An hour before the start of Saturday’s Christmas parade, Pat Phillips and Lisa Larsen were pulling a couch from the back of Larsen’s pickup truck and plopping it down on the edge of Massachusetts Street.
“We brought our house,” Phillips joked.
Well, not quite the whole house. But next to the couch sat a wicker love seat, fake Christmas tree and light-up plastic Santa Claus.
And in the trucks were a box of Starbucks coffee, bagels, smoked salmon and sleeping bags.
In a town that’s known for its parades, the Lawrence Old-Fashioned Christmas Parade is at the top of the list for Phillips and Larsen.
“It is a real unique thing,” said Phillips, who was dressed the part in a cowboy hat and boots.
Decorated in garlands and drawn by horses, the stagecoaches, covered wagons and buggies passed Phillips, Larsen and their group of about a half dozen others. They waved with hobby horses and shouted Merry Christmas as the riders went by.
“A lot of them asked if they could trade,” Phillips said as she shook her hobby horse.
For Phillips, like the thousands of others who gathered downtown Saturday morning under sunny skies, the highlight was watching a team of eight great Percheron horses pull a shiny red freight wagon. As the team from Burnsville, Minn., rounded Seventh Street and headed down Massachusetts Street, the crowd cheered and clapped.
“That is amazing,” said Paul Goebel as the horses clomped by in unison.
The gleaming, dappled gray geldings stand between 17 and 18 hands tall and weigh up to 2,200 pounds. The eight-horse hitch is the largest team to be featured in the 17-year history of the Lawrence Old-Fashioned Christmas Parade.
Before Saturday’s event, the horses and freight wagon made the trip in two semitrailers from Minnesota, where the team resides on the Ames Percheron Farm. The farm is a division of Ames Construction, the company working on the $58 million contract to build a 11-mile stretch of four-lane highway along U.S. 59 in southern Douglas County.
Tony Ames, manager of the Rocky Mountain division of the company, said company chair Dick Ames was persuaded to put the eight-horse hitch on display after a landowner they were working with told him about the annual holiday parade.
“We like to represent the company and show support for the community,” Tony Ames said.
Travis Shaw, manager of the farm and driver of the team, said the horses are shown mainly for competition and only occasionally appear in parades. But like any professional athlete, the team works out six days a week.
“Absolutely beautiful” is how Cari Garbo described the horses. She had come to the parade from Overland Park and brought along her three grandchildren and sister Leigh Geyer from Lincoln, Neb.
Of course, for some, there’s one parade participant that outdoes even an eight-horse hitch.
For Garbo’s 7-year-old granddaughter, Keely Yang, it was “the one with Santa Claus” that she liked best.
As for Phillips and the other group of women waving their hobby horses as the parade passed by, “all of them” were favorites.