BONHAM — The large blinking signs on Highway 78 in Bonham were very clear in their instructions Friday night: "ROAD CLOSED AHEAD. LOCAL TRAFFIC ONLY."

BONHAM — The large blinking signs on Highway 78 in Bonham were very clear in their instructions Friday night: "ROAD CLOSED AHEAD. LOCAL TRAFFIC ONLY."


But a steady stream of pickups and sedans ignored the admonition and continued north anyway. The line of vehicles stopped short of the flood-ravaged bridge crossing into Oklahoma, though. They stopped, thousands of them, at Kueckelhan Ranch for the annual Kueckelhan Ranch Rodeo.


"We had some fear because of the bridge — and I know that it may have affected us, with the Oklahoma people … but the attendance has been excellent," said Malda Kueckelhan, whose late husband Haynes started the yearly rodeo exhibition 60 years ago this summer. "We had some apprehension there, but it has not affected the attendance, so we’re really grateful."


Promoted as the largest family-owned and operated rodeo in the nation, the crowd lived up its billing Friday night, with people packing to capacity the homemade bleachers to witness the traditional rodeo competitions.


Spectator Vernon Krueger, who traveled from Sherman to witness his first Kueckelhan rodeo, said he was amazed at the number of people in attendance.


"We were just talking about how big the crowd is; we’re really surprised about the number of people and how it’s really filled in with a good group," Krueger said. "It’s a good rodeo; a good crowd. And it’s finally starting to cool off a little bit."


The crowd braved temperatures flirting with triple digits as the action began with bronc riders shortly after 8 p.m. Friday, fanning themselves with programs and using whatever means they could to keep cool. Retiree Abraham Schwartzman, who moved to Bonham two years ago to be closer to his grandchildren in Dallas, said the Texas heat has taken some getting used to.


"The humidity is the biggest thing — it just makes everything seem worse than it is," Schwartzman said. "But we had to come check this deal out; everybody kept telling us it was a Bonham tradition."


That tradition, began by Haynes Kueckelhan six decades prior and continued after his 2013 death by wife Malda and son Marty, was not only an important part of the community, but of the ranch itself, said his widow.


"Haynes passed away on the 19th of July, and the rodeo started five days later," Malda Kueckelhan recalled. "I came early (to the rodeo that year), and I stayed until the lights were out. I felt near him here. … And If he were here today, I think he would say, ‘Marty you’re doing a wonderful job, and Malda, you’re doing a wonderful job to support him and to help him.’


"We haven’t missed a beat."


The Kueckelhan Rodeo: surmounting road blocks — literal and otherwise — for 60 years.