CENTRALIA — With the smell of diesel fuel in the air, farmers braced for the cold Friday night in Centralia as tractors and other farm machinery lined the streets.
But the farm equipment hadn't been brought to town for work. The tractors, sprayers, grain trucks and trailers were covered in thousands of strands of Christmas lights. The diesel smell permeating the air was caused by the generators atop the machinery that powered the seventh Centralia Lighted Tractor Parade.
In addition to the Christmas lights strung along the tractors that had been transformed into parade floats, the parade included people with lighted sweaters, a moving Ferris wheel, Nativity scenes, a Santa driving a Chevy, and a Grinch, all on farm machinery.
The streets would have been dark but for the glow of street lamps and smartphones snapping pictures of friends and family on floats.
Austin Stanton, a junior at Centralia High School, was driving his new sprayer, a piece of farm machinery that has attachments that distribute liquids such as fertilizer onto fields. The sprayer was decked out with with giant blow-up candy canes, icicle lights and a red-nosed Rudolph in front. Stanton usually spends a month working on his float, but this year was more of a last-minute effort.
“It was either do my final for language class or make the float,” Austin Stanton said. “I made the float, but I got the final done.”
The tractors moved slowly as holiday tunes played in the cab. Although it was slightly below freezing outside, the tractors radiated heat inside the cabs. Each tractor was equipped with a generator for the lights.
“It took more lights than I thought,” Austin Stanton said. “Almost anywhere we can put a light, we put a light.”
Stanton's family usually creates three floats.
“My family helped start this,” said Dustin Stanton, Austin Stanton's brother. “I feel like it’s one of those parades that’s going to go on for 50 years.”
The parade began seven years ago by the Centralia Young Farmers and Ranchers. Brian Schnarre and Andrew Stanton, Austin and Dustin Stanton's father, founded the parade and continue to join it every year with their own floats.
Schnarre said they saw a similar parade in another state and decided to bring the concept to Missouri. As far as he knows, this is the first lighted tractor parade in the state.
“You take old farmers lighting stuff up, and we just get carried away,” Schnarre said.
When the event started, there were only 15 tractors. But in recent years, the parade has attracted more than 50 lighted floats. It begins and ends at the MFA Agri Service after circling the town square.
Schnarre said an extra street was added to the parade this year because the parade was so long it almost ran into itself last year.
And the event has now expanded well beyond farm machinery. Schnarre said that he’s seen everything from RVs to semitrucks decorated in the parade and that it has become a town tradition.
“Everyone is amazed at how much it’s grown,” Schnarre said. “We have it in any weather except a blizzard.”
Much of the machinery isn’t just for show. Austin used his sprayer during the summer on his family's almost 1,500 acres of soybeans and milo.
Some of the machinery has been around for generations.
Greg Buckman owns antique machinery and brings a different piece of equipment to the parade each year. This year, he brought a 1954 John Deere 70 tractor with a 1929 wagon. He wore a Santa hat and a Carhartt jacket.
“I’ve got 1950s lights on my tractor that are bigger than anyone else,” Buckman said.
Hundreds of pedestrians lined both sides of the town square. Children were bundled up. One group of children was nestled into an open car trunk covered in blankets. But other children were eagerly waiting to grab the candy that was being thrown off floats.
“We’ve got 3,000 pieces of candy, and we aren’t taking any home,” Buckman said.
But the excitement over the candy could have been hazardous with all the machinery on the streets. Austin Stanton had to stop his sprayer at least once during the parade when a child ran in front of him.
He said there have only ever been a few problems with the parade. Sometimes generators malfunction so lights go out or tractors run out of gas. His main concern is always safety; he didn’t want to hit an electric pole with his sprayer, which has long attachments. When driving one of the largest pieces of machinery in the parade, he said, he has to always be alert.
He's already thinking about his vision for next year's float. Instead of just having Rudolph on the front of his sprayer, he said, he'll decorate the entire sprayer to look like a reindeer.
Supervising editor is Edward Hart.