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“We start putting the fruit on the float on Friday,” said Ben Lopez, a volunteer on the float for Our Lady of Guadalupe Church. “We’ve got a lot of hard work ahead of us starting at 4 p.m. on ‘til 4 a.m. the next day.”
Berta Filut, the executive director of the Fiesta, said there were only three groups taking on the challenge of designing their parade entry with Rio Grande Valley agricultural product and citrus.
There are several different categories for the contest, but one of the biggest attractions is the product division, which requires participants to use Valley product for their entry.
Saturday’s parade is a two-mile stretch starting at FM 495 and Conway Avenue at 4 p.m. The parade will feature local school bands and other organizations on floats or cars decorated to fit this year’s theme, “The Early Years of the Railroad.” There are about 45 floats in the parade and around 200 total entries, said Filut. The lone three working with product this year are Our Lady of Guadalupe Church, Split Rail RV Park and a group of brothers from the McClain family.
Elmo Martin, a Minnesota native who’s spent over 10 years at Split Rail, said the float helps the park work together in a creative outlet.
“We all have talents,” Martin said Tuesday of the RV park’s eight volunteers. “Everybody has ideas.”
Finding a design to accommodate the theme was easy, Martin said. But, the challenge lies in deciphering how and where the Valley product will lie. This year, Split Rail residents plan to place fruit on and around a locomotive that’s the highlight of their float.
“You almost have to throw reality out the window,” said Sharron Neal who was painting a backdrop for the float on Tuesday.
With their years of experience – Martin has been participating in the Fiesta’s parade for about nine years – the group has learned it can benefit from letting their minds go wild with ideas.
“You’ve got to start thinking of ideas as soon as they announce the theme,” Martin explained. “You start with this imagination and then you’re just in awe. It’s unreal sometimes.”
A team effort within the park, Neal and Martin said donations from local citrus growers like Rio Queen Citrus and Valley Pecan help them a great deal, too.
“Everybody has been great about helping,” Martin said.
For David McClain and his brothers, the project has even expanded to their neighbors who have pitched in leading the family to add their names to their project.
“We’re calling our train the McClain-Hoyt Railroad Company,” said McClain.
To construct their 37-foot-long locomotive with a separate car, McClain said each of three brothers has provided a vital job.
Danny’s worked on the mechanics of the float for its special effects like the smoke machine, Chris is in charge of the general construction, Donny, a musician and photographer, has shared artistic duties with David, who came up with the idea.
“It’s a train powered by citrus,” he said.
McClain, who has a background in art with a master’s degree from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, said part of the family’s decision to participate has to do with his Mission-focused art project.
“We grew up here, but this is work on a portrait of Mission,” said McClain, who now lives in Houston.
Last year, McClain distributed 100 disposable cameras to Fiesta attendees to take photographs of different events. Of those 100 cameras, 60 were returned and included in a project for the Upper Valley Art League that also features some of McClain’s own Mission art photography.
“The Citrus Fiesta is an important part of Mission, so that makes it an important part of the overall project,” he explained.
Since 1994, Our Lady of Guadalupe Church has participated in the product category of the parade, said Lopez, who added that the church not only depends on members of the congregation for help, but on the church’s youth, as well.
“We have about 30 people helping this year,” he said. “We do have a lot of volunteers. We have a lot of fun.”
In designing their float, the group always focuses on connecting the dots between the Fiesta theme and the church or La Lomita, a city and church icon.
“Normally it works out real good,” he said.
Lopez said the group usually benefits from simply following the contest rules that call for local product and citrus and added that it helps add as much fruit as possible.
“That’s the secret,” he said.
In discussing their excitement to show their work to the community, members of each group said they were surprised there were only three groups participating in the product division this year.
“We would like to see more competition,” said Martin. “I like competition. It makes it more interesting.”
For McClain, who grew up attending Texas Citrus Fiesta events, the lack of participation is disheartening.
“That’s one reason we want to do this because no one does it anymore,” he said.
With his family’s entry, McClain said he hopes to attract future designers to join the other groups.
“It’s a good way for our family to get together,” he said. “There’s a lot of good things about it. It’s brought the group in the family closer together and our neighbors. I think that’s what it’s supposed to be about in the first place.”
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The Progress Times is the hometown newspaper for the local communities of Mission, Sharyland, Alton, Palmview, La Joya and surrounding areas in Western Hidalgo County. We have a staff of veteran reporters who work diligently every week to bring our readers the latest news as it affects their hometown area and people.