Talking serious Payne | SierraSun.com

Talking serious Payne

Sylas Wright
Sierra Sun

Sylas Wright/Sierra SunJohn Payne, aka "The Notorious One Arm Bandit," will be bringing his specialty act to the Truckee Rodeo this weekend.

The Truckee Championship Rodeo draws a tough bunch, even outside the competitors. Take rodeo entertainer John Payne, aka “The Notorious One Arm Bandit,” for example.

Payne ” brought to Truckee from his native Oklahoma to perform his crowd-pleasing show that earned him eight consecutive Professional Rodeo Cowboy Association (PRCA) “Specialty Act of the Year” awards ” is about as tough as they come.

“I’m a bona fide hard-core cowboy,” Payne said, going on to list the qualities of a true cowboy. “There aren’t many of them around anymore.”

Besides his gritty cowboy style, the 53-year-old Payne is also a bona fide entertainer. Ask Idaho resident Virgil Wicks, who estimates he has seen Payne’s show a half dozen times over the years.

“To me, just watching John Payne and his act alone would be worth the price of admission,” said Wicks, the father of Truckee Rodeo chairperson Vicki Charles. “That’s the way I look at it. It’s unbelievable. It really is.”

“(The show) is always a little bit different each time. He always makes it interesting.”

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A ticket to the Truckee Rodeo Saturday or Sunday is the only way to learn the details of what earns Payne a living touring the country with a group of mustangs, buffalo or longhorn cattle. A hint: The show involves Payne’s flatbed Dodge pickup, a hefty trailer with ample foot space, large trained animals, a whip, a couple dogs and a little round up session ” not to mention the danger element.

But after what Payne has been through, the prospect of injury is no concern.

“Pain don’t bother me anymore,” he said, mentioning the four occasions he has broken ribs during shows. “I can cope with it. And my show will display that I’m not afraid to die. Once you die you’re not scared of dying anymore.”

Yup. At the age of 20 ” long before his days of rodeo entertaining, which began in 1988 ” Payne was working for his father in Oklahoma tearing down a house.

Thinking the electricity had been shut off, Payne climbed up a telephone pole to cut some wires. Problem was, he was dead wrong about the status of the wires.

“If you think riding a bull for eight seconds is bad, try riding a telephone pole for 10 seconds, with 7,200 volts running through your body,” Payne said of what ensued. “It was a shocking experience.”

Payne, who remembers the electrocution clearly, said he tried to release his grip, but could not.

“It burned the fingers off my (right) hand,” he said, and that’s the only way he was able to drop from the telephone pole.

After lying dead on the ground for approximately five minutes, Payne said, he awoke with his work partner, his sister’s boyfriend, pounding on his chest and giving him mouth to mouth resuscitation.

He had been revived. But was in bad shape.

The electricity exited his body through his abdomen, leaving his intestines protruding, Payne said. The voltage had burnt through his left leg, as well, exposing his thigh bone from his knee several inches up. His flaming cloths also had to be doused upon reaching the ground, and he couldn’t focus his eyes.

“I would see 50 of everything,” he said. “I thought I was blind.”

What’s it like to a receive a shock of 7,200 volts?

“Super hot,” Payne said. “It felt like my blood was boiling, and that my brain was going to explode. It felt like a monster was savagely attacking my body.”

Payne remained in a hospital for five weeks.

“The doctors wanted to cut my leg off. I said ‘I can’t ride a horse with no leg, and if I can’t ride a horse I don’t want to live,'” Payne said.

The doctors did, however, cut off his right arm.

“They had to cut it off because it was cooked,” he said.

Despite the massive electrocution he survived, Payne said what hurt most afterwards was his chest, which had been worked over by his rescuer during CPR.

But Payne is tough.

“I went to physical therapy for one day,” he said. “I didn’t like it so I excused myself from the room and did the rest on my own.”

Today Payne walks with no limp, although the muscle never reformed on the lower portion of his thigh. And on the left side of his abdomen, an indention is visible where the electricity exited.

Oh, and his right arm below his shoulder is a prosthetic, lending to the stage name “The Notorious One Arm Bandit.”

But once again, Payne is a tough cowboy.

“The thing I admire about John is that he could have just gone on welfare and given up,” Wicks said. “But he just sucked up his guts and decided there’s nothing he can’t do. There’s a lot to be said for a person who is that tough. He’s one of a dying breed.”