Avoiding the sharp and sometimes even deadly horns of raging bulls in thousands of cities across the world, Tuffy Gessling said because it’s his first time in the county, he put on an extra special show Friday night and plans to match the performance again tonight at the annual Allen County Rodeo.
With trick roping, pyrotechnics and duck herding in his repertoire, Gessling has made a career of making people laugh and helping bull riders avoid injury as a rodeo clown for more than 20 years — and he has the medical record to prove it.
“I’ve broke one leg 52 times,” he said Thursday night just after arriving in Iola. In all, Gessling said 127 times in his career he’s suffered bone-breaking injuries.
“It’s not anymore dangerous than riding in a car,” the Glasgow, Mo. native insisted, pointing to animals’ predictability. “I know what them bulls are going to do. A lot of people don’t know how to drive.”
Gessling, a two-time Missouri Rodeo Cowboy Association clown of the year, got his start in the rodeo business riding bulls and broncos as a young child but it didn’t take him long to realize what he was truly good at.
“It was a natural transition,” he said of his start as a rodeo clown. “I wasn’t real good at riding bulls. I was a lot better at making people laugh, so if you can’t ride very good, you might as well make someone laugh about it.”
Spending most of his time living out of his touring trailer, Gessling said it does get lonely living on the road.
“It is a lonely life,” he said. “But that’s the good thing about being single. You don’t have to worry about making anyone mad back home.”
Gessling, arriving in Allen County Thursday after traveling more than 700 miles from Roseling, Ill., said although he doesn’t have many family ties, however, the friends he’s made on the rodeo circuit have become like family.
“It’s a big family. We celebrate everybody’s birthday together, eat together and all that,” he said. “When you are on the road all the time, this is your family.”
Gessling also has his two show dogs, Moss and Lad, to keep him company on tour.
Despite the long days on the road and the lonely nights, Gessling said he wouldn’t choose a different career for the world.
“A lot of us, we’d do it for free 100 percent of the time,” he said.