ARCOLA — This is where it all began.
Before the Lawn Rangers went to bowl games or inaugural parades, there was the Arcola Broom Corn Festival.
“We have a winning formula, and we’re sticking to it,” said Broom Corn Ambassador (and founder) Pat Monahan.
In 2003, Barack Obama marched with the Lawn Rangers in the Chicago St. Patrick’s Day Parade to launch his Senate race, and the Lawn Rangers returned the favor at his inauguration.
It is a festival with a history.
In 1981, TV’s Lone Ranger, Clayton Moore, was the Grand Marshal.
Arcola celebrates its heritage as the “Broomcorn Capital of the World” Friday through Sunday with the annual festival, where visitors can see broom-making and activities, arts and crafts vendors, free entertainment, food and races.
Country artist Tyler Rich, will be performing on the Oak Street Stage at 2 p.m. Sunday.
But for many, the Lawn Rangers rule. No one else can claim the birthplace of the “precision lawn mower drill team.”
The parade starts at 3 p.m. Saturday.
There’s a close-knit group of Rangers from Champaign County, many of whom met through the Knights of Pythias in Urbana.
Ranger Joe McDaniel heard about the group at such a meeting and became a newbie among many retirees.
“I was in Rookie Camp 2015,” McDaniel said.
It’s a lot like boot camp.
“You get yelled at,” he said, “for about 10 minutes in extended training.”
The Rangers have gone to San Diego for the Holiday Bowl, but “Arcola is the big one, the big party to celebrate, a special spot on the pond,” McDaniel said.
Sure, San Diego has beautiful weather, and the famous Kansas City Barbecue, where part of “Top Gun” was filmed. (The “Top Gun Bar” opened early one day for the Rangers to celebrate.)
They’ll also be marching in the Christmas parade at the Lake of the Ozarks, and the Parade of Lights here.
Ranger Dave “Eyesore” Eifert joined up about 20 years ago. He has seen some highs and lows.
“In Arcola, we’ve had up to 100 Rangers; it might be as small as 60, depending on the weather,” he said.
Speaking of which: “The inauguration was something else,” he said. “It was cold, and I even had long underwear. We were supposed to march at 2, then got pushed back to 6:30. It was 20 degrees, and the stands were empty.”
Larry Harper of Urbana traditionally decorates his mower with a 3-foot beaver.
“I had an armadillo I got as a wedding present from my best friend,” he said. “We took it on a trip to the Southwest, and it didn’t come back.”
So the beaver has become his trademark stuffed animal for years.
“The kids love it; the adults love the double entendre,” he said. “Who knows the history of it; it could easily be 100 years old.”
His sons have carried on the tradition, even though they moved away, and an armadillo makes an occasional return.