CHEYENNE – You’d be hard-pressed to find a local community event more spirited – and populated – than the annual Cheyenne Christmas Parade.
But two hours before its 32nd installment Saturday evening, the streets of downtown were particularly quiet. The floats that usher in such community spirit were sitting dormant on the outskirts of the parade route.
No attendees had yet claimed their spots on the sidewalk, and only a few were walking through the streets, buying coffee in preparation for the rush of viewers. Soon, there would be children, families and couples all bundled in knit caps and gloves, gripping cups of steaming drinks while watching local organizations take elaborate and innovative floats on a celebratory journey through downtown.
This was very much the calm before the storm. During this time, the Laramie County Toys for Tots truck and its longtime driver and owner, Jeff Kyle, waited on Carey Avenue to kick off the parade for at least the 10th year in a row.
While it might be an honor to lead the parade each year, the only reason Kyle ever got into the role to begin with was to bring more attention to Toys for Tots, which he also founded here in 2010. It’s about bring the children toys, which he said the program does in mass quantities most years.
“Cheyenne is one of the most giving places I’ve ever lived in, and I’ve lived in a lot of places,” Kyle told the Wyoming Tribune Eagle. “I’ve been all over the East, West, all over the United States. As people go, Cheyenne’s right up there. I’d say its probably one of the the nicest cities who take care of their own.”
For all of the holiday festivities that come as a part of the Christmas Parade, the true essence of the event lies in the motivation behind each organization’s participation in the parade.
It is, in reality, a massive outpouring of charity and support for the community, the drivers of each float reminiscing about the joyous reactions on people’s faces more than the fact they’re parading their creation in front of a good chunk of Laramie County residents.
Such is the case with longtime parade participant Bob Sommers, who can be identified by his 1955 Chevrolet Bel Air, which is completely covered in more than 100 multicolored Christmas lights in each parade for the past 16 years.
Sommers himself has been a part of the parade in some capacity since the 1970s, when his wife rode through a much smaller event as Mrs. Claus. Now, he participates with the Cheyenne Classic Chevy Club, of which he is a member.
This year, the club included some classic Fords and Oldsmobiles, entering the parade as “Cheyenne Classic Chevy & Friends.”
“It just lifts up their spirits,” Sommers said before the parade. “You see the smiles of the little kids’ faces. That’s what we’re here for – for the families.”
It was a much smaller event when Sommers first began participating, but like Kyle, what’s kept him in the parade is the community spirit and the club’s toy run, which has also been going strong for 34 years. This year, they donated $2,200 to The Salvation Army and acquired 80 new toys.
Once darkness fell, the city transformed into one big Christmas gathering, the drivers now warm in their cars, their lights fired up and ready to be admired. Once the Toys for Tots truck forged a path, the banner signaling the beginning of the parade ushered the long line of cars, tractors, snow cats and horses along.
Cheyenne Frontier Days came through with an extravagant “Old West” Christmas display, horses and horse-drawn wagons outfitted just as brightly as any of the massive trucks that followed behind them. Laramie County School District 1 followed close behind in a school bus, and the Israeli Celebration Dancers riled up the crowd right after.
If there were ever a brief silence among the parade watchers, they were quickly jarred awake by the blaring of a truck horn.
The fire department passed through and periodically sounded their sirens, some of the firefighters high-fiving children as they passed by. The Air National Guard drove their model of a C-130 through the crowd, just as they have done since the 1990s, lit up with green lights and drawing admiration from many in the crowd.
In one of the most attention-grabbing entries of the parade, a mob of cyclists riding odd variations of bicycles and unicycles came through – some with disjointed sections, others sporting accessory wheels or a “chopper-like” design.
Troy Strand was a newcomer to the parade, hitching his food truck, Ranch Eats, to the Southern Wyoming Towing and Recovery truck for a joint entry as float number 63. Also in their convoy, entered as float number 63 1/4, was a golf cart modified to re-create the character Tow Mater from the Disney/Pixar movie “Cars.”
Strand wasn’t nervous to drive the big tow truck through the crowd. While his employees smiled through the food truck’s service window as it passed, Strand was more excited to have his family in the cab with him after so many years being a part of the crowd.
“I think it’s a great family event,” he said. “People come out and get to have some fun and see all the creativity.”