Pony Bob still riding tll at age 80
For 56 years, a staple at Wild West City
BYRAM — Retirement is not in sight for 80-year old Bob Erven.
For the past 56 years, "Pony Bob" has been a staple at Wild West City in Byram Township. And he has no plans for retirement any time soon.
"I love what I do," said Erven. "Where else can an 80 year old be a cowboy, raise heck and get paid for it!"
Over the years, Erven has been involved in various roles at the Old West themed amusement park. These days he mainly takes part in the bull whip demonstrations and talks history with visitors, young and old, at the park.
Born on June 3, 1938, Erven grew up in Freehold Township. At 14, he got a job at nearby Cowboy City and worked there until he was 19. He was in the Marines from 1957-61 before coming back to Cowboy City for a year. During his Freehold years he also worked as a farrier at Freehold Race Track. Cowboy City closed after the 1961 season and that's when Erven moved on to Wild West City the next year.
Early on, he played Doc Holiday in the Doc Holiday skit. "That was always my favorite. I was the best Doc Holiday," he said.
Erven had many other daily tasks as well. One day, the now deceased original owner Mike Stabile Sr. declared while watching Erven ride a horse, "You are now Pony Bob!" The nickname has stuck all these many years later.
At the park these days, when you hear the "voiceovers" for some of the skits throughout the day, it's Erven's voice you are hearing. The voiceovers were taped many years ago. "We did everything back then," said Erven, who has been living in Franklin Township, Sussex County, for the past 20 years. "We still doing everything. We all work together."
Several times a week, Erven cracks the bull whips in a demonstration that includes audience participation and the slicing up of a newspaper.
"I am pretty accurate - no blood," Erven said with a smile.
And he can still ride a horse! At the recent Sussex County Fair he won the horse riding competition in his division.
"He's the consummate cowboy," said Mike Stabile, Jr., whose family still owns Wild West City. "As far as horses go, he's known horses his whole life. He's honest to goodness the real thing. Everybody loves him."
When he is not at Wild West City he still trains some horses, for friends only, and in the "off-season" scouts around for new horses for Wild West City's upcoming season.
Erven has a number of great memories, as you can imagine. But a couple stand out. In the mid 60s, for a few years in a row, he would take a group of Girl Scouts on a mule driven covered wagon trip for about a week or two starting in Sparta and eventually going to Hackettstown and other towns, before finishing up at Wild West City to much celebration. In 1967, Erven and other Wild West City cowboys took part in an anniversary Annie Oakley Day event in Nutley. Truth be told, everyday is a good memory for Erven at Wild West City.
"Wild West City keeps me young," said Erven. "I like keeping busy and the lifestyle at Wild West City allows me do that."
Pony Bob generally is at Wild West City Thursday through Sunday every week. For more information about Wild West City, which offers a variety of live shows every day of the week on a dirt-lined street resembling old Dodge City, Kansas, visit <URL destination="http://www.wildwestcity.com.">www.wildwestcity.com.