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Geyserville pays tribute to fire, public safety officers in annual holiday tractor parade

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It rained on the parade at Geyserville’s annual tree lighting and holiday tractor celebration Saturday, but the wet weather also helped end wildfire season, making way for yet another reason for the tiny community to party.

Instead of the thousands of people who usually line Geyserville Avenue three or four deep to glimpse Santa Clause on his sleigh, decorated fire engines and a row of lighted tractors down the main drag, the noticeably thinner crowd flocked beneath the overhead protection of nearby restaurants to avoid the cold, damp weather as best they could.

Those who braved the chilly temperatures kept warm eating fresh hot dogs and tamales, and heating their bellies sipping hot cocoa or whatever else filled the souvenir plastic cups marking the event’s 10th year.

Tom Patton, 55, of Cloverdale stood farther up the road from the crowd, smoking a cigarette with a hood up over his head from underneath his Carhartt jacket. His family stayed warm in their truck parked along the road awaiting the vehicle procession.

“We come out every year,” Patton said. “Wouldn’t miss it for nothing — even if it snowed.”

The annual event also acts as another excuse for Cloverdale resident Chad Wlodarczyk, 44, and Santa Rosa friends Kasey Olenberger, 41, and Quentin Perez, 36, to gather with their families and enjoy each other’s company. The group set up a canopy off of a pickup truck tailgate along the parade route, serving chili from a slow cooker, enjoying drinks and sitting around a gas flame mounted inside a drag racing tire for warmth.

“Everyone driving by us is jealous,” said Wlodarczyk, who is known by friends as “Woody.” “We have three generations here including extended family. It’s amazing how many people you know, and everybody has a good time.”

The tree lighting drew a few dozen attendees before the start of the 35-minute parade. State Sen. Mike McGuire, D-Healdsburg, and Sonoma County Supervisor James Gore helped do the honors before carolers led a single verse of “Jingle Bells” to further cement the winter holiday mood, despite the downpour.

“Hey, when you do a rain dance, you can’t pick if it’s going to be just a little bit, or a lot,” Gore said of the region’s need for precipitation. “But I’ll tell you what, the fact that they’re here hosting this in the middle of the rain — rain or shine — shows the resilience of the community. It’s beyond inspiring.”

Just a month earlier, the Kincade fire, the state’s largest fire this season at 77,758 acres, was still raging and forced Geyserville to evacuate. Healdsburg and Windsor and a large swath of Santa Rosa would follow before fire crews got the major wildfire fully contained after two weeks, and residents were able to return.

Jani Krambs, of Forestville, brought her young grandsons, Korbin and Emmett Casebeer, of Sebastopol, who were attending the parade for their third time. The boys wore raincoats and stomped around in puddles, saying their favorite part was seeing familiar faces aboard the farm vehicles in the parade.

“I like the one where the Grinch was driving,” said Korbin, 6. “That didn’t even look like makeup.”

“I liked the Transformer,” said Emmett, 3, referencing the tall, ornamented grape harvester that rolled by. “I saw Optimus Prime.”

Jerome Gunderson, 70, a 30-year Geyserville resident, said he and his wife have yet to miss one of the tractor parades, and likes that it brings together the community of fewer than 1,000 people each year.

He said if the layers under his jean jacket didn’t keep him warm, the flask of whiskey in his pocket would, so he could pay tribute to the public safety officials who help protect the area.

“It is a good way to kind of set that aside,” Gunderson said of Geyserville turning the page on the Kincade blaze. “This is a way for people to show their appreciation for how much they help the community.”

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