LA GRANGE – When a group of men pushing decorated lawnmowers and throwing brooms to each other passes, you follow.
Two lines of six man-mower pairs weaved down the street during Saturday’s La Grange Pet Parade. Together, brooms were raised – like a home hockey team lifting its sticks after a win – and mowers were wheeled in a circle. That’s one of the Lawn Rangers’ three basic moves, called walking the dog.
One mower had a plush Snoopy sitting in a plane built on top of the engine. Another had a woman’s leg covered with black tights underneath a lamp shade. Others were simply old and beat up: John B. O’Halloran’s clunker lost a wing nut on the walk back to the group’s parade day hangout on Waiola Avenue.
The World Famous Lawn Rangers have become a regular appearance at the parade, drawing curios looks and plenty of smiles. Pat Monahan and John D. O’Halloran started the group in Arcola in 1980, when Clayton Moore, aka The Lone Ranger, was a grand marshal of the town’s Broom Corn Festival parade. (Arcola is the self-proclaimed Broom Corn Capital of the World).
The two friends wanted in. They’d seen lawn mowers in the parade but thought they could do something more fun, so they played off the popular TV show and became the Lawn Rangers.
“It seems like lawn mowers and brooms go hand in hand,” John D. O’Halloran said.
“To us at least,” said Brian Malone, who has a stockpile of mowers underneath his house, where the rangers gathered.
On their website, www.worldfamouslawnrangers.blogspot.com, they call themselves a “precision lawn mower drill team.” Membership involves, “an intensive rookie camp that lasts a good two minutes,” Malone said. Besides the walking the dog, the rangers regularly perform the cross-and-toss, where they zig-zag through each other and trade brooms. There’s also the peel move, where mowers at the front of the line peel to the back.
The group’s motto is “You’re only young once … but you can always be immature.”
Hundreds of members from as far as St. Louis and Indianapolis gather for parades, preceded and followed by tailgates. Beverages are enjoyed during the parades, as well.
“Everyone knows we’re crazy,” said Lou Simpson, whose mower included a cup holder.
The group has about 50 to 60 consistent members. In 1991, they recruited syndicated humor columnist Dave Barry to walk in the Arcola parade. In 2009, years after taking a picture with President Barack Obama holding one of their brooms, the Lawn Rangers participated in Obama’s inauguration in Washington D.C.
“We really thought it was a joke,” John B. O’Halloran said about the group being invited.
They’ve been to the famous St. Louis St. Patrick’s Day Parade and college football bowl games, including the Fiesta Bowl. But their roots are local, with most members from the area. Simpson’s family moved to Champaign from La Grange before he could participate in the Pet Parade. But in 2003, Simpson got the chance to be in the parade for the first time, as a Lawn Ranger.
“So here I am at age 48 walking in my first pet parade,” said Simpson, who graduated from Lyons Township High School in 1972.
Hang with the rangers for a while and they’ll try to recruit you. They just want to share the fun.
“The first time I did this, my cheeks were sore from smiling,” Dennis Thomas said.