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Pioneer Day to plow through Paso

The clip-clop of hooves mingled with the loud hum of tractor engines and conversations with old friends in Paso Robles on Thursday morning as volunteers prepared for the 79th annual Pioneer Day.

By 10 a.m., the scene was set at the Rotary Club’s Old Timers Barbecue Luncheon. Antique tractors with freshly oiled gears were brought in on trucks, shiny black Ford Model T cars lined the grass and women dressed in costume previewed what’s to come Saturday when the hometown parade rolls down Spring Street.

The meal was held at the Paso Robles Event Center, which is across the street from the Pioneer Museum, where the group stores its agriculture and ranching antiques — a throwback to the North County’s early Western style.

Tommy Harris of Paso Robles’ Harris Stage Lines hitched two sturdy mules in studded show harnesses to a bright red stagecoach with large, yellow wooden wheels before rolling into the barbecue area.

“Pioneer Day is a tradition that needs to keep happening so younger generations can understand the past to be prepared for the future,” Harris said atop the stagecoach, reins in hand and cowboy hat shielding him from the sun. “Because people think pumpkins come from Wal-Mart and beef comes from Albertsons.”

Saturday’s parade will once again feature horse and mule teams, wagons, community floats, marching bands, equestrian groups and other groups.

There will also be antique tractors — of course — including Ontario resident Don Hunter’s 1906 Holt steam tractor.

Hunter — a machinist who was born in Bradley in 1928 — started building his fully operational replica tractor nine years ago and has spent more than 20,000 hours on it with his son, he said. The Holt first ran in the 2008 Pioneer Day Parade. The Smithsonian Institution keeps asking him for it, but Hunter won’t budge.

“Seeing people’s happiness and excitement from this thing is almost better than building it,” he said.

Forest Schmidt said that’s what Pioneer Day is all about, as well as the friendships and traditions that are renewed. Some say the 89-year-old — who lives on a ranch just north of Paso Robles — is the oldest teamster in San Luis Obispo County, describing his longtime experience in driving horses and mules. He’s been riding in the Pioneer Day Parade since the 1950s, he said.

“It’s a lot of fun,” he said, “You meet so many friends along the way.”

Presenting the royal court

Pioneer Royalty this year includes Ray Pesenti of the old Pesenti Winery in Paso Robles as Marshal; Maggie Vandergon, a local community organizer and volunteer, as Queen; Lois Chaplin and Helen Hardcastle as the Queen’s Attendants; and Nicole Sonne of Adelaide as the Belle.

See them and other community groups in the Pioneer Day Parade set for 10 a.m. Saturday in downtown Paso Robles. Wagons, horses, mules, tractors, floats and bands will roll through downtown starting at Spring and 21st streets, turning into the downtown area at the Paso Robles Inn and then ending at 12th and Pine streets. An antique engine show will follow at approximately 12:30 p.m. at Pioneer Park next to the museum on Riverside Avenue.

The free bean feed will take place around noon along 12th Street between Park and Spring streets.

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