Turtles aren’t usually associated with races. But the Turtleman is no usual tortoise. Ernie Brown Jr, star of Animal Planet’s series “Call of the Wildman” will be hosting the Second Annual Turtleman Trek 5K in his hometown of Lebanon, Kentucky.
Set for 9 a.m. on Saturday, March 14, the race will begin and end at the Marion County Heritage Center and pass a number of Turtleman’s hometown filming locations along the way – WhiteMoon Winery, Marion County Heritage Center, Stillhouse Restaurant, the Lebanon Tourist & Convention Commission, Limestone Branch Distillery and Sandusky Mule Barn.
Turtleman himself will be available for autographs and photographs. The world’s most famous animal wrangler will be at the Marion County Heritage Center from race finish until 5 p.m.
Turtleman will not only start the race but will also hand out awards in the categories of overall male and female winners and first, second and third place male and female winners in each age division. Free photos also will be given to every race finisher.
Race packet pickups will be held on Friday, March 13, at Cedarwood Restaurant which is featuring a special $10 Turtleman Pasta Bar from 5 to 8 p.m.
A silent auction showcasing items from local businesses and from Turtleman himself will open that evening at Cedarwood and conclude on race day at the Heritage Center. Throughout the day on Saturday, the Marion County Cattleman’s Association will be cooking ribeye steaks and burgers for hungry racers and watchers.
Known for his lusty “Live Action!” catchphrase and distinctive “Indian yell” – something he attributes to his Shawnee and Cherokee heritage – Turtleman hails from this small central Kentucky town. So how did a down-home country boy become a TV sensation and a hero to so many?
It all goes back to Ernie’s dirt-poor childhood when the oldest of four children of Lola and Ernie Brown Sr. grew up in the Kentucky backwoods. Watching his uncle and father, the youngster learned to catch turtles with his bare hands. At the age of 7, Ernie caught his first snapping turtle. “We ran out of food,” he recalled. “It was a way to put meat on the table.”
Before long, Ernie became known as a critter catcher. Answering the calls of people whose homes or property had been invaded by pesky animals, Turtleman has caught and relocated countless turtles, bats, snakes, porcupines, skunk, raccoon, fox, venomous spiders, armadillo, turkey, beaver, flying squirrel and other animals with his bare hands.
He names his catches, too. The beaver became Justin Beaver, the turkey caught in a cornfield was Maizie. The raccoon named Poopy did just that.
“I don’t use traps ‘cause they can hurt an animal,” he said. “I don’t want to kill an animal or torture nothing. I only catch ‘em and give ‘em a new home where they are away from people and can live in peace.”
The payment for his services is usually whatever country folk can afford – homemade jam, canned tomatoes, pumpkins, fresh-baked pie, couple of chickens, a rocking chair, a handshake, thank-you hug or bit of change for gas money.
BIRTH OF A TV STAR
In 2006, the Kentucky Education Television series “Kentucky Afield” filmed Ernie and his turtle catching. Posted on YouTube, the segment went viral with more than 4 million views. It caught the attention of television producer Matt Sharp of Sharp Entertainment. After a year of trying to contact Turtleman, the two finally connected while the turtle-catcher was giving his trademark yell at the Mothman Festival in West Virginia. Sharp came running and a deal was closed.
Hitting the airwaves in November 2011, the Animals Planet’s “Call of the Wildman” follows the adventure of Turtleman, his faithful canine companion Lolly – found wandering the streets looking for shelter during an ice storm – and his right-hand man Neal. Other friends in the close-knit Turtleman clan are David “Squirrel” Brady and Jake “Muscle” Ison.
Christians who believe in leaving the world better than they found it, Turtleman and Banjo Man Neal donate much time and energy to helping others. They help get necessary medical supplies and equipment for those who need it. They assist folks whose homes were burned or destroyed by tornadoes. They make phone calls to pep up people. They visit sick children who are thrilled to meet the TV stars.
Rolling up his sleeve to bare his twin feather tattoos symbolizing his belief that hopes and dreams and wishes do come true, Turtleman said he encourages everyone to pursue their goals – no matter how impossible they seem. “I’m living proof you can do it.
“I don’t drink. I don’t do drugs,” Turtleman concludes. “This is what I do and it makes me happy to make other people happy … I’m high on life.”
For more information: Visit www.VisitLebanonky.com