Living to Ride, Flying to Live

Jerry makes a point of training his own horses. You might trace that passion back to his preschool years, when his dad gave him the firstborn of a beauty of a Thoroughbred—and then sent it down the road to an 11-year-old girl for training. He still steams to think how that deed broke his five-year-old heart. Photo by Ed Ellis.

Less than three years after taking his first roping clinic, Jerry Klammer teamed up with Terry Sargeant to post a time in a roping event at the Rose Country Roping & Riding Club that stood unbeaten for 14 months.

Jerry and his wife Maggie Wilkins-Klammer recall that jackpot — and other successes since — during a morning’s chat in their sunny kitchen northwest of Mundare, in view of the pastures where their 22 home-trained horses roam. “I’m always amazed what Jerry can rope, given the amount of time he has roped,” Maggie says. “He holds his own with everybody else.”

Born on a mixed farm south of Vegreville in 1952, Jerry grew up tending cows and training horses — but roundups revolved around chutes rather than ropes. Until age 50, his one roping experience involved a polyester lariat with a quick metal breakaway hondo from the local UFA. Then he and Maggie moved to Rafter JM, as they call their peaceful abode, and he began working alongside master horse handlers who in turn introduced him to roping gurus.

Maggie attributes her husband’s rapid ascent in the world of roping to a magic combination of focused concentration and deep understanding of the animals involved. Gwynn Turnbull Weaver put it this way while leading them both in a roping clinic, she recalls: “Jerry has what a good roper needs; he can look, see and carry through.”

In the ideal world, you might find Jerry Klammer running a foothills ranch fulltime, as he frankly admits. But like so many others who wield the rope these days, Jerry combines horsemanship with a career off the ranch. After considering veterinary medicine, he chose the RCMP — coupled with frequent pack trips into the remote reaches of the great outdoors.

Since signing on for RCMP training in 1972, Jerry has moved from general policing to a coveted role as a senior fixed wing pilot, most recently at the Edmonton International Airport. Life with the RCMP has roped him a herd of memories, with photo albums to prove it.

Flipping through the albums, it’s clear the career has taken Jerry behind the scenes of events most folks only read about. Did you know, for example, that Queen Elizabeth II did not keep Happy, the horse she received in honour of the RCMP’s 1973 centennial? Her Majesty requested a taller mount instead. A black Thoroughbred named Jerry was chosen, and Jerry (then in Ottawa with the RCMP Equitation Course) had the privilege of riding the steed. It was a happy case of Jerry riding Jerry. Renamed Centenial, (correct spelling, honestly) the horse served the Queen for many decades.

Jerry at work, piloting the RCMP’s Pilatus PC-12 passenger/cargo single engine aircraft C-GMPY, which features the distinctive musical ride logo on the tail. Photo by Terri Mason.

Then there was the time Jerry’s motorcycle narrowly missed being dumped from a Hercules just as the plane flew over the farm where he grew up. Having been chosen to join one of two escort teams for Pope John Paul II’s historic cross-Canada tour in 1984, Jerry was flying with his team to Alberta after stops in the Maritimes. As exhausted riders catnapped atop 10 motorcycles sardined into the hold, smoke began billowing around them. At first unable to find the cause, the chief loadmaster ordered all the bikes out. The plane began descending, the cargo ramp opened… and in the nick of time the culprit was discovered: the strap holding one bike in place had sawed through a battery lead wire, causing a short circuit. With order restored, the plane landed amid a bustle of emergency vehicles — and a sobering sight: two dozen body bags laid out alongside the runway, ready for use.

Jerry entered RCMP Air Services in 1986 and has since clocked nearly 15,000 hours of flight time. Having attended several aviation colleagues’ funerals, he’s always aware of the consequences of a false move. “Whether horses or livestock or flying, you know that at a certain point there’s danger, but you push up against that edge,” he says. “You want to experience life, but you don’t want to get hurt too badly along the way.”

Work as an RCMP pilot dovetails nicely with Jerry’s four-legged pursuits. When flying investigators into remote northern camps in search of a game poacher, for example, he met outfitters whose skill in herding unruly sheep left him taking mental notes. “If a person has an interest, they search out those they gain knowledge from,” he says. It’s an observation he applies to all of life.

It’s thanks to the RCMP that Jerry met Maggie, whose roots go back multiple generations among Jasper Park wardens and outfitters. The occasion: Rendezvous 99, an RCMP ride from Fort Normandeau (near Red Deer) to Rocky Mountain House marking the latter’s bicentennial.

Outfitted in scarlet jackets, the riders made an impressive sight as they pulled into an alfalfa field near Eckville to camp. Maggie was there, invited by Hugh Simon, a retired RCMP officer who had once boarded with her parents. After meeting around a campfire, Jerry and Maggie chatted briefly the next morning, Maggie astride a horse she was warming up for Hugh. A photographer captured the moment; Jerry took the resulting photo home and, after some pondering, used his “police investigative skills” to find Maggie again.

As Jerry and Maggie reminisce, it’s obvious this marriage is sealed by mutual love of the land, and particularly the mountains. These days, their pursuits include Four Point Outfitters, an evolution of the packing trips they each grew up doing, loving and learning so much from. “Everything we do is to throw a leg over a horse in the mountains,” Jerry says. “Everything else achieves that goal.”

As in roping, here’s a man who not only looks and sees, but carries through.