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Odd parade on an odd road

An eclectic group of entries move their way down “Burma Road” for the parade  a couple years back. The parade is only held in odd years. Contributed photo

An eclectic group of entries move their way down “Burma Road” for the parade a couple years back. The parade is only held in odd years. Contributed photo

     A parade takes place on a two-and-a-half-mile stretch of township road with rollercoaster-like hills and steep ditches south of Starbuck. It is an odd parade. On an odd road.

    Edner Danielson once jokingly called it “Burma Road” because of similarities with the famous WWII supply route in Southeast Asia. The name stuck.

     After a church service in 2001, neighbor Arne Pederson told Mary Jo Forbord that it had been 50 years since the Burma Road was built. When she got home that day she decided there should be a parade in celebration. And so the Burma Road Parade began.

    “It is an odd parade, so it happens in odd years,” said Mary Jo, “that rule doesn’t always hold true. No rule does, except for humor and fun at the Burma Road Parade.”

     Besides loosely organizing the parade by word of mouth, Mary Jo also announces its entries during the parade. But she doesn’t want to miss any of the fun so Mary Jo rides one of the first units in each parade.

    Humor is a main ingredient of the parade. That is where Arne comes in.

     “Arne is the master of Norwegian humor,”said Mary Jo.

     Arne has been in every parade and has even been the Grand Marshal. The Grand Marshal is at the back of this parade instead of the front like a normal parade. His son, Nathan, is working on a chariot made out of spare Model T parts for this year’s parade. In the 2009 parade, Nathan drove a Langhei army truck, complete with an armored lawn mower that shot tennis balls. One of the Pedersons has used a beat-up tricycle and cowbones to make an extinct species for the parade, too.

       “It’s a silly idea, but we have fun doing it,” Arne said about the parade.

    In the past, one has been able to get a pastured pizza delivered with a four-wheeler by Mary Jo’s husband Luvern. If that happens when you visit, don’t eat the pizza; it is just dried cow manure. One year Miss Julebukk was even in the parade, driven in a convertible by a little old lady that could barely see over the steering wheel. Julebukking is Norwegian for Christmas fooling. Mary Jo was the old lady, and her 13-year-old son was Miss Julebukk (now that he is older, he does not want to reprise the role).

     Raynold Danielson, brother of Edner, had a great time in the parade at the age of 70. Like many participants, it was the first parade Raynold had ever been in.

     The Tharaldson family had an antique road grader formerly used during the early 1900s in Langhei Township that they brought out of the grove for the 2006 parade. Trumpet players and even bands have played in the parade.

     On the big day, one will see a lot of classic tractors and cars dusted off, and brought out of nearby hiding, going down the Burma Road, and some modern vehicles make it in. Even in the first year, 50 units showed up for the parade.

    “The best floats in the parade are often thought up the night before or the morning of,” said Mary Jo.

    Participants are encouraged to use their imagination with costumes, music, early farming or pioneer themes, just about anything.

     This year things start at 1:30 p.m. on Sunday, August 11, but expect it to last all afternoon. After lining up where the road narrows a mile east of Highway 29 on Burma Road, aka 302nd Street, parade participants meander down the route until they reach the intersection with 290th Street where the road is closed for the parade.

     The parade speeds up on the short stretch north to East Zion Church where it slows down again. Spectators fill the sidewalk, less than a block long, and other shaded areas by the church while the participants show off their tractors, lawn mowers or whatever else they have dusted off for the day. Everyone parks nearby and gets out to kick tires and catch up with each other while food, like Norwegian potato klub, has shown up in the past.

‘Making the grade’ with an antique road grader is humor in the spirit of the Burma Road Parade.

‘Making the grade’ with an antique road grader is humor in the spirit of the Burma Road Parade.

     The parade is held entirely for fun. It is a way for people in the area to get together. Originally, the school and church were the main social centers for Langhei Township. With easier transportation neighbors do not spend as much time socializing as they did in the past. Planning the parade is part of the fun and an excuse to spend time talking to neighbors about what they are going to have in the next parade, said Mary Jo.

     When the road was built it was an improvement over the wagon wheel tracks that led through the native prairie south of Barsness Woods. The large stand of oak was cut down and used for railroad ties, then it was also known as stump woods or railroad woods. As one looks north of Burma Road, they can see the oaks have made a strong recovery.

     Andrew Hillstrand, township clerk when the road was being planned, thought the road was being built wider than needed. Mary Jo has an aerial photo of the area from June 12, 1951. She points out that from the air the road looked wider while it was being built due to the work. Since in Hillstrand’s opinion the road wouldn’t be used much, he had the rest of the road made several feet narrower to keep costs down. This narrowness, the steep ditches and high hills all add to the scenic and dangerous nature of the road. While most of the danger is from deer crossing, road traffic can also be a problem. One person, William Eckstrom Jr., died in a head-on collision on one of the hills in 1977 on his was to work in Morris.

     As Mary Jo walks along the parade path she can point out the old pioneer wagon trail going north of Benson Lake, where Eric Benson, one of the first white settlers, lived in 1866. It is easiest to spot the wagon trail in spring before the native prairie plants, like big bluestem and beautiful little prairie lilies, cover the landscape. She likes to show visitors the Burma Road sign that her husband made for the 2006 parade.

     She tells about the neighboring government land that, like her property, is being restored to native prairie by cutting down invasive trees, controlled burning and grazing with goats and cattle. At the east end of the road the intersection was lowered several feet with much of the funding coming from Arne Pederson. Pederson had witnessed and been in  several close calls and was tired of waiting for an accident to happen. Other safety improvements since the road was built include two of the hills on the east edge of the road were lowered in 1955 and 35-mile-per-hour signs were added in 2005.

     “When it comes to what makes this parade special to us and to our community, there’s much that runs deeper,” Mary Jo wrote, “but in the true spirit of our Scandinavian heritage, we don’t talk about it much.”

    More Burma Road parade photos here.

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