You'd be forgiven for not understanding why the main event at tonight's kickoff for the Cloverdale rodeo in Surrey, B.C., is called a "bed race" — the "beds" are essentially just metal frames with wheels.

But that wasn't always the case. Rob "Turkey" Kielesinski would know, because he participated in the very first one.

"[The] very first bed race was a free-for-all," Kielesinski said, recalling the hulking wheeled hosptial beds that had to be pushed down a three-block course.

"Anything went. You could ram people," he said. "There was a team called the Seagulls — they were throwing herring at fellow bed racers."

"The farmers, of course, were throwing manure. Bags of it."

A 40-year tradition

It's fair to say that the bed races have mellowed somewhat since then. There are strict rules about bed construction, and ramming and throwing things is no longer allowed.

Participants compete in teams of four — three pushers and one rider inside each bed. Teams must push their beds down a 90-metre stretch of 176A Street, then turn around and push them back to the finish line.

But despite the changes over the years, Kielesinski, who has participated in all 40 races and won his fair share of them, still looks forward to it every year.

"Cloverdale's a really unique part of Surrey and the province, and it's still got that hometown feeling," Kielesinski said. "You know everybody there. It's a real neighbourhood event."

The race was originally conceived as way to build hype for the Cloverdale rodeo and fair, and has now become the traditional way to kick off what Kielesinski described as a sort of homecoming for many Cloverdale residents who've moved away.

"Everybody comes in from all over that used to be in Cloverdale," he said. "It's a great feeling."

The 40th annual bed race gets underway tonight at 6:15 on 176A Street in Cloverdale.

With files from CBC Radio One's The Early Edition.