GREENWICH — Crowds lined the streets six and more deep in areas of downtown Greenwich Thursday night to see Internationals, John Deeres and Cases festooned with lights and decorations in the inaugural Greenwich Holiday Lighted Tractor Parade.
Tractors ranged from tiny lawn models to six-tired behemoths right out of the fields. There were tractors with reindeer antlers, Christmas trees, wrapped presents, and two “leg lamps.” Many towed wagons with elves and members of community groups, including 4-H and Future Farmers of America members, drummers from the Greenwich Youth Center, skiers from Willard Mountain and karate students from New York Martial Arts and Fitness Academy.
Diesel engines and generators roared in the parking lot in front of Greenwich Junior-Senior School’s high school as tractors and floats moved into position before the parade. Alex Sawtelle, a mechanic with Hudson River Tractor’s store in Schaghticoke, was dressed as a conductor for the Polar Express, riding a railway car he built on a farm wagon. Sawtelle was also driving the tractor pulling the car.
Sawtelle said 16 to 20 eager children were aboard with their parents. “We’re here just for fun,” he said. The float and tractor sported around 3,000 lights, which Hudson River Tractor will use later at the store, he said.
Nineteen youngsters in white robes were ready to demonstrate karate moves on the New York Martial Arts float. “Who doesn’t like holiday lights and tractors?” said adult student Karen Strope, when asked why she and the academy were participating. The academy’s owner, John Darfler, was pulling the wagon with his own tractor.
Kate Jilek was stringing last-minute lights on the Agricultural Stewardship Association’s wagon. “We’re here to enjoy the holiday spirit and promote saving our farms,” Jilek said. “We’re also celebrating FFA’s 75th anniversary. They’re our farmers of the future.” Tom Jilek, a longtime ASA supporter, drove his tractor from his farm in Jackson, Capital Tractor Inc. of Greenwich loaned the wagon and Cabot Cheese donated cheese samples to pass out, she said.
Members of Centenary United Methodist Church had soup kettles on their float. “We’re here to get involved and promote visibility for our free First Friday dinners,” said Tom Graves. The monthly dinners raise funds for local charities and needs, such as helping people whose homes have burned, he said.
Kate Gulley was supervising 20 to 30 children on the Greenwich 4-H tractor and float. “We thought it would be fun and promote 4-H,” Gulley said. “The kids had a ball decorating the tractor.” Both tractor and wagon were courtesy of Capital Tractor, she said.
Many of the children gleefully waved light sticks. “We got the light sticks last night,” Gulley said. “We thought that anything that glows we should probably bring.”
The Greater Greenwich Chamber of Commerce organized the event. In an interview the day before, Kathy Nichols-Tomkins, executive director of the Greenwich chamber, said the idea for the event came from a chamber member who had seen a lighted tractor parade in another community.
When the parade committee began planning, “we had no idea how many would show up. We limited it to 50 tractors, but we thought, ‘We’re not even going to come close to that.’ But people have gotten such holiday enthusiasm for it. I think it’s going to be pretty spectacular.”
The entries were mostly from Greenwich. Other communities represented included Salem, Cambridge, Buskirk, Easton, Queensbury, Valley Falls and Saratoga Springs. Participants included farms, farm-related businesses, individuals and community organizations. Santa and Mrs. Claus offered to come from their home at the North Pole and took the place of honor at the end of the parade.
Entries were required to have at least 1,000 lights on the tractor. If pulling a float, the number of lights on the tractor and float combined had to total at least 2,000.
The final tally was 42 entrants. Nichols-Tomkins guessed the spectators numbered in the thousands. “I’ve never seen such a crowd downtown,” she said.
Sponsors included Capital Tractor Inc. and Farm Credit East. Proceeds will support a scholarship in agriculture for Greenwich Central School students and chamber activities.