A centerpiece of Escalon’s annual community celebration, Park Fete, the Saturday morning parade will step off at 11 a.m. on July 15, leaving from the staging area on Coley, turning on to First and then on to Main Street.
Dozens of entries are anticipated, from musical groups to dancing horses, youth groups to community service organizations.
Named this year as the Grand Marshal is Don Ritchey, proprietor of the Horseless Carriage Garage on Second Street. Following is information on the Grand Marshal, as provided by the Lions Club, which sponsors the Park Fete celebration.
Don Ritchey was raised just outside of Escalon, where his family owned a farm. He spent his high school years working at that farm, and upon graduating from Escalon High in 1951, decided to try a new path as a plumbing and steamfitter apprentice. That led to a long and illustrious career managing projects for a mechanical engineering firm, where he supervised construction of many facilities across the United States. He also was a designer of other projects, and he finally retired at age 80 after 63 years in the field.
After 40 years of belonging to the Horseless Carriage Club of America, a club dedicated to the preservation of our earliest automobiles, those built before 1916, Don had a unique opportunity. In 1999 he had the honor of being elected to serve on the Horseless Carriage Club of America’s National Board of Directors. Don and his wife Lillian traveled to board meetings across the United States making many new friendships that have lasted to this day. Don and Lillian are also charter members of the Horseless Carriage Research Library. This Library is now one of the largest early auto research facilities in the world.
Don and Lillian shared their love of antique autos when they established the Horseless Carriage Garage and Museum in Escalon some 30 years ago. It houses an impressive collection of autos and memorabilia, and although it is privately owned it is open to the public, with no fee. It ironically is housed at the old Ford garage owned by Blixt and Eliason on Second Street. In addition to providing cars for the Escalon Historical Society for parades since the 1990s (as well as many other events), the garage has become an integral location to visit by vintage auto lovers worldwide. Proof of how it has put Escalon on the map is a sign inside the entrance where Don has asked visitors to write “welcome” in their own language. There are over 20 different greetings from different languages.
Some of the most poignant experiences Don and Lillian have had in the garage are when visitors from area rest homes come by. He recounts one story where an elderly woman, upon entering the garage, stood speechless as she recognized the faint scent of grease and oil mixed with the cars, and it reminded her of how her father smelled as he returned home from work every evening. It is not uncommon for visitors to have memories of their childhood, so many years ago, flood back into their minds upon entering as if it were yesterday. He also has an antique Music Box collection which, if the autos weren’t enough, brings back memories too. Don and Lillian are believers in supporting local business and organizations, such as the Escalon Historical Society, Veterans Groups and Lions Clubs.
Don will have a seat of honor on Saturday morning, waving to parade goers as the 2017 Grand Marshal.