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No Damper On Lilac Tradition Torchlight Parade, Coeur D’Alene Float, Run Full Steam Ahead

Smoke billowed from its stack. Bells rang and the wheels turned.

The boiler on the front of the Coeur d’Alene Chamber of Commerce Commodores steam engine float even rotated as it cruised through Saturday night’s Lilac Festival Torchlight Parade.

Volunteers did not finish the teal and silver float that carried the Couer d’Alene Junior Miss royalty until early Saturday.

Nothing like waiting until the last minute.

“It’s good timing,” said John Goodde, of the Commodores.

The float was one of 201 entries that paraded through downtown Spokane.

Besides the floats, the parade featured five giant balloons, marching bands, drill teams, equestrian groups and representatives from all four branches of the military.

Robert Barrett, 9, anxiously awaited the Air Force’s miniature fighter plane. Barrett travelled with family and friends from Post Falls to watch his fourth parade.

“I like airplanes,” Barrett said.

Parade organizers anticipated a crowd of more than 100,000, but rough estimates had the turnout considerably smaller. A stiff breeze kept temperatures cool and the crowd down, even though the rain that was forecast stayed away.

The wind also sent a 20-by-30-foot video screen crashing to the ground hours before the parade. The screen would have shown a light display to parade watchers seated in the bleachers near the end of the route.

But patchy clouds and sporadic rain that lingered all day Saturday could not keep a group of three Spokane girls away from the nighttime parade.

“It’s tradition,” Jennifer Mietzner said. Mietzner, Erika Garbarino and Erica Morris arrived several hours early to claim their favorite spot near Main and Stevens.

Wet weather did force the cancelation of a free afternoon concert in Riverfront Park.

Gretchen Peters, an award-winning country singer, had planned to perform at the Clocktower Meadow. Heavy afternoon rain forced crews to pack up her gear by 3 p.m.

Participants in a number of other Lilac Festival activities managed to dodge the showers.

Teams from Spokane companies and organizations participated in the 20th annual bed races Saturday morning. The event raised money for the Muscular Dystrophy Association. In past years, more than $100,000 has been raised.

A booth with free banana splits in the making near the Riverfront Park Clocktower also was a success, despite a brief surge of rain that sent everyone running for cover.

Warm late afternoon sunshine appeared to dry those who had claimed their seats along the parade route hours early.

Jim and Kamilla Wheeler parked their lawn chairs near the corner of Wall and Riverside about 1 p.m. They packed lunch and dinner in a cooler and cards and a board game in a bag.

It was 5-year-old Nathan Wheeler’s second parade.

“We’ve got rained on, hailed on,” Kamilla Wheeler said. “But it looks like the skies are clearing so hopefully it won’t rain anymore.”

The Wheelers weren’t the earliest to find a seat. People began to trickle downtown shortly after the sun came up Saturday.

By the time the floats, marching bands and giant balloons made their way down Washington to start the parade, tens of thousands of people lined the 24-block route.

Ira Rash and family had found a familiar bleacher seat more than four hours before the parade started. They have filled the same row along Washington near Spokane Falls Boulevard for the past three years.

But the parade is worth the wait.

“It’s one of the things that keeps Spokane together,” Rash said.

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: 5 Color photos

MEMO: Changed from the Spokane and Regional editions.

The following fields overflowed: BYLINE = Brian Coddington Staff writer Staff writer Gita Sitaramiah contributed to this report.

Changed from the Spokane and Regional editions.

The following fields overflowed: BYLINE = Brian Coddington Staff writer Staff writer Gita Sitaramiah contributed to this report.