The Tractor Parade Story

While others cringe at the smell of tractor exhaust, Winters residents take in a deep breath as it signals the arrival of the holidays — and the Tractor Parade & Festival. From the lights and food vendors to jolly old St. Nick out collecting Christmas wishes, this free event has become an annual icon that draws in visitors by the thousands.

However, this event didn’t just happen overnight, so we’re cracking open the recent history books to lay out the history and inspiration behind this diesel-fueled sensation of illumination.

It all started with a bottle of wine — or three — among friends on an October evening in 2015. When the conversation began to swirl around the upcoming holidays, Kathy Cowan recalled how her neighbor had decorated an old tractor in the front yard with Christmas lights.

That’s when the first tractor parade light bulb turned on, as an idea above Kathy’s head. The idea of a tractor parade was well-received by the group, and Kathy and her husband Wade Cowan left with one question on their minds, “How do we get this going?”

Luckily for them, they weren’t alone in turning this idea into reality. Through word of mouth, perseverance, and enough volunteer elbow grease to lubricate the axles of every tractor in the parade, the event was primed and ready to precede the lighting of the town Christmas tree.

Even with the hours of hard work put in, expectations were humble as this was to be the very first-holiday tractor parade — that, and the fact that only six tractors had committed to the event with only a week to go. The holiday cheer of the tractor parade, it seemed, would be kept to a dull roar.

However, the holiday season always comes hand-in-hand with the magic of procrastination, and as the big day drew nearer, six tractors had turned into 32. The buzz had circulated and the day of the inaugural tractor parade had finally arrived. Wade and Kathy were about to eat dinner at the Buckhorn when a crowd suddenly filled Railroad Avenue and Main Street.

Dinner was immediately postponed, and with an ad hoc effort of Winters Police Department, Winters Fire Department, Winters City Council members, and a small army of volunteers, the tractor parade went on without a pout. “Apparently the tractor parade is going to be a big deal in this town.” Wade recalls saying at the following debriefing meeting, “We need to get more organized.”

Even with this explosion of popularity, Wade and Kathy refuse to take credit. “This is not our event.” Kathy said, “Everyone helped put this together.”

The annual tractor parade isn’t just an ode to Winters’ agricultural roots but to its hospitality and the tenacious work ethic of its citizens. It’s because of this work ethic that makes the fruits of our labor shine so bright as they stroll past us at three miles per hour.

In the following years, not only has the organization increased, so has the overall popularity. In 2019 organizers expected to draw over 6,000 visitors. With the 2020 Tractor Parade canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic, the 2021 event was a huge success, coordinated by the Winters Chamber of Commerce and a bunch of local volunteers.

In 2022, The City of Winters took over the event and has since partnered with Bay Area Pop-Up Events to help manage the coordination and infrastructure of both the Festival and Parade.
(excerpts taken from an article originally appearing in the Winters Express)

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For over 30 years, our teams have led a variety of clients through every facet of more than 2,000 high-profile experiential events including public festivals, parades, sporting events, community events, corporate and non-profit functions, nationwide.  From concept to clean-up, the scope of our event-related competencies and experience is unmatched. We deliver a broad range of event-related services to diverse clients with varied objectives in numerous locations.

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A small sample of our work includes the production and execution of national tours, and global corporate events and providing executive direction for major free street festivals, music, art, and food festivals, community parades, wine walks and beer tastings, chef demos, and food tasting events, site inspections, street closures, permit procurement, and much more.

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