Ad-Express and Daily Iowegian, Centerville, IA

Local News

August 19, 2011

Time to start building your Pancake Day float

CENTERVILLE — Pancake Day is only five weeks away! It’s time to start coming up with ideas and gathering a group of volunteers to build a float to promote your business, organization or school. Floats take some time, from the concept through assembly, so it’s best to get started early.

This year’s Pancake Day theme is, “It’s All Just Fun and Games!” so there will likely be some fun and colorful floats created for this year’s parade.

The Big Parade became part of Pancake Day in 1950, the second year of the celebration. The parade chairman was Goldie Worth, who would maintain that position for several years. The Pancake Day Committee encouraged all businesses, clubs, industries, and organizations to build a float for the parade. They promoted that it was “good, free advertising” and that everyone should take advantage of the opportunity. Even neighborhoods banded together to build their own float.

In 1950, the first parade started at 2 p.m. and formed on West State Street, and only went around the Square once. It was over a mile long and was the biggest parade Centerville had ever seen.

In the years since the very first parade, there have been some changes and additions, as well as some things reconsidered. After a float of questionable taste in 1956, political floats were banished from the parade. At that time, Steven Carter, who was running for Congress, entered a float into the parade that depicted his opponent, Karl LeCompte “riding the fence for 18 years” and that he would be blown off that fence on Election Day. The float sent tongues wagging, and very soon after, political floats were not allowed in the parade.

The parade is not just floats, though. The Centerville High School Band has always started the parade, right behind the grand marshal and the flag bearers. Many bands from all over Iowa and northern Missouri have been in the Pancake Day parade, as well as convertibles carrying queen contestants, old cars, tractors, horses, and  of course, the always-entertaining Shriners.

Newspaper accounts of early Pancake Days tell of a “bomb” that was set off to start the parade. It’s not specific as to what kind of bomb they were talking about, but the babies cried and people jumped and the parade started on time every year. As a matter of fact, one year the parade started without the parade marshal, Gov. Beardsley, who was 40 seconds late.

But the floats have always showcased people’s creativity. In the 1950s and 1960s, the number of floats in the parade rose to 55. The parade was almost five miles long with a huge number of entries in every category.  In 1952, the Iowa Southern Utilities Company won for the best float in the business class, but the float barely made it all the way through the parade intact. Young ladies were handing out balloons to young children in the crowd, but ran out before they were through the parade, so kids started taking the balloons off of the float itself. In 1958, Oehler Brothers Firestone created a stir with their float depicting a hunting scene, complete with a live raccoon in a live tree, with live, yapping dogs.  In 1967, a 40-foot model of the USS Nautilus was in the parade!  Union Carbide has shown tremendous creativity and skill in their mechanized floats they have built, over the many years that they have entered a float in the parade. A life-size steam train, riverboat with a paddle-wheel, and Star Wars space ship are among the amazing floats they have created.

So think about it. What better way to promote your business, club or organization? Build a float – you have five weeks. Let the countdown begin.

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