By VIRGINIABy VIRGINIAGRANTIER
Sometimes retirement isn't all it's cracked up to be. Boo moo.
Darn it. You have everything you need water, corn to chew on and the stars at night because you live under them. And girlfriends, lots of them.
But when that trailer drives up to the fence to load the young bulls to take them to the next rodeo, that's when the old feelings kick in. That's when you get emotional.
"He starts crying," said Joe Berger, of Mandan, breeder and part owner of Little Yellow Jacket, Professional Bull Riders' bull of the year three years in a row, 2002-04.
"LJ," as Berger calls him, will start bellowing and running back and forth in his pen on Berger's ranch south of Mandan. The 1,800-pound red-colored bull with one upright horn and one pointed downward will even try to take a sneaky route through the pens to get on board.
As if no one would notice him.
But all eyes are on him, like usual.
"LJ,"who will turn age 10 Aug. 20, retired last year, but the kudos will continue on Aug. 5, when he will be inducted into the North Dakota Cowboy Hall of Fame in Medora.
"Little Yellow Jacket is the first living animal inducted and, by far, the most famous,"says Darrell Dorgan, executive director of the North Dakota Cowboy Hall of Fame.
The bull retired healthy and on top of his game. Oklahoma bullrider Cody Whitney rode him that last time, at the 2005 PBRWorld Finals in Las Vegas and got a 94.8, the best bullriding score of the year.
Berger and the bull's other owners decided to leave the game while the bull was uninjured and in prime shape to date.
But Berger knows the bull would still like to take the cowboys on, get them off and then leave them alone.
"He never injured a cowboy,"he said.
"LJ" would routinely come out of the chute doing a bull version of a handstand, hind legs nearly vertical, then start spinning in ways that even the world's best cowboys couldn't usually handle. The bull, unlike a lot of bulls, would not only not try to come after his fallen rider, but would try to avoid and move around the grounded rider. Berger said "LJ," after accomplishing the throw-off, would stop, take a look at the crowd as if to see if they liked it - and then the class act would head for the exit.
In his seven-plus-year career, in which he worked a total of five hours, a few seconds at a time, he was ridden 14 times out of 90. And his average buck-off time was 2.6 seconds, according to the book "Little Yellow Jacket," written by Darlene Berger, Joe Berger's ex-wife.
In 2003, "LJ' enjoyed the really good life when he was pitted against PBRworld champion bullrider Chris Shivers in a $1 million match. A police escort accompanied the bull to the famous Colorado Springs Broadmoor Hotel, where he was penned on a bed of green, symbolizing money, and the lighting fixture above his head was a chandelier.
If Shivers stayed on for eight seconds, he would win $1 million. If the bull got him off, his owners got $50,000.
He got Shivers off in 1.8 seconds.
Life since retirement has revolved a lot around bodily fluids and the collection thereof. Get it while you can. A straw full of the bull's semen is currently priced at $700, but the price is going to go up, Berger said.
The bull already has sons making a name for themselves, including "Red Jacket"and "Dirty Harry,"a black bull, that "bucks just like him,"Berger said.
"LJ" gets pasture time, and Berger recognizes him out there because of the bull's unique sway to his walk - a kind of the-king-has-arrived type of stroll. But "LJ" spends a lot of time in a 60-by-100-foot pen near the ranchhouse, so the Bergers can keep better tabs on him. When morning comes, he stands up in his pen and starts bellowing.
He's calling all the other bulls who are out in the pasture to come join him for a drink, Berger said.
And they obey.
Last year, an Indianapolis, Ind., boy suffering from heart problems got his wish when he asked the Make a Wish Foundation to let him meet Little Yellow Jacket and touch him.
The bull likes to be petted, but only Nevada Berger, 33, Joe and Darlene Berger's youngest son, who seems to have a bond with him, feels comfortable entering the pen and petting him, Darlene Berger said. The elder Bergers keep their distance, pretty much. Joe Berger knows the bull's grouchier days, when "LJ" reacts to a little loving pat with a horn.
Adult fans from California, Texas and other locations also have asked to see the bull, and the Bergers will guide them over the miles of gravel roads for a look. The ranch is about 27 miles south of Mandan.
But there's no rush. Even when the king is dead - which won't happen for years, they all hope - he won't be gone.
Joe Berger think he'll have him stuffed.
He's just not sure at this point where he'll put him.
The induction ceremony activities begin at noon (MDT) Aug. 5 in Medora at the Tjaden Terrace.
The other inductees this year are Robert "Bob" McLeod, of Medora, in the pre-1940 rodeo category; Jack Chase, of Grant County and Bismarck, contemporary rodeo; Andrew "Squeaky"Johnston, of Dickinson and McKenzie counties, pre-1940 ranching; Leonard Davis, of Belfield and Killdeer, contemporary ranching; VVV Ranch in Golden Valley, ranch category; James Jefferies, of Grassy Butte and Fargo, leaders of ranching and rodeo; Mandan Rodeo, special achievement category; and Don Hart, of Fargo, in the Cowboy Long Rider category.(Reach reporter Virginia Grantier at 250-8254 or at virginia.grantier@;bismarcktribune.com.)