Putting the bandwagon in Bandwagon Days

RUSSELL – The City of Russell had its annual Bandwagon Days parade while celebrating 125 years Saturday in the pouring rain, with spectators huddling under umbrellas or watching from parked cars along the route. But spirits were high because Russell has a bandwagon again.

The iconic bandwagon was destroyed in the storm of July 1, 2011. Shortly thereafter the city council decided to find someone to rebuild it in time for this year’s celebration.

“It’s what the people wanted,” said Russell Mayor Jim Kerkaert. “We did a survey and there were a lot more yeses than nos. It’s one of those things that’s been in the community as long as I can remember.”

The city asked Joel VanDamme, owner of VanDamme’s Woodworking, to build an old-style bandwagon using the parts that could be salvaged from the wreckage, mostly the old metal wheel assembly.

“All that was left was the bottom,” VanDamme said. “The main part was getting the cedar stringers underneath it.”

VanDamme and his six employees started work in April and finished about a month later. He estimated the total cost at around $10,000.

“It’s nice to have it back, the place was kind of empty without it,” VanDamme said.

Saturday’s events went on inside the Russell School, Fire Hall and Community Center.

Elvis impersonator Mark Almich brought the old standards of the King to the festivities. Almich, a former Marshall resident who lives in Buffalo Lake, said his routine began as a 50th birthday gift for his wife’s mother.

“My wife wanted something special so I said, ‘Just make me a suit and I’ll sing like Elvis,’ and it took off from there,” Almich said.

In the school, kids both young and old were delighted by a big train set brought up from Sioux Falls by the Dakota Southeastern Division (DSED) of the National Model Railroad Association. Club member Jay Manning explained the importance of the railroad to the history of Russell.

“Russell is a section town,” Manning said. “A section town is where you have a work crew that lives there and is responsible for repairs and maintenance on that section of track. That’s why you have a mini-railroad yard here.”

Manning pointed out there was a flatcar sitting in the yard in Russell loaded with sections of track, showing Russell is still important for the maintenance of rail traffic in the area.