They came from all over – Michigan, Illinois, Ohio, Florida, Virginia, the corners of Pennsylvania and more. There even were journalists there from Australia.
And everyone in Butler County, it seemed, came out to welcome these guests to their community.
It was the Jeep Parade, the kick-off event for the Bantam Heritage Jeep Festival going on all weekend. Butler's mayor estimated there were 35,000 people at Friday's event.
The festival honors the 70th anniversary of Bantam Jeep, which was created in Butler.
Famous for its role in World War II, the little car has become a favorite with today's drivers. The brand Jeep also has evolved into a whole line of cars that were evident in the parade Friday.
The festival was spearheaded by Jack Cohen, executive director of the Butler County Tourism & Convention Bureau. The bureau organized and was the initial sponsor of the event.
On Friday evening, more than 1,400 Jeeps of all makes and models from across the country rode from Butler Community College on Route 8 to the heart of downtown Butler.
I was lucky enough to ride in the Butler County Tourism Jeep, which was decorated with all sorts of paintings of scenes of Butler County. A kayak, bike, and cow (yes, a cow) were stored in the back portion of our truck-style Jeep. Marty Cohen, Jack’s brother, was my gracious driver and companion on the parade route.
According to Marty, the Jeeps started arriving about 1 p.m., and the line never stopped. When I arrived at about 4:45 p.m., we sat in a long line of Jeeps while I called Marty to make sure he wouldn’t leave without me.
“Everyone in line has to get in,” he said while reassuring me.
Hundreds of Jeeps lined the parking lot of Butler Community College as the vehicle owners visited each other and shared Jeep stories. The Jeeps were divided by decade, starting with the 1940s, up to a few that looked like they were driven right out of a showroom.
At about 6:15 p.m., Marty started lining up the Jeeps from the 1960s – we were in a 1967 Jeep- and we got on our way.
Marty explained to me that for the parade to be an official Guinness event, each Jeep owner had to supply car registration, driver’s license, and a photo of each car. Official Guinness representatives counted the vehicles as they passed by, and a representative witnessed the parade at the grandstand in Butler.
“It will actually be a few months by the time they verify everything and declare it an official record,” Marty said.
It was exciting to see thousands of fans lining Route 8 and the streets of Butler to cheer, wave, and welcome the Jeeps into their town.
“I like your cow,” more than one youngster shouted to us.
“You can pretend you are royalty and wave,” said Marty as he honked our rather loud horn. Of course, I obliged.
There also were dozens of other Jeeps sitting along the parade route. Because the registration for the parade capped out at 1,400, some of those who couldn’t get into the parade still “participated” as spectators.
Paul, my husband, was in downtown Butler for the parade and he got to witness the Canadian Jiffy Jeep Tear Down. This involved a group of Canadian drivers who drove their Jeep in front of the grandstand, jumped out, took the car apart, then reassembled it and drove away.
“It was amazing,” he told me later, “I couldn’t believe it when they drove it away. It was all in about five minutes.”
As we traveled into town, the crowds deepened. It truly seemed as if everyone in the general Butler area was as excited about the event as those of us in the parade. The weather couldn’t have been more perfect as we came into the streets of Butler.
Our part of the parade was over much too soon. As Marty and I parked, he headed off to get a bite to eat, and I went looking through the crowds for my husband.
When I looked up the parade route I saw a line of Jeeps as far as the eye could see.
It was now my turn to be a spectator and welcome the Jeeps into town.
The Bantam Heritage Jeep Festival will take place all weekend at the Butler Fairgrounds.