Belle Fourche, S.D. – What would the Fourth of July be, if it wasn’t for fireworks?
And the 103rd annual Black Hills Roundup makes sure rodeo fans celebrate Independence Day in style with plenty of them!
Fireworks follow the rodeos on July 2 and 3, and Fritz Carlson, a Belle Fourche native and resident, has been part of the group helps with them. Carlson has helped with them for the last thirty years.
A graduate of Premier Pyrotechnics’ fireworks schooling, he works with the experts to set them up and light them off. The Roundup’s fireworks display is one of the three biggest shows in the state.
A crew of five to seven people bring a specially designed trailer called the “shoot trailer” to Belle Fourche on the morning of July 2, and by 9 am, they are setting up. Owned by Robert Puhlman and his son Jaren Puhlman, the trailer is loaded with mortars, the plastic tubes that the fireworks are shot out of. A shoot board is used, with a copper sheet on the bottom of the board as the negative wire. Over the copper sheet is a vinyl covering with numbered holes tamped into it. The positive charge is a handheld wand connected to the board. When the wand is touched to a hole, it makes a connection and within milliseconds, the signal is sent for the shell to be fired. Shells are lit electronically.
The trailer has up to a 350 feet safety zone around it, and the men get to work as soon as it is set up. It takes five men eight hours each to set up for a show that lasts twenty minutes, Carlson said, and it requires “miles and miles of wires.”
Carlson is well known for his “false grand finales,” he said. He likes to wait five to eight seconds between fireworks blasts, and folks will think the show is over when it’s not. “The horns will be honking, then you touch a button and all hell breaks loose,” he laughed. “I’ll get texts that say, ‘thought you were done.’ I’ve become well known,” for fake finales, he said. “The people who come every year, they know not to leave.”
Carlson noted that even with dry conditions, the fireworks show can take place. Volunteer fire departments from all over are on hand to help: Belle Fourche, Newell, Spearfish, and others are there. “They all help each other and park in different spots, just to be sure.”
Carlson grew up going to the rodeo. His parents, Fred and Marcie, owned the Grandview Locker Plant, with the biggest freezer in town. They would get huge ice blocks three feet by six feet, chipping them off and selling them to the rodeo and carnival folks. Carlson remembers, as a youngster, mixing the spices that went in the pans as the beef was roasted for the barbecues. “I’ve been involved in the rodeo forever,” he said. “I was never a cowboy, but I have a lot of friends that are.”
His favorite part of the show is setting the fireworks off. Setting up is fun, too, but it’s hand labor in moving the fireworks “cakes” to their position, and the weather can be hot.
He is paid for his work, but he donates the money back, so that more fireworks can be purchased. “I have always donated my pay back. I’d rather put on a better show for the town.”
He’s proud to be involved with the fireworks, the Black Hills Roundup, and the town. “It’s fun, it’s a lot of work, but it’s rewarding,” he said. “People love their fireworks.”
July 1 is Family night, with four tickets for $48. July 2 is Chutes for Charity night; July 3 is Tough Enough to Wear Pink night and July 4 is Military and First Responders Day. Nightly performances are at 7 pm, except for July 4, which is a 3 pm matinee. with a ranch rodeo at 7 pm.
The Roundup will be aired live on the Cowboy Channel + app and replayed at a later date on the Cowboy Channel.
Tickets range in price from $15-$34. Fans are encouraged to avoid the lines by purchasing online.
For more information, visit the website at BlackHillsRoundup.com or call the Black Hills Roundup Office at the Tri-State Museum and Visitor Center at 415 Fifth Avenue, Belle Fourche, S.D. (605.723.2010).
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