Tim O'Connell is carefully adjusting his equipment as he prepares for a saddle bronc event at the 85th Old Fort Days Rodeo.

The sun is still penetrating the mostly metal building that is Kay Rodgers Park. There is very little breeze as the Cowboy applies powder to his grip.

Life on the road is about to pick up for the 26-year-old Iowa native who carries a picture of baby Hazen, he and wife Sami's first child.

"I was on the road 287 days last year," O'Connell said. "I've got a newborn baby, so I'm trying not to rodeo as hard as I normally do. But this is how we make our living, so you've got to do what you do at the end of the day."

A 2016 Bareback World Champion, O'Connell spends much of the year traversing the United States. His 2018 Fort Smith appearance marks his fifth straight year to ride here.

"Fort Smith is right before the summer gets started for us," O'Connell said. "All these rodeos are starting to go outside, it's right after Memorial Day.

"Fort Smith is a longer rodeo, which means a lot of guys can work it, and it has a decent amount of money to get us all to come here, too."

O'Connell, whose career earnings have already topped $1 million, picked up in 2018 where he left off the previous two years. He won the Midwest Horse Fair & Rodeo in Madison, Wis., back in April. He was co-champion at the Ram National Circuit Finals Rodeo in Kissimmee, Fla., and co-champion last month in Franklin, Tenn.

O'Connell grew up on the rodeo circuit, literally.

His dad, Ray, is a PRCA pickup man and brother, Will, is a PRCA bullfighter,

"I grew up in rodeo," O'Connell said. "My dad was a pickup man for 30-plus years. I ended up riding bulls in high school, but I don't know why, but I got on a bareback horse one day when I was 18 and loved it; I never got off.

"I quit riding bulls and started riding bareback horses."

The transition was slow at first.

O'Connell attended Iowa Central Community College for two years before transferring to Missouri Valley College.

Then, he became a champion.

"I won the college national finals when I was senior," O'Connell said. "That was really big for me to do. That's one thing I was never able to get the job done in the high school finals. To get that done, and have a national championship to go along with my resume, that really meant a lot to me."