October 20, 1991
THE MIAMI HERALD
WAS THAT MASKED MAN?
I had the honor of marching with the world-
renowned Lawn Ranger precision power lawn mower drill team
at the famous Arcola Broom Corn Festival.
in case you never heard of this famous event, let me explain
that Arcola is a town in Illinois, just north of Mattoon.
Arcola (slogan: "Amazing Arcola") claims the proud
distinction of having formerly been "one of the nation's
top producers of broom corn, the primary ingredient in brooms."
The town is still a major power in the broom industry.
September Arcola holds the Broom Corn Festival, featuring,
among other events, a parade. For 11 years one of the key
marching units has been the Lawn Rangers, who are considered
by many observers who have had a couple of beers to be the
finest precision lawn mower drill team in the world.
the Rangers invited me to march this year, I accepted eagerly,
although I was concerned about being able to live up to the
unit's high standards, as explained in this excerpt from the
official Ranger newsletter, written by Ranger co-founder Pat
"As always, we will be living our motto, 'You're
only young once, but you can always be immature.' This
is a fine motto, but it can be carried to excess. Here I am
thinking of Pee-wee Herman."
day of the parade, Monahan picked me up at the Champaign,
Ill., airport and drove me through large quantities of agriculture
to Arcola. In addition to some nice grain elevators, Arcola
boasts the nation's largest collection of antique brooms and
brushes, as well as an establishment called the French Embassy,
which is a combination gourmet restaurant and 12-lane bowling
alley. I swear I am not making any of this up.
En route Monahan explained the philosophy of the Lawn Rangers,
which is that it is possible for a group of truly dedicated
men to have a lot of fun, yet at the same time do absolutely
nothing useful for society. The Rangers' arch-enemy marching
organization is the Shriners, who engage in worthwhile activities
and are therefore regarded by the Rangers as being dangerously
Ranger Orientation took place in the garage of Ranger Ted
Shields. About 50 Rangers were gathered around a keg, engaging
in intensive mental preparation as well as "shanking,
" which is when you sneak up behind somebody and yank
down his shorts. Next we had the annual business meeting,
which I can't describe in a family newspaper except to say
that at one point a Ranger, using a strategically placed ear
of corn, gave a dramatic interpretation of the song Shine
On Harvest Moon that will haunt me for the rest of my
it was time for Rookie Camp. We rookies were each given a
power lawn mower and a broom, and told to line up on the street,
where we received intensive instruction in precision-drill
"LISTEN UP, YOU GRAVY-SUCKERS!" shouted our Column
Leaders, who carried long-handled toilet plungers to denote
their rank. "ALL MANEUVERS WILL START WITH THE BROOMS-UP
POSITION! THE BROOMS WILL ALWAYS COME UP ON THE CURB SIDE!"
We learned two maneuvers: "Walking the Dog," which
is when you hold your broom up while turning your lawn mower
in a circle; and "Cross and Toss," which is when
you cross paths with another Ranger, then each of you tosses
his broom to the other. These maneuvers require great precision,
and we rookies were forced to train in the grueling sun for
nearly two full minutes before we could perform them to the
Rangers' exacting standards.
Finally it was time to march. We formed two columns, each
of us wearing a cowboy hat and a Lone-Ranger-style mask. We
were pushing a wide variety of customized lawn mowers, one
of which had a toilet mounted on it. As we neared the main
parade street, we stopped, gathered together, and put our
hands into a huddle, where Monahan delivered an inspirational
speech that beautifully summed up the meaning of Rangerhood:
"Remember," he said, "you guys are NOT SHRINERS."
Thus inspired, we turned down the parade route, went to the
"Brooms Up" position and executed the Cross and
Toss with total 100 percent flawless perfection except for
a couple of guys dropping their brooms. Some onlookers were
so awed by this electrifying spectacle that they almost fell
When it was over I stood with my fellow Rangers, engaging
in further mental preparation and accepting the compliments
of the public ("Do you guys have jobs?"). At that
moment I knew that I was part of something special, something
important, something that someday, I hope, can be controlled
by medication. But until then, Amazing Arcola, Ill., will
serve as a shining example of why America is what it is. Whatever
that may be.
© 1991 Dave Barry. The information you
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