The Westward Ho! Parade begins with a cannon blast.
The thunderous boom is a fitting way to set the historical parade in motion each year on the Friday of Pendleton Round-Up week. Over the next hour or so, spectators spread along the approximately 1.5-mile route will be pulled back in time.
The parade, which started in 1910, bars non-motorized vehicles. The yearly procession is steeped in tradition. You won’t see floats, antique cars, commercial vehicles or clowns on minibikes in this parade. Rather, spectators view such sights as authentic wagons pulled by teams of oxen, more than 700 horses and other animals, and Indians on horseback wearing ornate tribal dress.
“This parade is intended to be vintage,” said Randy Thomas, a director on the Pendleton Round-Up Board. “We don’t allow any rubber-tired vehicles. Participants are encouraged to dress in period costume or regalia.”
Signage (other than vintage signs) and other evidence of modernity are discouraged. Representatives of colleges and universities riding in the parade must leave their mascots back at school.
“We’ve pulled some state university mascots from the parade that got on at the last minute,” Thomas said.
He laughed, but said the strictness has a serious purpose.
“The parade is intended to be a rolling museum of historical significance,” he said.
Randy Leonard, the Round-Up director who oversees the parade, said the Round-Up owns more than a hundred Oregon Trail-period wagons, stagecoaches, buggies and other vintage vehicles. He said about 70-75 of them appear in the parade on any given year. Teamsters from around the Northwest and as far away as Texas come to drive the rolling stock during the parade. Each driver receives a stipend that barely covers expenses, a ticket to the Friday rodeo and a bottle of Pendleton Whisky.
Leonard praised Round-Up wagon master Bill Dawson, who refurbishes and maintains the rolling stock. He also painstakingly built some reproduction pieces, such as a flour wagon and a beer wagon, from scratch, using historic photographs of historic vehicle.
Other parades boast of being the biggest or longest-standing non-motorized parade in the U.S. The Tuscon Rodeo Parade, for example, which started in 1925, had 2,200 people, 650 horses, 128 entries and a route of five miles this past February, according to the Arizona Daily Star. Sun Valley has the Big Hitch Parade. Bishop, California, has Bishop Mule Days with its 700-or-so mules.
Leonard can’t say with absolute certainty that the Westward Ho! is the biggest of its kind, but he knows it’s in the running and when it comes to authenticity, this parade is matchless.
“I feel that ours is the best,” Leonard said.
Grand Marshal Mike Thorne will lead this year’s parade. The former state senator and executive director for the Port of Portland has volunteered at the Round-Up since he was a young man and is a past Round-Up director.
The parade begins at 10 a.m. sharp on Friday, Sept. 15, and wends its way east from Pendleton City Hall along Dorion Avenue, swings north for a block at Southeast Fifth Street and goes west on Court Avenue.
Contact Kathy Aney at email@example.com or call 541-966-0810.