"Everybody loves a parade," but it wasn't always that way in the Rim country.
In fact, August Doin's the World's Oldest Continuous Rodeo despite what a couple of really old people in Prescott say existed without a parade for many years. That's not surprising, considering the original intent of the Payson rodeo was to provide working cowboys the opportunity to hone their cowpunching skills and engage in a little friendly competition with their contemporaries.
But as Payson evolved and changed, the rodeo grew into more of a celebration of the town's cowboy, ranching and western heritage. The rodeo parade, an opportunity for spectators to experience a moving panorama of the components of that heritage, became one of the event's more important elements.
Today, it would be hard to imagine August Doin's without a big, boisterous parade wending its merry way down the Beeline Highway with thousands of excited spectators lining the route. The 2002 edition begins at 9 a.m., Saturday, Aug. 17, and is scheduled to last about two hours.
While the Spring Rodeo parade has been moved down to Main Street, the August Doin's version, which begins at Airline Road and proceeds south to Bashas', is just too big, according to Stephanie Turlukis, this year's parade chairperson.
"With 120 entries expected, there just isn't room at Green Valley Park or at the theaters to stage this parade," Turlukis said. "We actually line them up from Airline all the way around to Rancho at Payson Elementary School."
Arizona Public Service is sponsoring the parade for the fourth consecutive year, while proceeds will go to the northern Gila County chapter of CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocate). Turlukis is vice president of that chapter.
"They are people who represent children taken from their homes due to abuse, neglect or drug use by their parents," she said. The small amount of money that is made from parade entries will be used to help provide for the needs of those children.
The theme of this year's parade is "Pioneer Days," and the grand marshal will be Payson Mayor Ken Murphy. Besides the Payson High School band and cheerleaders, entries committed so far include the Payson Pro Rodeo jail, lots of colorful horses and riders provided by the Payson Horseman's Association and Ghost Riders, the ever-popular El Zaribah Shriners and local musician John Carpino representing the Rim country's newest radio station KRIM FM.
Turlukis even hopes Bison Ranch will once again send a wagon drawn by their famous Percherons. In fact, Turlukis is waiving the entry fee for Bison Ranch, which recently suffered extensive damage from the Rodeo-Chediski Fire.
During the fire, many of the Bison Ranch horses, including some Percherons, were evacuated to the Payson Event Center.
"We know they've been through a lot up there," she said, "but it would be really nice to have them."
Bringing up the rear of this year's parade will be District One Congressional candidate Bruce Whiting, who will handle scooping chores.
Another new edition this year will be food and beverage vendors along the route.
"Before everybody had to crowd into Payson Marketplace to get something," Turlukis said.
The judging stand, the parade's only stopping point, will be located in the Swiss Village Shops parking lot.
Entry categories include Western Rider, male and female; Costumed Group; Costumed Riding Group; Marching Group; Color Guard; Classic Vehicle; Commercial Group; Horse Drawn; Rodeo Queen; Novelty; and Civic or Volunteer. Entries will be judged, in part, by how they interpret the theme.
As a lover of parades since she was a little girl, being at the helm of the 2002 edition is the ultimate thrill for Turlukis.
"It's really exciting to see the backside of the parade," she said. "Everybody is so anxious to get out there on the Beeline and in front of the judges' stand."
But while the parade is always a lot of fun, it serves an educational function.
"We're also trying to teach children what it was like back in the 1800s," Turlukis said.
Whatever their motive for being there, Rim country residents and visitors alike will line the Beeline for one of the most popular events of August Doin's.
"Rain or shine, people bring lawn chairs and blankets and park on both sides of the Beeline," Turlukis said. "It's just a fun time to sit back and relax, to show our spirit and pride in our community, and best of all, it's free."