Not just typical garden-variety boredom.
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From: Peter Langston <psl>
Date: Wed, 10 Jul 96 09:12:23 -0700
Subject: Not just typical garden-variety boredom.
Forwarded-by: Keith Bostic <email@example.com>
Forwarded-by: Keith Sullivan <KSullivan@worldnet.att.net>
From: The Seattle Times, Thursday, July 4, 1996.
4TH AN ANNUAL BOOM IN TINY TOWN
-- By Alex Tizon, Seattle Times Staff Reporter
JOHNSON, Whitman County -- For a few hours every Fourth of July, this
forgotten little farming town of 67 people in the southeast corner of the
state puts itself on the map with a vengeance.
The occasion: A parade.
The average attendance: 4,000.
The theme: No one really knows.
The motto: "Farmers just wanna get bizarre."
The Johnson parade, in its 30th year, has become the happening Independence
Day event in all the Palouse, providing perhaps the only opportunity to see
burly wheat farmers in cheap lingerie, or in diapers, or riding strange
mutant farm machinery.
It takes place without planning or permit, without schedule or design. No
one knows ahead of time who or what will be in the parade. By many
accounts, it just sort of breaks out, like a weird rash.
Spectators come from all over the region, clogging the three roads into
town. Some park their cars the night before to get a good spot. At 10 a.m.
on the Fourth, a whistle sounds, and the parade moves from one end of town
to the other, and then back again. In earlier years, participants would go
back and forth until they got tired, but the parade has gotten too big for that.
"Used to be, it was just long enough to finish a six-pack," says resident
Billy Maston, "Now, by golly, you almost need a whole case."
This year, those who loosely call themselves "organizers" say they expect
200 participants and 50 to 60 floats. The floats are often trucks or
tractors in disguise, re-engineered, according to Drew Druffel, by farmers
like himself with too many tools and lots of time between harvests.
A perennial entry is "The Mousetrap," a contraption with dozens of moving
parts, a sort of junkyard on wheels, with bicycle tires, pruning shears, old
sneakers, a conveyor belt -- all built into an intricate heap on the back
end of a car frame.
Another perennial is a mini-Ferris wheel made out of old hay-rake wheels,
pulled along by a riding lawn mower.
Not all the entries are so, uh, creative. One year, townie Troy Frei got
the itch to be in the parade, waited till the last minute, of course, then
took a power chisel to his 1963 Dodge Dart and made a convertible out of it.
Four cans of red spray paint later, he had a parade entry.
In between the floats and the Dixieland band and the men in drag come some
characters from out of the evening news. Last year, there was O.J. riding
in a cardboard Bronco. A few years before that came Tonya Harding with a
couple of beefy goons. Before that, there was Tammy Faye Baker, with
mascara running. And a crowd favorite: Lorena Bobbitt chasing John Wayne
Bobbitt, and following them both -- a giant Band-Aid.
Born Out of Boredom
All this grew out of boredom. Not just typical garden-variety boredom, but
epic farm-country boredom, the kind that grows out of endless rolling hills
of wheat, which is what surrounds this town.
"Town" really isn't the right word. Johnson is 31 houses, five grain
elevators and a big poplar tree. It used to be a real town a long time ago,
when it was on the main route from Pullman to Lewiston. A writer in the
late 1800s described Johnson as "one of the most promising towns in the New
Territory" because of it fertile soil and choice location.
The population at its height was 200-plus. The town, named after a local
homesteader, had a couple of churches, a few stores, some saloons, a livery
stable, a bank, even a post office. But all these closed after a newer,
straighter road, Highway 195, bypassed the town in 1936.
Nowadays, you can't find Johnson on most maps. Which is just fine with most
of the 67 people who live here. Life is quite simple. The town's history
has recorded only two traumatic events: the great flood of 1900, and the
bank robbery of 1823. Since then, crime has been something that takes place
on "the coast," that is, the land west of the Cascades.
One early morning 30 years ago, this got a little too quiet in Johnson, and
the Druffel family decided to make some noise. Actually, it was just four
of the kids -- Chris, Carrie, Claire and Drew -- who decided to hold their
own Independence Day parade. They knocked on neighbors' doors to let them
know it was about to start, and then march through town.
The next year, the Druffels -- this time joined by the two oldest kids, Mike
and Kathy -- were joined by other kids following on bikes. Then in the
early 1970s, the Druffel parents, Alfred and Jeanne, got into the act, and
soon, other Druffel families joined in.
The local telephone book lists more than two dozen Druffel families -- all
descendants of the same German family who came to the Palouse country in the
"There are more Druffels than ground squirrels and coyotes," says Billy
Maston, and old family friend and neighbor who shares with Drew Druffel the
unofficial title of mayor of Johnson. Each is mayor every other day, or
something like that.
Anyway, the parade grew year by year. Non-Druffels got involved, farmers
from all over the region got to showcase their gizmos, girls got to wave
from trucks and combines, and the rest is history.
A Can't Miss' Event
For the past few weeks, the people of Johnson have been mowing their yards
and trimming their gardens in preparation for the parade. Rex Steiner, the
town's oldest resident at 82, just had his lawn mowed the other day.
Steiner was born three houses down from his current home.
His father, Jake Steiner, deceased, fired a couple of rifle shots at the
bandits who robbed the Farmer's State Bank in 1923. Jake missed. The
robbers got away and were never caught. Now, Rex Steiner stores an old
tractor in the shut-down bank building.
When asked if he was going to watch the parade, Steiner answered:
"Can't miss it."
Did he want to miss it?
And just when one though he was a man of few words, Steiner launched into
the story of "How He Missed The Parade One Year." The parade was about to
start, he recalled, when the toilets at the old school got clogged and he,
being a jack-of-all-trades, was called to unplug them.
"Well, by the time I was done, the last of the floats was passing by."
He's had a dubious taste in his mouth about the parade ever since.
Maston, too, said he's missed the parade a number of times, but only because
he gets to talking to friends and relatives he hasn't seen in years. That's
what this parade is, mostly, he says -- a big reunion. An excuse to get
together and make good cheer.
So it will happen again today. The crowds will come, the floats will float,
men in tights will prance, Lorena Bobbitt will catch John Bobbitt, and then
the crowds will leave, and Johnson will be quiet for another year.
© 1996 Peter Langston