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Ruby Begonia kicks Paycheck's tail feathers

By Elena Watts
Oct. 12, 2013 at 5:12 a.m.


CUERO - Cuero's turkey trainers raised a champion for Saturday's Great Gobbler Gallop at its 41st annual Turkeyfest.

Ruby Begonia shook her tail feathers down Cuero's Esplanade Street in a straight run. She finished in 1 minute, 7 seconds without penalties.

"The guys run on the outside with sombrero-sized cowboy hats while we hit the ground with rattle paddles to move the turkey," said Terri Warwas, Ruby's coach.

The Texas humidity and a few extra pounds weighed down Paycheck, Ruby's competitor from Worthington, Minn.

Prodded by both teams, she waddled across the finish line about six-and-a-half minutes after Ruby with six penalties. She promptly began to molt.

"We wanted her to slow down quite a bit," said Brian Almberg, Paycheck's coach.

"We had to put her on an all-rest, all-eat regimen after the first race."

In 1972, two burgs, each one proclaiming itself "Turkey Capital of the World," collided. The editor of Worthington's newspaper passed through Cuero during its Turkey Trot.

After discussions with the editor of Cuero's paper, the friendly gallop began in 1973 to determine which town owned the title.

"Three guys flew to Minnesota in a puddle jumper with the turkey in the back for the first race," said Erwin Rath, of Cuero. "They wore cowboy boots and hats, and suits and ties."

The attire has changed over the years, but the rules of the race have remained much the same.

For 40 years, teams of four from the two towns have trained turkeys for the race, an annual feature of both towns' turkey celebrations.

Each team consists of a captain, a coach and two handlers who are distinguished by the color and design of their button-down shirts. They train and race Paycheck and Ruby Begonia for each leg of the race.

To avoid penalties, the teams guide their turkeys with body gestures, props and shouts. Their times are docked when they touch their turkeys and when their birds leave the racecourse.

Each turkey's times are combined to determine which town lays claim to "Turkey Capital of the World."

In September, Ruby and Paycheck raced the clock in the first leg of the gallop at King Turkey Day in Worthington, population 10,000.

Ruby finished more than four-and-a-half minutes before Paycheck.

"That wild bird ran like Adrian Peterson," said Brian Almberg, Paycheck's coach. "She ran under chairs and down stairs - sounds like Dr. Seuss."

This year, Ruby kicked tail feathers with a combined total score of two minutes, 25 seconds. Paycheck's was 13 minutes, 33 seconds.

The 3-foot-tall walnut and gold "Traveling Turkey Trophy of Tumultuous Triumph" remains in Cuero for another year. Worthington's "Circulating Consolation Cup of Consummate Commiseration" heads north.

The town newspapers have replaced the trophies once in the competition's long history because of wear and tear.

"It's about giving back to the community and 40 years of friendships," said Erwin Rath.

Rath has only missed the race in Worthington two years since 1998.

"I know almost as many people walking down 10th Street in Worthington as I do in Cuero," Rath said.

Rath and his wife, Annette Rath, were selected as parade marshals this year. More than two decades of combined service to Turkeyfest earned them the distinction.

"We're very honored and proud to serve as marshals," Annette Rath said. "I'm not sure we're deserving of it."

Also honored were three longtime volunteers who died last year: Roy Binz, who was CoCo the Clown; Floyd Doehrman, who operated the last commercial turkey farm in DeWitt County; and Harvey Schumacher, Annette Rath's father who helped innumerable ways throughout the years.

The annual event, which includes a carnival, a 5K Turkey Trot for humans, a parade, a river race, a festival and musical performances, attracts as many as 20,000 people each year.

The event provides local charities with opportunities to earn money by selling their wares, Rath said.

Charity has played more than one role in the turkey rivalry.

Just after the 1998 Turkeyfest, Cuero was devastated by flash flooding. Worthington residents raised $10,000 for their Cuero compadres. City officials used the money to purchase a rescue boat, which they named Paycheck.

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