Pat McLaughlin has been a fixture at the Lone Star Fair and Expo, better known to locals as the Rattlesnake Roundup, for decades. While not in charge of running the event — which begins at 3 p.m. today at the Brownwood Coliseum and runs through Sunday — any longer, he still helps out and will provide patrons with a treat never before introduced in Brown County.
With temperatures forecast to be in the upper 80s, McLaughlin will help visitors remain cool thanks to his frozen chocolate drizzled strawberries and cheesecake on a stick.
"Most events try to have something on a stick because the people at festivals are mobile, they're moving around and doing stuff and don't want to sit down and eat," McLaughlin said. "They want to have something on a stick. The cheesecake is frozen so it holds to the stick, it's almost like eating ice cream."
While the snacks are part of the draw, the rattlesnakes — and in particular the daredevil shows hosted by Rising Star native Jackie Bibby — are what lure crowds to the Brownwood Coliseum annually.
"Different roundups are done differently," McLaughlin said. "Sweetwater is all about the safety program, Taylor is about the sacking contest and we do the safety and education program along with the daredevil program. The Brownwood Jaycees handle the safety portion and they leave the daredevil portion to the experts, and that's Jackie and his crew. Jackie is the king of the thrill show. He'll do anything from hold rattlesnakes in his mouth to climbing into sleeping bags with them."
Bibby, nicknamed the "Texas Snakeman," is making his 43rd appearance at the Lone Star Fair and Expo. Bibby can also speak to the safety portion of the event as in September of 2012 he was bitten by a snake while filming his A&E television program, "Rattlesnake Republic," and the result was amputation of his right leg above the knee. Still, that hasn't deterred his passion or performances.
"It's not a game these guys are doing," McLaughlin said. "It's really very serious."
The Lone Star Fair and Expo, which is celebrating its 49th year, will be open from 3 p.m. to 8 p.m. Friday, 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday and noon to 5 p.m. Sunday. Bibby is scheduled to perform between 10:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. Saturday as well as 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. On Sunday, performances will take place between 12:30 p.m. and 3 p.m.
Admission is $3 for adults and $2 for children. All proceeds go toward the Brownwood Jaycees to fund other events, including the "Christmas for Families" program that was instituted this past December.
McLaughlin was unsure of the exact attendance figures for the event, but noted that visitors from across the country have enjoyed the festivities.
"We've seen people come from Wisconsin, Oregon, Washington and even had some people down from Canada last year," McLaughlin said. "A lot of the people are snowbirds traveling and find out where festivals are going on and they come through and visit. According to the hotels here in town, they book about 35 to 40 rooms on the weekend, which is good, plus they're eating in our restaurants and buying gasoline here."
Rattlesnake roundups originally began as a way to control the population, and while that is still a reason for the events, rattlesnakes have turned into big business as well.
"Farmers and ranchers had livestock, pets and family members in danger of being bitten by rattlesnakes, so in the beginning they had a little festival and just killed all the snakes," McLaughlin said. "As creative as the American public is, they came up with a way to make something out of the rattlesnakes. Pretty much anything you can make out of leather you can make out of rattlesnake hide. It's developed into an industry, a business and there doesn't seem to be any reduction in site. It's holding rattlesnakes to a certain population level and it's not reducing to a point where they would be endangered."
As for McLaughlin, he is now a JCI Senator — which is the highest international honor that can be given to a Jaycee. Only one out of 1,000 Jaycees becomes a senator. Meanwhile, McLaughlin's son, Patrick, and daughter, Ashley, are driving forces behind the revitalization of the Brownwood Jaycees.
"Waylan Kite and myself held this project together for many years in anticipation of getting a chapter up and running again," McLaughlin said. "I did not recruit my son, nor my daughter. I made a vow I wasn't going to do that. But they grew up in a family with the rattlesnake roundup."
Plans are already under way for the 50th anniversary celebration of the roundup next March, and with the influx of youth in the Brownwood Jaycees, the tradition appears as healthy as ever.