As a young teenager growing up in Monmouth County, Robert Erven worked part-time at Cowboy City in Farmingdale, one of five “western themed” amusement parks in the state at the time. When he finished his stint with the U.S. Marines in 1961, he went looking for a job at Cowboy City, but it had closed. Then he heard about another western-themed amusement park in North Jersey that was looking for help — Wild West City in Byram Township. In 1962 he became the newest cowboy at the park. Sixty years later, “Pony Bob” is still saddling up at Wild West City, the last of the western-themed parks in New Jersey.
His enthusiasm for the job now is the same as it was 60 years ago.
“Where else can I play cowboy, ride horses, be a marshal, and get paid for it!” said the 84-year-old resident of Franklin. “I love what I do! I am 84. What else am I going to do at this age!”
Over the years, Erven has had multiple roles at the park, including Pony Express rider, stagecoach driver, actor in various western skits, and “working” as the town marshal. Additionally, he has performed bull whip demonstrations and eagerly talks history with visitors, young and old. He is considered a crowd favorite.
“Pony Bob is an avid horseman, a man of integrity and honor — a true cowboy in every good sense. Everybody loves him,” said Mary Benson, whose family has owned the family-friendly park since 1963.
In one of his roles early on, he played Doc Holiday in a skit. “That was always my favorite. I was the best Doc Holiday,” he said unabashedly.
How did he get the nickname Pony Bob? Mike Stabile Sr., the now deceased original owner, began calling him Pony Bob while watching Erven ride a horse in the Pony Express skit. The nickname has stuck all these years later.
In the “off-season,” when he is not at Wild West City, he trains some horses, even does some shoeing, but only for friends.
“Wild West City is an educational and entertaining place that keeps me young,” said Erven, born on June 3, 1938. “It keeps me busy. If not for this lifestyle I don’t know what I’d be doing. It’s been a good life, great for me. It’s been a good life and it ain’t [sic] over yet!”
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 wildwestcity.com.