It rained on our parade

TAKING COVER. Many parade spectators had no place to go, when torrential rains struck Tracy shortly before the 1 p.m. parade start.

Sadly, but fittingly, rain ruined another summer holiday in Tracy on Monday, as a Labor Day storm washed out the Box Car Days parade.

By Seth Schmidt

The dark rain clouds opened just before 1 p.m.

“I thought we were going to get the parade in,” remembers Chamber Director Brittany Larson.  “I’d looked at the weather forecast that morning and it said a 30% chance of rain at 1 p.m.  I thought, ‘no big deal.’”

The Tracy Area High School Band had finished its warm ups near Central Park, and was ready to march in its crisp red & blue uniforms.

“Then one of the kids pointed out the dark sky just behind us,” Band Director Brittani Klaverkamp recalls. “Maybe two minutes later the rain came.”

The torrential rainfall drenched parade participants and spectators within seconds. Miss Tracy contestants, dressed to the nines with perfectly coiffed-hair, fled convertibles and car roofs. Floats festooned with crepe-paper flowers and hand letter-signs splattered. The Knights of Columbus gamely tried staying dry by erecting tarp over their float.

Everywhere, parade participants sought shelter, scurrying underneath trees and scrambling into cars. Many fled to the sanctuaries of Tracy Lutheran and the United Methodist churches. Some opened garage doors and beckoned people inside.

“At first, people didn’t know what to do,”  Larson recounts. “Was this going to be something to blow over quickly?”

“Some kids tried to stay dry underneath trees while we waited to see what call would be made,”   Klaverkamp says.

Parade spectators were also caught off guard.

Those who could ran to cars and homes, or huddled under umbrellas. Those less fortunate, who’d parked blocks away before carrying chairs to the parade route, were quickly wringing wet.  An older man was seen pushing his wife home through the rain in a wheelchair, before getting a ride from a passing vehicle.

Adding to the uncertainty, was the inability of many cell phone users to get a signal. That meant people along the parade route were unable to make calls, check social media, or pull up satellite weather reports to get an idea how long the rain would last.

Chamber board member Jay Fultz believes that the system was overwhelmed by so many  people trying to use their phones at once.

The decision to cancel the parade was made by Police Chief Jason Lichty, and Chamber leaders George Hebig and Khyle Radke, who were huddled near the parade’s starting point. The cancellation was made, after Lichty was radioed a weather report from Fire Chief Dale Johnson III, who had been able to pull up weather radar at the fire station. The radar showing a strong likelihood of continued heavy rains for at least an hour.

Shortly after 1 p.m., Lichty rode through the parade route in his HumVee, announcing the parade cancellation.

As Panther band members ran two blocks through the rain to buses, a few spirited musicians played their marching piece.

No other choice

Calling off the parade, Larson feels, was the only responsible decision the Chamber could make, considering the miserably wet conditions.

“It was raining hard.  If you stepped out into the street, you were walking into three or four inches of rain,” Fultz adds.

In theory, Fultz says it might have been possible to run the parade later in the afternoon.  But the fact that there was no shelter for many of those caught outdoors, and most spectators and parade entries went home, made a later parade not feasible.

For more on this article, see this week’s Headlight-Herald.

THE SAD CLOWN — “Smiley the Clown” had little to smile about Monday afternoon as he walked on Emory Street after the parade was canceled because of the rain. “Smiley” — aka Dennis Moore — said in all his days of riding his bike in the Box Car Days parade, he has never gotten wet. That streak ended Monday in a big way.

BCD parade rainout is a first

By Seth Schmidt

Soggy spectators retreating from the Box Car Days parade route early Monday afternoon have bragging rights to a unique moment.

The washed-out parade was the first Box Car Days rain out in 91 years.

“We made history,” said Jay Fultz, Box Car Days committee member.

“This has never happened before,” said Melvin Hubbard, a 1942 Tracy High School graduate. He recalled marching once with the THS band on Labor Day, in the late 1930s or early ‘40s, as a light rain fell. “But that was nothing like what we had Monday. We were able to march through the parade in the rain.  Yesterday, that was a downpour.  You couldn’t have a parade in that.”

Some social media accounts claimed that this year marked the second time a Box Car Days parade has been cancelled because of rain.  One account stated that the 1949 parade was a casualty of rain.

However, the Tracy Headlight-Herald reported a record crowd of 35,000 people attended the 1949 Box Car Day.   

Merrill Starr’s 1971 book, “Tracy’s First Hundred Years,” does not mention any parade rainouts in its account of Box Car Day celebrations from 1927 to 1970.  Chris and Clete Schons, who’ve lived on the parade route since 1976, don’t recall any years when the parade hasn’t been held, although they do remember  a few occasions when showers have brought out umbrellas.

Box Car Days has been celebrated every Labor Day since 1927 except 1946, when a polio outbreak caused the event’s cancellation, upon the advice of local medical officials.