The line backed up down the street and into the civic center parking lot. Horses, llamas and people readied themselves, waiting for the signal.
Finally, the noon siren sounded and the police escorts moved forward. The red, white and blue-clad paradegoers rolled ahead, marking the start of the annual “Home of Champions Rodeo” parade.
The parade Wednesday afternoon in Red Lodge was the first of three parades, all culminating with the July 4 parade Friday.
On Wednesday it was Children’s Day and the parade featured children on different floats throwing candy, performing or simply waving.
The parades, which will start at noon Thursday and Friday in Red Lodge, work in conjunction with the "Home of Champions Rodeo," which was Wednesday night, and will continue Thursday night at 6 p.m. and Friday afternoon at 3 p.m.
The theme this year is “Wagons Ho!”
Parade director Glory Mahan said the theme is tied in with the parade’s grand marshal, Don Coutts.
“Don gives wagon rides in town and has been an active member in the rodeo over the years,” Mahan said. “He was picked for what he has done for the rodeo association in years past as well as his positive impact on the community.”
Kezia Jetmore and her brother Jay wheeled out a cart of chickens for the parade. The three chickens were red, white and blue. Kezia said they gave the blue chicken its look by spraying on hair dye, which rounded out the patriotic trifecta.
The brother and sister will be attending the rodeo every day.
“I really like the rodeo clowns and the wild mustangs,” Jay said.
Kezia said she likes the calf roping.
Bruce Simon made his way along the parade route with his 1947 Farmall tractor. Simon has a long history with the parade, first participating when he was 2 ½.
“I was just a little tyke when I was first in this parade,” Simon said. “I suppose you could say I have been coming back more than 70 years.”
Simon, who lives in Billings, said he and his family used to bring horses to the parade. Every year after 2000, Simon has driven his tractor in the parade.
When he was in high school, Simon said he would drive a 15-passenger Yellowstone bus, which was painted red, twice a week to the Red Lodge ski mountain to ski with his friends.
“I spend every fourth here,” Simon said. “I like Red Lodge and this area a lot. They put on a nice parade.”
This year marks the 85th anniversary of the rodeo. Mahan has helped out with the rodeo and parade for 22 years.
She said the original rodeo was called the Red Lodge rodeo, but it changed after two local families, the Lindermans and Greenoughs, won many of the championships in the rodeo. Because they were both heavily decorated Red Lodge families, the name changed to the “Home of Champions Rodeo.”
Mahan said she keeps participating because she loves it.
“I have a lot of love for the parade, rodeo and Red Lodge,” Mahan said. “The rodeo has gone on for 85 years. Not many events can have that much success.”
Mahan hopes that people who attend the parade and rodeo can come away with local flavor.
“I want people to leave with a true Western experience,” Mahan said. “The people here are very welcoming. The rodeo is an outdoor experience. There aren’t plastic chairs in a stadium. It’s the real thing.”