Pioneer Day Is a Proud Paso Robles Tradition

“Leave your pocketbook at home” is the Pioneer Day Motto in Paso Robles


Vintage Back carPioneer Day in Paso Robles began on October 12, 1931. People were in an economic slump on account of the Great Depression. Pioneer Day was created to unify the people so they could put away their troubles and economic worries away for a day and celebrate a day of friendship with the community. It’s also a day to celebrate the pioneer heritage of Paso Robles. In 2010, Pioneer Day celebrated its 80th Anniversary. On that first Pioneer Day, the local merchants closed their shops and told the people to “Leave Their Pocketbooks at Home,” The entire day of events is free, and it’s a very full day.

Pioneer Day begins before dawn for the Lions Club. They come to begin preparing the beans that will be served free to everyone at noon in the City Park. Then, at 7:30 a.m., there is a display of antique and classic cars which takes place at Heritage Oaks Bank on 12th Street. Just after that is a Children’s Pet Show at the City Park Gazebo at 8 a.m., followed by the Cowboy/Cowgirl, Pioneer Boy / Pioneer Girl contest at 8:30.

The parade, one of the biggest in the county, begins at 10 a.m. and is followed by a free bean feed in the City Park, accompanied by a band concert in the bandstand. In the afternoon the action moves to the Pioneer Park and Paso Robles Event Center. At 1 p.m., The Old Gas Engine Show starts at Pioneer Park, and the Pioneer Museum is opened, where there is a threshing and hay baling demonstration and a tractor display. This year an “antique Petaluma,”which is pulled by mules, was used for the demonstration. While this is going on, there is also a Gymkhana at the Paso Robles Event Center. Meanwhile, back at City Park, there is a Horseshoe pitching Contest. All are free.

This year, there were two other competing events going on in the County, at the same time — the Central Coast Railroad Festival and the Open Studios Art Tour, North County portion. So there were some choices to be made. I attended the Railroad Festival events that occurred on the Friday night before Pioneer Day. I’m not an early riser, and my coverage of this Pioneer Day will be limited to the Pioneer Day Parade and the Bean Feed at the Park. So, now, join me for the parade, and “Leave your pocketbook at home.”


Why the Pioneer Day Parade Is Important

Pioneer Day is probably the biggest event sponsored by the City of Paso Robles and its various organizations. Until this year, I had never been. I confess to not being enthralled with old farm machinery, or with being in a crowd. I was going because I thought it was about time to go, just to experience it.  After witnessing the parade first hand, I understand why it’s so important. There are three major reasons.

National Guard Marching Band, Pioneer Day Parade, 2010

National Guard Marching Band, Pioneer Day Parade, 2010


The Pioneer Day Parade Connects the Community to Each Other and its Roots

It puts the entire city on display — its organizations, schools, government, and departments. The fire department has a major role, as well as the police department. One thing you can’t help but notice as you approach the parade is the huge American flag that hangs over the grandstand, where the announcers describe what’s going on and who’s who. This flag hangs from an extension ladder of a fire truck. At the end of this article I will show you how the engine gets ready to roll again when the parade is over.


Pioneer Day Is a Proud Paso Robles Tradition

Flag Hanging From Fire Engine Ladder, © B. Radisavljevic


The Pioneer Day Parade is Educational

I don’t know how many people in Paso Robles take their children to the historical museum every year, and even if more go than I suspect, the demonstrations probably don’t occur the rest of the year. But hundreds turn out for the parade, and the parade brings many aspects of the history museum to the people. It’s almost like a marching historical museum with musical accompaniment, as you will see. From covered wagons , stagecoaches, horse-drawn tanks, and fire trucks, to antique tractors and cars, children will have plenty to ask their parents and grandparents about. And there are some very young children at the parade. They probably go year after year until they are school age and able to be part of the parade. Every year, they will get more familiar with their history — if they leave their cell phones, as well as their pocketbooks at home. They will also see their city departments and volunteer organizations at work and learn more about what they do for the community. They will learn that Pioneer Day does not happen without the dedicated efforts of the many service clubs and other volunteers. That water wagon pictured above, for example, was restored by the Central Coast Woodworkers Association.


Wagon with Tank, Pioneer Day Parade, 2010

Wagon with Tank, Pioneer Day Parade, 2010

The Pioneer Day Parade Lets Children See the Example of Community Service Volunteers Provide

Many begin to volunteer themselves as they get old enough to be of use. Maybe it’s helping to decorate the float for their school or 4-H club. Maybe it’s as simple as marching in the parade or riding a float. But if they belong to anything in Paso Robles and even in some other nearby cities, they probably have an opportunity to participate in the parade. And no one can miss the dedicated work of the Lions who are up at dawn on the job, cooking the huge vats of beans to feed the crowd at noon.


Lions Club Cooking Beans for Noon Bean Feed in the Park

Lions Club Cooking Beans for Noon Bean Feed in the Park, © B. Radisavljevic

Watch the 2010 Pioneer Day Parade

Almost all the schools and organizations in Paso Robles participate in the parade, either on foot, on horseback, in or on a vehicle,or on a float. The city departments and vehicles are in it. The farmers and historical societies, and the owners of antique or classic farm vehicle or cars are participating. Some of the participants come from as far away as Watsonville and King City to the north Atascadero to the south.

The entire parade was about two hours, and that’s probably longer than you want to watch it. The citizens of Paso Robles turn out in droves because their child, their parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, or friends are in the parade. Besides that, it’s a Paso Robles tradition — an important one, that I now understand much better.

I have ten videos of different parts of the parade on video at YouTube. I will make them available to you here, and let you know what to expect to see in each one so that you can decide which ones will interest you the most. I like the marching bands and the floats. I’m not as fond of the farm machinery — meaning, that although it’s interesting to see, I could have lived, I think without seeing quite so many tractors go by, spread between various segments. In some instances, you will see that sometimes participation triumphs over the time and effort put into an organization’s parade presentation. But this was mostly true of some of the schools and children’s organizations. It appears that many parents don’t have as much time as they used to for making costumes, etc., and the teachers probably don’t have too much classroom time that they can devote to it. I may ask around and see if they at least have time to discuss some of the history that will be seen at the parade.

The Beginning of the Parade

This video will give you the flavor of the parade. The Boy Scouts begin the parade with a banner welcoming everyone and a color guard. They are followed by the “The Governor’s Own 59th Army / California National Guard Band, led by the Paso Robles City Police Chief, Lisa Solomon. This is followed by a 1863 Military Escort Wagon which was recently restored by the Central Coast Woodworkers. Then you will see a Conestoga Wagon pulled by six Percheron Draft horses. You will also see various kinds of other vehicles from horse-drawn wagons and buggies to early automobiles.
The Historical Society float brings the 2010 Pioneer Day Belle, Michela Cagliero, and her attendants. All are descended from pioneers of Paso Robles and San Miguel. I think the Queen, Carol Smeltzer, and Grand Marshall, Don Keefer, who also are are the children or grandchildren of early settlers, made their entrance during the first part of the parade, but I missed seeing them identified, and couldn’t hear the grandstand very well from my location. They may have come just before the past Queens and Grand Marshalls. Bauer Speck school follows with their float thanking our military for all they do, Near the end of this segment the Paso Robles Fire Department makes its attention-getting entrance with all its lights and siren going. At the right end of almost all the videos in the background, is the famous Paso Robles Inn, one of the town’s landmarks and historical sites.

Reinforce interest in pioneers inspired by the parade.

 PLAYMOBIL Covered Wagon with Raiders

When my children were growing up, what they saw or experienced on a trip or event made them want to relive it through their play. Capture the interest sparked by watching the parade with this PLAYMOBIL Covered Wagon with Raiders for your children to play with, so they can reenact a covered wagon trip themselves. Then watch your children play and learn at the same time.

There are too many educational toys and accessories to spotlight all of them, but you can find lots of ideas for toys relating to the pioneers and the Old West here that you can use to arouse interest in your children’s heritage of pioneer life and homesteading activities.

It’s also helpful to have some books available to explain what it was like to be a pioneer traveling by covered wagon in a day when there were no restaurants or motels and pioneers had to carry everything they needed with them and live in their wagon. Both the books recommended below are perfect for showing the realities of pioneer life in a covered wagon.


 PLAYMOBIL Express Stagecoach Covered Wagon Wooden Model Kit Daily Life in a Covered Wagon If You Traveled West In A Covered Wagon





Paso Robles Pioneer Day Parade, Part 2

Vintage Farm Machinery

This part of the Pioneer Day Parade in Paso Robles features the vintage farm machinery and vehicles that were used in earlier days. There were many more later in the parade that would not fit in the time frame of this video, but this is the first batch. It does include the first gas tractor in California.


Paso Robles Pioneer Day Parade

More Farm Machinery

This contains vintage tractors, caterpillars, and other farm machinery I don’t know the names for. It does include the 1906 Best Steam Tractor. This is the most popular video of the parade so far with 686 views as I write this.

Help your older children get a hands-on education on pioneer days.

Preparation before an event takes place can greatly enhance the educational value of that event. We found that reading about places or historical periods before visiting living history museums or historical parks helped make them more interesting when the children got there. Reading books about pioneers helps children identify with them. Think about what your children might see, and then take a few minutes each day leading up to the event to play a pioneer game, cook a food the pioneers might have eaten, or make something a pioneer child might have made.

Discuss the many ways life was different then without things we take for granted like running hot and cold water, electricity, supermarkets, etc. Talk about what it meant for a family to leave all their friends and kindred and go west in a covered wagon to a new place where they knew no one and might not have many neighbors close by. Communication with those left behind was slow.  Letters might take weeks or months to arriveand there were no phones or internet. A covered wagon was more than a way to get somewhere. it took one to a whole new life with many dangers and discomforts while one was in the process of traveling and then making a community.

Before the parade, encourage your children to ask questions about what they are curious about as you watch. (Be sure to bring something to write on and with) Then, as a family, try to find the answers if you don’t know them.

This book for upper elementary children contains an unusual assortment of history, culture, crafts, and stories to teach about the daily life of the pioneers. The chapters are arranged by seasons, and relate the life of a fictional pioneer family and their activities through the year, with suggestions and directions for reproducing such activities as making soda pop and johnnycakes. They can make pottery from clay and design a string of African trade beads, or learn Native American sandpainting. They can also learn to produce their own Christmas ornaments from from dough or pine cones, play the games played by children of earlier days as they see the children in the stories playing them. Both teachers and parents will find this a usual book for getting children interested in their pioneer history.

Buy Pioneer Days: Discover the Past with Fun Projects, Games, Activities, and Recipes now.

Paso Robles Pioneer Day Parade, 2010, Part 3

Contains 1890 horse-drawn ladder fire truck. It was pulled by two grey Percherons. Also includes St. Rose School, Girl Scouts, Red Cross, Lions Club, Rabobank, and lots of vehicles, many drawn by horses. This one had 686 views as of this writing.

Just because the parade is long I’m going to change the order of Pioneer Day events.

I’m going to give you the short video of the bean feed in the park before continuing the parade videos, since I don’t want you to miss it if you get tired of the parade. Some people reading this may be looking for specific parts of the parade, so I do want to include it all, but we’ll take a break for two things — lunch at the park and watching the fire truck get itself ready to roll after taking the flag down. I think I may put the guest book before the remaining parade videos, as well, so if you don’t want to see it all, you won’t need to scroll down to the end. I will tell you in the introduction to each video what you may find there, so that if you want to fast forward to the part that interests you, you will have an idea about how far into the video it is. I hope this change of order will prove helpful to you.

One reason the parade was long is because the farm machinery is slow. One reason it is slow is because the machinery stalls and then everyone behind has to stop and wait until it runs again. I have left most of this waiting out of the videos, but couldn’t resist getting a picture of this disabled tractor. Other people tried to help start it again, and then when the engine came on, everybody cheered.

Disabled Tractor at Pioneer Day Parade

Disabled Tractor, © B. Radisavljevic


The Pioneer Day Bean Feed in the Park at Noon.


Pioneer Day’s motto is “Leave your pocketbook at home.” so at noon the beans prepared by the Lions Club are free to all. When I approached the serving area, I noticed a lot of commotion on 12th St, and a crowd and music. You will see what I saw. Then I show you the people getting their beans and the long line that extended from the serving area near 12th St, all around the Carnegie Library. Finally you will see people and groups enjoying their picnic with their families or groups they performed with in the parade.

Getting the Fire Truck Ready to Roll after the Pioneer Day Parade

This truck used its ladder to raise the flag over 11th and Spring St. during the Pioneer Day parade. This shows them putting the ladder back down and putting other equipment back into the truck. If you’ve never seen this, or your kids haven’t , play it fullscreen for them so they don’t miss any details.

What your child may want after watching this video

 Top Race® Fire Truck Vehicle Building Set (576 Pieces) with Fire Chief Motorcycle and Accessories, Building Blocks, Lego Style

Children love reenacting what they have watched. So if they watched this video, or have ever seen firemen actually get their trucks ready to roll again after putting the ladder down and tucking in all those parts, they will want to try it themselves. These fire trucks will give your child many years of imaginative play.

The Lego style fire truck building set on the left will give a child the satisfaction of making and using his own fire truck. The ladder does go up and down.

The Tonka Motorized Fire Truck’s extending ladder is motorized and rotates and moves up and down. The other features are also very realistic. Click through to see them all.

The Bruder Man Fire Engine not only has the telescoping ladder, but it has a water tank and hose that lets the firemen shoot water out of the hose. You will see many more features if you click through.

The Fisher-Price truck got high marks from reviewers for its durability. It also has the extending ladder, light, and sound.


 Tonka Mighty Motorized Fire Truck Bruder MAN Fire Engine Fisher-Price Imaginext Rescue Heroes Fire Truck




Paso Robles Pioneer Day Parade 2010, Part 4

Don’t miss the Mexican Dancers in this segment.

You will see horses, vehicles, Mexican dancers, NCCS, Bitterwater Bitties, lots of old cars, Studios on the Park, International Club, Masonic Lodge, Winifred Pifer School, Cortez for Sheriff, and more. The other candidate for sheriff was also in the parade, but I don’t remember quite where.

Paso Robles 2010 Pioneer Day Parade, Part 5

Contains Estrella Warbirds Military Vehicles

Contains floats for Native Sons and Daughters of the Golden West, Pat Butler School, Watsonville Band, Estrella War Birds, Kermit King School, Rotary Club, and more. The Estrella Warbirds Museum is a popular place for those who are interested in vintage military cars, planes, and other vehicles. The planes aren’t part of the parade. The schools are encouraged to out-cheer each other as they march past. Watch Part 5 Directly on YouTube

Paso Robles 2010 Pioneer Day Parade Part 6

More organizations, covered wagons

This includes Peterson School, Santa Maria Fire Dept., Montessori School, horses, Paso Robles Chamber of Commerce, 4-H, Golf Club, Georgia Brown School, and more. Watch video here.

Paso Robles 2010 Pioneer Day Parade Part 7

Includes Shriners, more tractors

This includes Shriners, Parkfield 4-H, many tractors, Sheriff’s Posse, Moose Lodge, horses, and Target. If this parade had clowns, the Shriners would fill that role, because they do the unexpected or humorous things. When you get to the point where all the tractors and horses seem to look alike, the Shriners wake you up again.

Paso Robles 2010 Pioneer Day Parade Part 8

Features the Atascadero Lewis Junior High Band

This includes the Lewis Jr. High Band, the stilt walker, tractors and old cars, and more.The Lewis Jr. High Band from Atascadero did a great job and picked up a well-deserved award.

Paso Robles 2010 Pioneer Day Parade Part 9 — Conclusion

Features Dancing Horses and Rotary “Goodbye polio” float.

Begins with Pete Johnson’s old tow truck and ends with the street sweeper that was inevitable after all those horses went by. Besides several more horses and tractors and another fire truck, there are more organizations, including Rotary’s “Goodbye Polio” float. The Atascadero High School Band provides the music for this last segment that ends the parade.

And so ended the Pioneer Day Parade in 2010. When it was over, everyone headed to the park line up for the bean feed, which you can see in the middle of this post.

Other Sources of Information on Pioneer Day

Too much happened for me to include in one article. If you would like more detail from some of my source material, the links are provided here.
Pioneer Day 2010: Better than Ever
This is the Paso Robles Press coverage of Pioneer Day 2010
Backgrounds of Pioneer Day Royalty and Belle
The Pioneer Day Queen, Grand Marshall, and Belles are not just chosen for their looks. They have to have a family history in the Paso Robles area that goes back at least a generation or two. More is better.
Profiles of Paso history: 2010 Pioneer Day Belles
This gives more background on the pioneer roots of the Pioneer Day Belles.
No Place Like Home: Paso Robles/Pioneer Days
This account shares some of the reasons people came to settle in the Paso Robles area and how Pioneer Day got started.


Leave a Reply

  1. Wow that is fantastic, we need more of this type of parades and communities getting together. When we share our heritage it makes us understand each other so much better.

    • I guess I assumed most small towns had such traditions. I just never lived in one before while I was old enough to know our care what was going on. I only knew about parades in and surrounding counties because I was in a lot of them. I don’t think my own hometown had one. I’ve also noticed more cities having festivals for his and that annually every year.

  2. graduated from Paso High in 1958. Farmed in the El Pomar area till 1968. Left the area because of the Angelinos moving into the area.