by Jim Bulls
I would like to think that Art Tabler would have thrown Reedley’s first Fiesta in my honor since I moved to Reedley and he came up with the Fiesta idea the same year: 1947. He did feel our tight-knit little community had reason to celebrate, but because our diverse ethnic population had given their lives and support to protecting our country during World War II and local young men who had fought in Europe, North Africa, and Asia were just beginning to return home, also the local farmers who grew crops for the war effort had completed harvest – what better time for a community celebration?
The basic idea was to spotlight our ethnic heritage by setting up food booths in the park that would serve delicacies like tamales and enchiladas, teriyaki beef sticks, bierocks, hot dogs and homemade pies. There would be ethnic and harvest displays downtown and a big parade. To help raise money for the event, local citizens would be rounded up by “lawmen” and fined a dollar. That first year, Bill Hughes of Hughes Ford-Mercury donated a new Ford to raffle off. Throughout the years car dealers would continue to donate a new car to the Fiesta raffle. All the activities would culminate on the second weekend in October.
So, in 1947, about four weeks before the first Fiesta, a portable jail cell was dropped off in front of the Bank of America on the corner of 11th & G Streets. Mayor Hammack presided as “Judge” handing out fines and/or sentences. A black panel delivery truck belonging to Cecil Conley was put into use as a “paddy wagon” and it followed the posse that rode around on the running boards of Mike Shamoon’s old Hudson. One year, Bozo Aalto drove up to the jail in the old Seagraves fire truck and hosed down the inmates with the fire hose! That’s the honest truth; I was sitting in the barber chair at Doc Enns’ barber shop and saw the whole thing.
In later years, the posse turned into a Whiskerino Posse with a Sheriff. Men would be arrested and fined a buck if they weren’t wearing facial hair. The only way to get out of a fine was to wear green socks. You could count on J.C. Penney’s and Justisons to stock up on green socks at Fiesta time—mine were fluorescent green. It was commonplace to hear gunfire in town, as the posse would announce their presence by firing blanks in their Colts and Winchesters. When not on patrol, the unofficial posse headquarters was at Jadoon’s.
By Friday, the food booths were all set up in the park and the smells were mouthwatering. On Friday evening, nearly everyone in town was in the park eating dinner and socializing. Last minute touches were being put on the floats, band instruments were being polished and oiled, horses were being curry combed and antique cars were being washed and waxed—all in preparation for Saturday’s big parade. People and entries came from miles around.
Jorgenson Pump Company employee Herb Smith lived across the street from me. His son Jack and I would either ride on a well drilling rig or on the fire truck since Mr. Smith was a volunteer fireman as well. Whatever I was riding on in the parade, I always wore my red felt cowboy hat.
On year Mr. Smith smuggled Jack and me into Jadoon’s to see all the railroad paraphernalia that Mr. Jadoon had. As you entered the front door the wig-wag would start swinging, lights would flash and the electric train whistles would blow. It wasn’t long until Mr. Jadoon remodeled in 1950’s blond Formica, but I didn’t see this until I was of age.
In addition to the parade, there were exhibits to see downtown including local student artwork. Groups were performing in the band shell in the park. Kids were participating in gunny-sack races, greased pole climbing and the frog jumping contest. Grownups could play Bingo for prizes donated by Reedley merchants and the grand prize was $100 for a blackout.
Saturday night there was a dance at the Veteran’s Hall, where our Boy Scout troop used to meet. The big cannon, now at the Reedley Cemetery, sat out in front of the building. Some of the older boys thought one way to initiate Cub Scouts was to pants them and then put their trousers in the cannon barrel. Luckily I could outrun the initiators.
The first era of the Fiesta came to an end after a decade. Why? Politics, burn out, lack of interest? I don’t really know, but 1957 was the last year. I marched in the General Grant Band in 1956 and in the Reedley High School/College Band in 1957. Our combination band uniforms were grey and you wore a green shield for high school and orange shield for college.
1963 commemorated the 50th year of Reedley’s incorporation and the parade was “recycled” for the occasion. It wasn’t until 1966, through the efforts of Mr. Fiesta, the late Budd Brockett, that the annual Fiesta once again became a fixture in the community, with the Fiesta King and Queen and Miss Reedley. In keeping with the bicentennial in 1976, the royalty format changed a bit. We still had our Miss Reedley, the beautiful Stephanie Henrichs, but instead of king and queen there was “Uncle Sam”, Mel Salwasser, and “Betsy Ross,” Ester Hardison. John Cox sang out “The British are coming!” as Paul Revere.
There have been a lot of changes in the Fiesta over the last 35 years, but I have changed too, as has the City of Reedley. Some of the biggest Fiesta changes have been in the food booth area. The County Health Department has pretty much shut down a lot of the traditional, homemade ethnic food booths we used to have. Rules state food must be prepared in commercial-style kitchens and meet certain temperature ranges for cooking and storage. Homemade pies are a thing of the past, although I can never recall anyone coming down with ptomaine poisoning after eating a piece of boysenberry pie. But there are enough booths that comply with the food rules to still have a variety of things to eat.
You can still win a goldfish, participate in the frog jumping contest, and watch a great parade led by the “Big Green Marching Machine.” Hopefully the Orange Cove Titan Marching Band will participate this year. I miss Mr. Montez and Herb Lee with their beautiful, well trained horses, but there are still plenty of antique cars or trucks in the parade.
This year the parade route will again be filled with wide-eyed children, teenagers and adults of all ages. Kids will show off their art work in the down town stores; teenagers will perform in aware-winning bands and maybe meet a new girl or boy friend; parents will watch with pride as their sons and daughters participate in the parade. Old friends will meet each other on the street or in the park. The Fiesta is still a celebration to those who will be experiencing it this year for the first time or the 50th time.
This will be my 45th Fiesta where I have either participated, viewed, or took part helping my girls participate in. So what is in store for me this year? My high school class is among others that will be returning to Reedley to attend reunions and participate in the parade. The class floats may be decorated to the nth degree, or just be hay bales on a flatbed truck. Reedley High’s Class of 1991 is celebrating their 30th reunion, my oldest daughter Rebecca’s class is celebrating their 25th, and for me and my classmates it is the big 50! Another life plateau reached.
As you sit on the sidewalk, enjoying the parade, look for a bunch of 60’s pushing 70’s gray-haired folks having a great time and yelling:
We’re from Reedley, We’re from Reedley!
We are here to take the test; we are better than the rest!
We’re from Reedley, and we’re happy to be here tonight!
R, double E, D, L E Y; R, double E, D, L E Y.
Reedley! Reedley! Rah! Rah! Rah!
Have a happy Fiesta!
Learn more about this year’s Fiesta on their KRL event page!