The zany brigade has been appearing in the Danville parade for more than 30 years and has won first place in the novelty comic division every year, said Lowell Crow, who is currently heading up the mowers. He moved to Sycamore in 1975 and soon joined the crew.
"This year, we're also doing a tongue-in-cheek spoof on gasoline prices," said Crow, "with hybrid mowers, solar-powered mowers, ethanol and methanol-powered mowers." They are dropping the task-mistress "Honey-do," who literally cracked the whip over them in parades for the last five years.
The Sycamore guys - about 20 of them - gather in the Trader Joe's parking lot before the parade to join the long queue waiting to form up and move out. This constitutes their annual meeting, where they decorate their mowers, don their goofy red, white and blue hats, and put together their routines and practice them.
"It takes awhile to rehearse but we do the same little drills every year," Crow explained. "We keep a collection of junked out lawnmowers so we have an inventory to use."
The members of the brigade have a special affinity for Norm's Place on Hartz Avenue, Crow told me, where they party the night before. Then, during the parade, they stop in front of Norm's, present arms, and they all dash in for a shot then run out again to resume their mower marching.
"Everyone just has a great time," said Crow. Well, it certainly sounds like they do! They drink plenty of water, too. Crow said during his decades of participation in the parade he recalls the weather ranging from hot to really hot to really, really hot.
This year the brigade has its second second-generation member, a man who grew up in Sycamore and recalls his father marching in the Lawnmower Brigade. He now has moved to the neighborhood with his own family, Crow said.
Those of you who can't attend the parade might be able to catch the Sycamore Lawnmower Brigade on the Late Show with David Letterman. When brigade member Shawn McKigran was in New York a while back, he attended the show and filled out a questionnaire that asked, among other things: Do you know any tricks? Have any talents?
"I said I'm a member of the Lawnmower Brigade and described it and what we do," recalled McKigran. Someone from the show eventually called him to find out more. McKigran put together two film clips - one of the regular parade performances and another specially made of their maneuvers - and sent them in. The Letterman folks told him the show would fly six members to New York to perform their routines for the show, and set a tentative date of June 27. If that doesn't pan out, they might appear in July or August, McKigran said, noting, "It would probably take up a minute of air time."
McKigran describes himself as the group's "slimy agent" and said he is a salesman in real life, for AT&T. "I put together a music video of the Lawnmower Brigade, 15 minutes of us being us," he said. "We love it but I don't know if that means Letterman will love it. But they always love us back here."
That's for sure, Shawn. The brigade is an important part of the community; why, it even has its own trash container in front of Heritage Bank. We just have to be sure not to stand in the way of the Sycamore mowers when they are making their dash into Norm's for a little sustenance.
-Dolores Fox Ciardelli can be e-mailed at editor@DanvilleWeekly.com.