TC Thorstenson is the President and founder of Buffalo Express. He is
the world's foremost trainer of performance buffalo and, perhaps the only available expert
on the obscure subject. This unusual and extraordinary talent has taken him across the
Untied States, Canada, and Mexico numerous times, entertaining audiences with his buffalo
prodigy, "Harvey Wallbanger, JR." Here is how it all started.
Collin "TC" Thorstenson was raised in South Dakota's Standing Rock Souix Indian Reservation, just south of Ft. Yates,
North Dakota. Fascinated with animals and surrounded with everything from sheep to cattle,
and horses to buffalo, it wasn't long before TC began to develop his early animal training
techniques. His goal was to successfully train bison, considered the "un-trainable" animal.
Initially his attempts to train these stubborn animals was an exercise in futility. His
failure was characterized by the fact that he tried to train the calves the same way young
horses were commonly trained. It didn't take TC long to realized this approach was not
It was in 1978, poachers attacked his small herd, leaving a three day old bull
buffalo calf orphaned. Thorstenson bottle fed the calf to keep it alive. The unforeseen
result was that the calf became imprinted on TC and soon the calf followed him around as if
he, himself, was the calf's mother. Thorstenson named the young charge Harvey and like
the other pedigreed animals, he also used the buffalo sire's name of Wallbanger (The sire
was named for his repeated attempts to break down barn walls. Fortunately, this was not an
hereditary trait). After a year of bottle feeding and nurturing the calf, TC found that a
bond had developed between Harvey and himself. It was that bond that was the key to training
this calf and all other buffalo. Another discovery was that TC was spreading himself thin by
dividing his time between ranching, and rodeos. It took a great deal of time to work with
his buffalo and he came to the conclusion it would be a long while before he was ready to
showcase his work. Fate agreed as it would be years before and unexpected break was given to
this young dreamer.
Since rodeo occupied so much of Thorstenson's time it was the most
likely place for Harvey to make his debut. Harvey, now an adolescent buffalo weighing twenty-seven
hundred pounds, was trained to ride. TC decided to show off Harvey's skills in the roping arena by entering
team roping events with Harvey as a heeler. Although they did well in the sport, this
unusual team was not met well by the other equestrian counterparts. This caused a great
deal of angst in the other contestants. After only a few competitions TC and Harvey were
asked not to return. Harvey was forced into early retirement from roping. It wasn't long
before TC found a new avenue in which to show Harvey.
In 1986, Harvey was entered in an
exhibition race against race horses at Energy Downs in Gillette, Wyoming. It was a race that
was initiated by a bet and the buffalo easily won by two and one half lengths. By taking the
win, Harvey had created a niche for himself in the horse racing industry that would last his
lifetime. (His Record number of wins was 76 of 92 races throughout North America) This was
the beginning of BUFFALO EXPRESS, the company that TC created for his racing buffalo, Harvey
It was the winter of 1990 when TC had decided to move his training facility from
Wyoming to Arizona. It was a move that was to improve Harvey's speed in and effort to create
a more exciting exhibition race for the tracks that used it for a marketing tool. The move
would also provide safer conditions for working the younger buffalo. TC found it beneficial
as well. It would be easier for him to maneuver without the bulky clothes required in a
colder climate. So, packing up Harvey and two other buffalo, TC moved to Tucson. As the
racing business had become TC and Buffalo Express's main business, TC was always training
a "back-up" buffalo, just in case he needed a replacement. His other bison at this time were
seven and two years old respectively. Of course the seven year old would be the immediate
replacement if something happened to Harvey. The two year old was barely old enough to ride.
Toward the end of the racing season Harvey fell ill. Within twenty-four hours of becoming
ill, the great Harvey Wallbanger had died. He had been healthy his whole life and should
have lived to be in his mid forties. Instead he died much to early at the tender age of
thirteen. Later it was found to have been contaminated bails of hey. Unfortunately the same
feed had been given too all three animals. TC, devastated from the loss of the buffalo that
was more like a child to him, was forced to regroup. He packed up the two younger buffalo
and he went back to Wyoming. His plan was for the seven year old buffalo to take Harvey's
place for the exhibition races already scheduled. He would also take the great name Harvey
Wallbanger as well as his first movie appearance. However, fate had other plans and it was
only a short five months before that buffalo would succumb to the poisonous plant leaves
that he had ingested in Arizona. This left TC with the two year old who wasn't old enough to
ride, let alone race.
Having been stripped of his livelihood by a terrible accident, Buffalo
Express would remain on hold for the next two years. After this two year hiatus, Thorstenson
was ready to return to the racing industry with his (now) four year old buffalo. By this
time some of the smaller tracks had closed, not to mention the new Harvey was bulkier and
less of a streamlined runner than the original Harvey. TC needed to find another market for
his well trained buffalo. Arizona proved to be that venue and in 1993, Thorstenson once again
moved his operation to Arizona. Shortly after his return, TC was invited to perform for an
equestrian center which was hosting a corporate function. It was the first of many of a
variety of events TC's Buffalo Express produced.
Today, with movies, commercials, sporting events, special events, rodeos, and a multitude of
other appearances and performances to their credit, TC and Harvey Wallbanger continue to
showcase the great American Bison. What began as an adventure for a small boy in South
Dakota, has turned into a life long adventure for a man and his dream. A dream that started
with trying to train an "un-trainable" animal became a life's goal to showcase to the world
just how magnificent this icon of American history, the bison, remains. TC once said,
"Bison have made me successful, now it's my turn to make the Bison famous". After several
decades of hard work this statement has proven correct.
Although TC has faced many setbacks in his lifetime of work, he attributes some of the best
steps forward to those great losses. TC is passionate about his work, life, animals, and
friends. It's his amazing fortitude and fascination with what life will bring next
that keeps him ever striving for improvement.
Please join Buffalo Express, as the adventure continues.