Looking back at Old Timers Day


Courtesy of the Madera County Historical Society

Thousands once converged on Yosemite Avenue for the Old Timers Day Parade, as this photograph bears ample evidence.

Every community has something that makes it unique. Some towns boast of a particular industry; others point to some nearby natural attraction, while in many cases an annual event will help to provide identity for a city. As an example of this latter category, one could cite the Chowchilla Stampede, Coarsegold Rodeo, and Oakhurst’s “Peddler’s Fair.” For Maderans, it has been the Old Timers Parade.


The Madera Old Timers Parade, born with gusto in the early 1930s, appears to have reached its zenith in the 1940s and ‘50s. A contagious excitement surrounded the event each year, as Madera County residents gathered to remember their past, enjoy the present, and plan for the future. Each year the event got better and better, as the spirit of the community annually expressed itself on the pavement of Yosemite Avenue.


One of the really outstanding Old Timers Parades took place in 1947. Ten thousand people gathered for the festivity and packed both sides of Yosemite Avenue. They sat on awnings, perched on rooftops, and hung out of windows to herald the procession as it went by. Prolonged applause greeted the Grand Marshall, Raynor Daulton, Queen Ann McKee, and King William Tighe. The crowd all knew that this trio represented a generation that had contributed to Madera’s foundation.


As these dignitaries passed in review, they were followed by numerous parade entries that caused the community to reflect upon itself. Dressed in garments from the 19th century, Mrs. Boyd Givens pushed a 70-year-old baby buggy behind the Madera High School Band. She was followed by Sheriff W.O. Justice and 22 members of the Sheriff’s mounted posse.


Then came three stagecoaches, driven by Hallie Silkwood, Bill Betters, and Tommy Thompson. Low Hoskins, the county’s first assessor was a passenger in the first coach. Also aboard was J. M. Straube, at the time the only living builder of the old county courthouse. The other stages carried such well-known county residents as Judge Stanley Murray, Judge W.M. Conley, Mr. and Mrs. Fritz Krohn, and Joe Mendoza.


The crowd was delighted throughout, as one by one, the various entries paraded by with a piece of Madera County’s past. Following the stagecoaches were an old covered wagon carrying the Morger family and an old fire wagon that saw service in Madera in 1890. Gold miner, Simeon Sotello, and his donkey thrilled the kids. A replica of the Madera General Store as it appeared in 1884, when the proprietor and manager was L. Alpine, brought cheers from the onlookers.


The loudest laughs came as a result of “the Sausage Factory,” entered by Noble’s Independent Market. This float showed little pigs being put into a grinder to emerge three seconds later as packaged sausages.


It was a glorious parade. There were floats by the Madera County Farm Bureau and the Lions Club. Oakhurst loggers could be seen riding on top of a 32-foot log, 7 feet in diameter, and containing 6200 board feet of lumber. Chief Leemi of the Yosemite Tribe, in full dance regalia, performed on the Kiwanis exhibit. Even the Ministerial Association was represented by a replica of a church from the old days, complete with a pedal organ.


A section of the old flume which carried lumber to Madera from the mountains was featured on the American Legion Float. The 20-30 Club entered two automobiles: a 1914 Dodge and a 1901 Oldsmobile. Unfortunately, the Olds, driven by Roy Long, broke down in front of the reviewing stands and had to be towed away by the Dodge.


In all there were entries from 53 organizations in that 1947 Old Timers Parade, and together they made “a magnificent procession.” Madera County residents pulled out the stops and created an unforgettable community event. They were proud of their heritage and paid the price to show it.


Over the years, however, the spirit that powered these past events has dissipated somewhat. Maybe we have become so busy that we don’t have time for history. Maybe our senses are so assaulted by television and the movies that parades just don’t carry that much “punch” for us. Maybe it is a matter of money. Perhaps difficult economic times have served to diminish interest in Madera’s annual Old Timers Day Parade. Maybe it is a little of all of these.


Not to fear, however; Madera is not finished with the Old Timers’ Day Parade, and all of the indications are that the next one will rival those of days gone by. Those organizing the event will sense that the time is propitious for breathing new life into one of Madera’s most cherished traditions. No doubt they will use the past as a yardstick; if so, the Old Timers’ Parade of 1947 would make an excellent blue print to follow.

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