While others cringe at the smell of tractor exhaust, Winters residence take in a deep breath as it signals the arrival of the holidays — and the Tractor Parade. From the lights and food vendors to jolly old St. Nick out collecting Christmas wishes, this event has become an annual icon that draws in visitors by the thousands.
However, this event didn’t just happen over night, so we’re cracking open the recent history books to lay out the history and inspiration behind this diesel-fueled sensation of illumination.
It all started with a bottle of wine — or three — among friends on an October evening in 2015. When the conversation began to swirl around the upcoming holidays, Kathy Cowan recalled how her neighbor had decorated an old tractor in the front yard with Christmas lights. That’s when the first tractor parade light bulb turned on, as an idea above Kathy’s head.
The idea of a tractor parade was well-received by the group, and Kathy and her husband Wade Cowan left with one question on their minds, “How do we get this going?”
Luckily for them, they weren’t alone in turning this idea into reality. Through word of mouth, perseverance and enough volunteer elbow grease to lubricate the axles of every tractor in the parade, the event was primed and ready to precede the lighting of the town Christmas tree.
Even with the hours of hard work put in, expectations were humble as this was to be the very first holiday tractor parade — that, and the fact that only six tractors had committed to the event with only a week to go. The holiday cheer of the tractor parade, it seemed, would be kept to a dull roar.
However, the holiday season always comes hand-in-hand with the magic of procrastination, and as the big day drew nearer, six tractors had turned into 32.
The buzz had circulated and the day of the inaugural tractor parade had finally arrived. Wade and Kathy were about to eat dinner at the Buckhorn when a crowd suddenly filled Railroad Avenue and Main Street.
Dinner was immediately postponed, and with an ad hoc effort of Winters Police Department, Winters Fire Department, Winters City Council members and a small army of volunteers, the tractor parade went on without a pout.
“Apparently the tractor parade is going to be a big deal in this town.” Wade recalls saying at the following debriefing meeting, “We need to get more organized.”
In the following years, not only has the organization increased, so has the overall popularity. In 2019 organizers expected to draw over 6,000 visitors. With the 2020 Tractor Parade was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic, the 2021 event is expected to bring folks back to celebrate.
Even with this explosion of popularity, Wade and Kathy refuse to take credit.
“This is not our event.” Kathy said, “Everyone helped put this together.”
The annual tractor parade isn’t just an ode to Winters’ agricultural roots, but to its hospitality and the tenacious work ethic of its citizens. It’s because of this work ethic that makes the fruits of our labor shine so bright as they stroll past us at three miles per hour.