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History and Culture

It's Christmas: Get Out Your Lighted Tractors And Pesticide-Sprayers

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Kilian Family
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The Sunnyside Lighted Farm Implement Parade kicks off Saturday, Dec. 6 at 6:30 p.m. There will be holiday events all day.

Farmers in Eastern Washington are busy festooning their dusty machines with thousands of Christmas lights for the annual Sunnyside Lighted Farm Implement Parade.

The Sunnyside parade started back in 1989. And grape farmer Ervin Kilian has been in it every year.

“One of the local businessmen had the idea,” he explained. “And him and couple of other guys got it going and after that it just kept growing.”

That first year in 1989, there were only about a dozen machines rattling through town. Now there are around 50 entries.

But if you go, bundle up. It’s nearly always bitterly cold.

“Well, last year it was like 15 degrees -- during the day,” Ervin said. “And driving home I had to drive that thing uphill for like six miles in a 20-mile-an-hour wind blowing at me, with no cab. And there were like icicles out of my nose.”

Big boost to a small town

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Credit Anna King / Northwest News Network
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Northwest News Network
The Sunnyside Lighted Implement Parade is Saturday, Dec. 6. The Kilian family has been turning out their finest lighted tractors for over 25 years.

This event is no small-town deal. It draws as many as 25,000 people a year according to Sunnyside’s Chamber of Commerce. That’s an extra 10,000 people in town for the weekend. The parade’s been featured in national magazines and even on the Travel Channel just last year.

Chamber of Commerce director Pam Turner is getting bombarded by phone calls, walk-ins and last-minute questions. Sunnyside is mostly known for its dairies and mint fields. But this parade draws outsiders to the shops and restaurants.

Like in a lot of small towns, the recession hurt here. But Turner said soon downtown will be Sunnyside up.

“Just people. You know people are out and about more. Just coming down and checking it out and walking around,” Turner said. “And people seem to be happier. I don’t know, it’s just a feeling I guess.”

Economic recovery is nice. The grape-farming Kilians said putting tiny lights on huge tractors in the bitter cold? That’s just good farm fun.

A family tradition

At the Kilian concord grape farm, Conor Kilian, the grandson of Ervin and Sharon, is decorating up a grape gondola and tractor with holiday lights.

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Credit Anna King / Northwest News Network
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Northwest News Network
The Kilian family has been running lighted tractors in the Sunnyside holiday parade for more than 25 years. The Sunnyside Lighted Farm Implement Parade kicks off Dec. 6 at 6:30 p.m.

Conor has been operating big tractors since he was eight. He’s 19 now. And he’s doing something many farm boys would never do. He’s stringing up lights, slowly, carefully, spacing them out with tiny pieces of tape.

On a farm, it’s usually the guys getting the tree and the women putting on the glitz. But Conor insisted there is nothing “girly” about decorating a tractor.

“Heavens no, no,” Conor said. “Decorating a tractor, let alone driving a tractor is, isn’t girly at all.”

After Conor puts the final touches on their display, his first-year décor will still have to pass the hard-hitting grammy standard.

“I usually make sure that it looks good and if it needs to be tweaked, I’ll tweak it,” Sharon said.

Gram’s inspection comes in the light of day. But this parade is at night. Good thing, said Ervin. The dark hides all the tape, cords and fuss.

“Basically the lights are what you see, you don’t see the ugliness of what doesn’t have lights on it, so that makes it all nice,” Ervin said.

The craziest thing that’s ever been entered in the parade? A freshly shot buck with a lighted red nose. Organizers say that was a one-year deal.

Sunnyside’s Lighted Implement Parade starts at 6:30 p.m. on Saturday, December 6.