By: Ruth Nicolaus
Round-Up honors free transport service volunteers with 2023 Top Hand Award
Red Bluff, Calif. – Clay and Lilly Parker are the 2023 Top Hand Award winners for the Red Bluff Round-Up.
The husband-wife duo has been providing free transportation, called the Rodeo Safe Ride, at the Round-Up since 2009.
Clay Parker got the idea to provide the free rides for rodeo cowboys and cowgirls to and from downtown Red Bluff when he was sheriff of Tehama County. When the Round-Up Board of Directors came to him, asking for his help to cut down on the number of law enforcement interactions with cowboys and cowgirls who had been drinking, Parker had an idea.
“What if we start a ride service?” he asked. So he and his wife Lilly started with a vehicle from Growney Motors, then borrowed Lilly’s sister’s van, gave out their phone numbers, and made sure anyone who called them got transported back to their hotel or their campsite at the rodeo grounds.
The Rodeo Safe Ride took off, and this year, the Parkers, plus other drivers, including Parker’s two sisters, his brother-in-law, a Red Bluff police dispatcher and her husband, and a deputy sheriff and his daughter, staffed the Ride program.
They put in long hours, starting at 2 pm and running till 3:30 am on the Friday of Rodeo, and running from 10:30 am to 3:30 am on the Saturday of Rodeo. Each van has two drivers in it, with Lilly answering the phone and scheduling rides. Rodeo contestants are given a business card with Parker’s number on it when they check into the rodeo.
This year, with three vans, they transported 429 people to and from bars and restaurants in Red Bluff. Parker estimates over the fourteen years the Rodeo Safe Ride has been in existence, they’ve hauled over 6,000 people.
They provide more than a ride, Parker said. If a cowboy or cowgirl has driven to a bar and is unable to drive home, they will drive the person’s vehicle back to the rodeo grounds.
It’s not just rodeo contestants that they chauffeur; they take fans, too. Parker estimates this year’s riders were about fifty percent contestants and fifty percent fans.
Lilly was born and raised in Tehama County; Clay moved to Red Bluff in 1981, when he was hired as deputy sheriff, and the couple married a year later.
Clay was promoted to detective, sergeant, detective sergeant and captain, then was elected sheriff in 1998. He retired from law enforcement in 2011, and then was elected to city council member the next year. He’s served as Red Bluff mayor several times and is currently mayor pro tempore.
He and Lilly’s favorite part of the Rodeo Safe Ride is helping others and meeting the contestants. “They’re such great people,” he said.
They were awarded with the Top Hand Award on April 15; Clay was given a buckle and Lilly received a bracelet.
“It was a huge honor for us.”
Each year, the Round-Up selects a volunteer who has dedicated his or her time to assisting in the various aspects of the Round-Up, and honors them with the Top Hand award.
This year’s Round-Up took place April 21-23. The 2024 event will be April 19-21. For more information, visit the website at RedBluffRoundUp.com.