I just returned from the Penngrove Firemen’s Breakfast, and am feeling especially nostalgic of Penngrove and am excited to attend tomorrow’s Fourth of July Parade. I don’t know if it is dubbed the “Biggest Little Parade” because it actually is, or if it just appears that way because half a dozen people can make downtown Penngrove look busy. As a kid, I couldn’t say that Penngrove was the wild, wild west, but it was definitely “country.” It is much of this country charm that draws people back year after year to attend the breakfast, parade, and BBQ on July 4th weekend.
As a kid, it was always a thrill to see our friends and neighbors in the Fourth of July Parade and still, to this day, I encourage my friends with kids to enter them into the parade, even if they just want to ride their bike or pony. There aren’t a lot of people who can claim to have been in a parade, although we locals are lucky since our parades are especially accessible.
My childhood neighbor was in the parade just this side of being potty trained. He must have seen the parade the year before and voiced a desire to participate the following year. His first year found him on his tricycle, all red, white, and blue-ed out. I don’t know the length of the parade but he may have broken a tricycle distance record that day. The following year he had progressed to a two-wheeler, albeit sporting training wheels. He was as happy as could be. The year after that he showed up with a new two-wheeler, sans training wheels, although still a bit wobbly. The next year he again showed up on his Schwinn (with banana seat) but was by this time a much more confident rider, beaming with pride at his riding ability. My mother still talks about the horror of having to pull our feet back from the curb in order to avoid being run over as he rode around waving to the crowd. The final year I saw him in the parade, he was riding a mini-bike, which is a motorcycle only smaller. It was loud and it was dangerous. Every kid in the crowd was green with jealousy while every mother was horrified. If they thought he was scary on the two-wheeler, this mini-bike took the cake. He attempted to remain in his designated parade position without ever putting his feet down, which meant he was often pointed directly at the crowd, gunning the motor in order to retain enough forward momentum to keep his balance. I hope my old friend has continued his family’s tradition; I look forward to seeing his children waving and smiling in the parade although maybe I won’t sit in the front row.
The Penngrove Parade is always chalked full of old tractors. I don’t know where they are hidden the rest of the year but I would guess that at least some of them make the journey down from the Phillips’ place. They have an incredible collection of motors, engines, tractors, and what have you, at the ranch, appropriately named the Penngrove Museum of Power and Implementation. One year, we were sitting on the sidewalk in front of the post office, crowded into one of the rare shady spots. That year’s parade had found the hottest day of the year and most of us had come unprepared. The parade was moving in fits and spurts, which was wreaking havoc on the old tractors. A group of five old machines, with badges claiming them to Masey – Ferguson, McCormack Farmall, and Case heritages, were lumbering in the high noon heat. Anticipating a break in the parade’s forward momentum, all the riders turned their machines off in order to keep them from overheating. I call it “riding” as opposed to “driving” because it seems like you are doing more work than just “driving” and it is definitely more fun than “driving” a car.
When the procession started to move again, four of the tractors fired right up and started to roll up the road. The last tractor, ridden by a buxom country gal, chugged and coughed but would not come to life. She kept cranking the switch to no avail. We in the crowd wondered what she was going to do. With a bit of “Pardon me, excuse me, coming through,” the crowd parted and who should emerge but old man Penngrove. Not that there is one specific “old man Penngrove,” but if there were, this is what he would look like. Of a healthy build, although already caught by age with a limp, he was sporting a long sleeve flannel shirt tucked nicely into his Sunday best overalls. In a sea of shorts, tank tops, and flip-flops, all being baked under a 100 degree sun, you would have thought an old man in overalls and a flannel shirt would have stood out. Farmers and ranchers don’t do shorts and flip-flops – their only wardrobe change from winter to summer is the exchange of their black felt hat for straw, one less layer of flannel, and if extraordinarily hot, maybe the swapping out of wool socks for cotton.
Without a second thought he stepped into the street and approached the tractor as if he were approaching one of his injured heifers. With a gentle touch he moved around the tractor and nodded to the rider that everything would be okay. Sure enough moments later it came to life at the first crank of the starter. He smirked as the crowd cheered — in his mind he had done nothing special. An old tractor, an old farmer and some good old fashioned farm knowledge had crossed paths and in the process had brought us pure Penngrove Parade gold. The BBQ in the park that follows the parade tasted especially good that year.
The Penngrove Parade starts at 11am with BBQ to follow. For more information read my most recent “Petaluma Weekend” blog.
The Penngrove Museum of Power and Implementation will have one of its rare open houses next Saturday, July 10. Admission is free so please be generous with your donations and gift shop purchase. For more info visit: www.penngrovepower.org