddy Winn and The Eagle

Winn, who was originally from Leon County Texas, had formed a band in the late 1940s that played dance halls, square dances and rodeos though out Central Texas. They hosted a weekly one hour show each Saturday on Texas A&M owned station WTAW, which in the course of six months became the three hour, six day a week A. J. Winn radio show.2 ( I'm told that WTAW stands for "Watch the Aggies Win")


Ad in the Caldwell News - April 20, 1951
courtesy the Portal To Texas History

According to Winn's son, former Brazos County Tax Assessor and Collector, Gerald "Buddy" Winn, his father booked and promoted most of the major appearances of artists in the area at the time, including Hank Williams, Johnny Horton, David Houston, Hank Thompson, Jerry Jericho, Gabe Tucker, Ernest Tubb, Webb Pierce, Slim Whitman, Johnny & Jack, and Lefty Frizzel among others. Many of them, he said, stayed at their home over the years, from 1948 to 1960, since there were no motels to speak of back then

In September of 1954 Billboard had reported that Winn was being considered for a role in an MGM Movie about the life of Hank Williams. No film though about Hank would be made until 1964.


Elvis and WTAW deejay A.J. Winn in Bryan, TX - Aug. 23, 1955
Photo courtesy eBay and FECC/Mississippi

Buddy attended all of the performances back then. He remembers them as 'family' affairs and the whole family attended. When Elvis performed, a flatbed trailer was used for the stage. It was set up in the arena about 50 or 75 feet in front of the bucking chutes and horse and bull pens at the north end of the arena. There were no people seated in the arena, just a few folks milling around near the trailer and the musicians. Everyone sat in the stands on either side or stood by the arena fence looking through. He remembers Jimmy Day and Floyd Cramer playing with Elvis too, and they later had a picture of Elvis and Gabe Tucker in front of a car, with Elvis kneeling by the bumper. Gabe wrote on the picture, "to my good friend AJ, from your friend Gabe Tucker, and his friend" (which was Elvis).


Scotty, Elvis DJ and Bill onstage - (late '55 - early '56)
 Photo source Cristi Dragomir

Burt Hermann, who had graduated High School in Bryan in 1954 and delivered papers for the Bryan Daily Eagle at the time, remembers being there. He wrote that he got Elvis' autograph at the performance.2 Burt said that the stands held about 2,000 each and he remembers it as being packed. He was 18 at the time, two years younger than Elvis but at 6'3" tall, he said he "kind of hovered over him." About ten years later he let his wife's brother take the autographed photo to school "and in the process of letting his middle school girlfriends pass it around it disappeared. It has made for a story over the years." He said it was a great performance, however, he only recalls Elvis, Scotty and Bill there, not a drummer. DJ, though, is pictured at least on subsequent dates of this tour. The boys would return to the area for one more appearance, the following October at the G. Rollie White Coliseum in nearby College Station.


Satellite view of the Tabor Road Arena in Bryan, TX - 1995
courtesy Google Earth


Satellite view of the Tabor Road Arena in Bryan, TX - Feb 28, 2003
courtesy Google Earth

In the 1960's as membership dropped off, the Saddle Club disbanded. They donated the land to Brazos County and several buildings were later constructed on the property. The original arena was torn down and replaced (as pictured here) with a newer metal and pipe arena. Arena Hall was built near the south west end of the arena. Around 1968 the highway was built that ran along east of the arena in the area that was originally all cow pastures and sometime in the 1970s the Livestock building, the big building located north of the arena, was also built.


The Catalena Cowgirls at the 33rd Annual PRCA Rodeo in Bryan, TX - July 2004
Photo by Patric Schneider courtesy The Eagle


Satellite view of the Tabor Road Arena in Bryan, TX - 2006
courtesy Google Earth


A rider prepares for the 36th Annual PRCA Rodeo, the last at Tabor Rd. - July 19, 2007

The Tabor Road Rodeo Arena would remain in use however for the next several decades. Starting in 1971 the Bryan Breakfast Lions Club began hosting the annual Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA) Rodeo there, a three day event held, then at least, the third week each July. In 2008 the Brazos County Exposition Complex was built, an indoor facility located on Leonard Rd, several miles south and west away in Bryan and the Rodeo relocated there. The last PRCA Rodeo held at the Tabor Road Arena was in July of 2007, with several thousand people in attendance each night.4


The view of the former arena grounds from Tabor Road - June 2009
Photo courtesy Google Streetview

A.J. had been with Hank Williams during his last area appearance, and Buddy said they used to have a picture of him holding him up to the microphone so he could sing. Coincidentally, he also had an appearance with Johnny Horton on the night Johnny died. In 1971 at a county fair in Bellville, David Houston told the crowd, A.J. Winn saved many country singers, because he fed us when we didn't make enough money to eat and gave us a place to sleep.


The view of the former arena grounds from Tabor Road - June 2009
Photo courtesy Google Streetview

A.J. left the music business in 1967 and later managed a cattle ranch for his son.  He passed away on February 24, 2010 at the age of 94.2 Arena Hall is still in use by the county but all traces of the arena are gone. The property is now owned and operated by the Bryan Independent School District and the area where the arena was is paved for parking.


Satellite view of the former Tabor Road Arena in Bryan, TX - 2011
courtesy Google Earth

page added March 9, 2012
 

Special thanks to Gerald "Buddy" Winn, Burt Hermann, Sammy Catalena, Hugh Walker and to The BeatGear Cavern's lklel for their assistance with this page.

1 according to The City of Bryan
2 according to
obituary for A. J. Winn (1915-2010) courtesy The Eagle Bryan/College Station Texas
3 according to The good ol' days by Jim Butler - The Eagle Bryan/College Station Texas, June 22, 2006
4 according to Last roundup at the old corral - PRCA rodeo in its final run at Tabor Arena by Whitney Little - The Eagle Bryan/College Station Texas, July 20, 2007

 

All photos on this site (that we didn't borrow) unless otherwise indicated are the property of either Scotty Moore or James V. Roy and unauthorized use or reproduction is prohibited.

 
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