West of Eden
If Troy Weekley hadn't gone to the rodeo in Davie in 1956, his son might not rock at night in a hammock on the porch of a cedar-covered cottage overlooking a rock pit, breed bucking bulls, or stick plugs of Skoal chew inside his lower lip. Troy Jr. has always lived country, even though he never wore boots and jeans to Western High School. "I didn't need to prove I was cowboy," mumbles 27-year-old Troy Jr., a plug temporarily garbling his words as he stands in a clearing on 850 acres of undeveloped southwest Broward County real estate. "That's what I wore every day when I was working."
By the time Troy Sr. and twin brother Daniel left the rodeo that day long ago, they had decided the course of their lives, as well as the lives of the next Weekley generation. "From that point," he says, "me and my brother wanted to move to Davie and be cowboys."
Four years later, in 1960, when they were ten years old, Troy and Daniel got their wish. The family moved from "Ma-ya-ma,"as Troy Sr. pronounces it, to a 20-acre ranch just east of what is now University Drive and Griffin Road,and the boys began roping and bull riding in youth rodeo competitions. They quit only for a while, after high school, because the family business, Weekley Asphalt Paving Inc., demanded their attention.
Today, the Weekleys straddle two worlds. The family made a small fortune building the streets and roads that crisscross Broward County. The asphalt company that William Daniel "Dub" Weekley founded in 1947 today employs 140 people and does $20 million in annual business. Yet the family's hearts remain in rodeo and in the life of Florida cowboys. As owners of the Five Star Rodeo, a company that stages a monthly event at the Bergeron Rodeo, Troy Sr., Daniel Sr., and their younger brother Wayne have kept professional rodeo in Davie and done much to preserve Broward's and Florida's ranching roots.
For the Troys, father and son, the workday starts at 7 a.m. at the family's business headquarters on a 120-acre piece of land in West Broward. Just to the east lies Weston, the 10,000-acre Arvida planned community where an average house sells for $270,000 and some go for $600,000.
On this morning, Troy Jr. is bumping around in his blue Dodge pickup giving New Times a tour at his father's urging. When he was growing up, Troy Jr. says, his dad would take him out to the area on the property where piles of sand and gravel are cooked into asphalt. Father would tell son to breathe the rank air. "That's the smell of money," senior said to junior. "That's black gold."
After staring into the blazing belly of a furnace that heats up the asphalt, Troy Jr. drives past stands of cypress, oak, black olive, and royal palm trees. To supplement their road-building and paving business, the Weekleys began cultivating landscape plants and trees in 1988. As youngsters, both Troy Jr. and Daniel Jr. worked in the nursery. Driving west from the grove, Troy Jr. turns down a dirt road to his cedar-sided trailer, which sits beside a 60-foot-deep lake surrounded by huge limestone boulders. Bergeron Sand and Rock Mining created the lake when it blasted into Everglades limestone. Bergeron mines the site, which is still owned by the Weekleys, for rocks used in roadbed construction.
As a child, Troy Jr. used to swim in the icy spring waters. Now, sometimes he just sits on a boulder at night, sky-gazing. "It's probably the last place in Broward County where you can see the stars," Troy Jr. says of his homestead. "It's nice."
In 1986, the Weekleys saw an opportunity to combine their first love with their business success. They bought the Flying G Rodeo Company, renamed it Five Star Rodeo, and began a quest to keep professional rodeo in Davie and to help Florida rodeo grow. Like their fathers, Troy Jr., his sister Gwen, and his cousin Daniel Jr. (known as "Salty") competed in junior rodeo as youngsters. Troy Jr. took the Florida High School Rodeo Association state championship in steer wrestling and team roping in 1993. Gwen won the breakaway calf-roping competition that same year.
When the family bought Flying G, the company was staging only eight events a year to an average crowd of 1500 people, Troy Sr. says. Since then, Five Star has upped that number to 28 rodeos a year, making it the third largest in the United States and Canada. The Weekleys also present a monthly event at Davie's Bergeron arena and at the annual Florida State Fair in Tampa and at other venues around the state. One of Five Star's horses,Skoal's Elk Mountain, named after Troy Jr.'s preferred chew, was chosen to perform in the National Finals Rodeo in 1996. "It ain't the main business," Troy Jr. says of Five Star. "The asphalt company is the main business. But it is the other main business."
Back in an office hung with pictures and articles about Five Star, Troy Sr. gives a brief history of the family business. That done, he hoists himself into his monster, four-wheel-drive, white Dodge truck. Later in the day, Troy Sr. is needed back at the property to supervise a company cookout. But for now, the trim 51-year-old, with cell phone holstered in a natural-tooled leather case fixed to the side of his Wrangler jeans, drives out to the acreage where the family keeps its rodeo livestock.
Troy Jr. and ranch hand Roger Goldberg lead the way in another truck down U.S. 27 to an 850-acre property on the edge of the Everglades that the family leases for $30,000 a year from the South Florida Water Management District. That's where bucking bulls and broncos have free range.
After bumping down a dusty dirt road, Troy Jr. pulls into a clearing surrounded by Brazilian peppers and honks.Double Trouble, a 2000-pound monster bull with horns like tree limbs, trots over to the truck. Another 30 or so bulls follow. Jumping out of the truck cab, Goldberg grabs bags of feed and dumps them into empty truck tires strewn about on the ground. The bulls lean in and start chomping. Double Trouble lowers his head and lets loose a thundering bellow. "That's the dinner bell," says Troy Jr.
Since Donald Parrish, who was a partner in Five Star Rodeo, died in November 2000, Troy Jr. has taken over the job of managing the rodeo livestock. On an abandoned estate nearby, the young man has begun a breeding program he hopes will result in bulls that have buck in them. Five Star may go through 100 bulls to get five that are rodeo-worthy. "Bulls are like people. You have to have the will," he says.
Troy Sr. balks at the idea that Florida isn't good rodeo country. It is the biggest cattle state east of the Mississippi, with nearly 2 million head and 2000 working cowboys. When rodeo has to compete with Disney and other Florida amenities like the beach, it must be exciting to bring people in. "I always tell them Texan guys they need to come to Florida to see real rodeo," Troy Sr. says. "At Florida rodeos, we got to entertain people to the fullest. At other rodeos around the country, they think all you have to do is put something out there that bucks and people will come."
Although Broward has become more populated and that populace more international and diverse since the Weekleys entered the rodeo business, the audience for the sport has grown, Troy Sr. says. In 1986, about 1500 spectators watched the Davie rodeo. Today, a crowd of about 3500 usually attends. And Troy Sr. thinks more people would embrace rodeo if high schools offered it as part of the sports curriculum. "My theory is that the schools brainwash kids into becoming nuts for football, so they just don't get exposed to rodeo."
Aside from winning and losing, rodeo is also about friends, Troy Sr. says. Troy Jr. learned something about that himself a year and a half ago when a kidney failed, requiring a transplant. Troy Sr. provided the kidney. It's been rough. After the operation, Troy Jr. felt so weak that, following each doctor's appointment, he would sleep in his truck cab in the office parking lot before driving home.
A rodeo friend who also had a kidney transplant helped Troy Jr. keep a positive attitude as he struggled to regain his strength. In a year, the man told him, "You'll feel just like yourself again." Troy Jr. answered with typical cowboy understatement. "Well," he replied, "then I have something to look forward to."
That's why, decades after Troy Sr. attended his first rodeo as a six-year-old, he's still a believer. "You make a lot of friends through rodeo that will always be there," he says, "and that you can always go to if you need help with something."
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