Those attending tonight’s Van Buren Christmas parade will be treated to a sight no one has seen — that of a railroad locomotive traveling Main Street.
Jimmy Whitlock of Alma, a retired postal carrier, will unveil his most recent masterpiece, a 23-foot locomotive engineer pulling two 24-foot trailers for a total length of about 85 feet.
"A lot of thought and work has gone into this," Whitlock said. "It was started by my brother-in-law Ronnie Gilmore when he was pastor of Butterfield Assembly of God Church in Van Buren. It was his vision to use it as a tool to get kids to come to Sunday school."
Whitlock said it has taken around three years to complete the locomotive which Gilmore constructed on a 1967 Ford pickup chassis and includes an original set of air horns from a train.
"The air horns work off a compressor and are extremely loud," Whitlock said.
He said the locomotive was built with a lot of contributions, both money and items.
"It is not a hot rod," he said. "You don’t drive it to the store to get milk."
This spring, Whitlock said he will trailer the locomotive to First Assembly of God Church in Hot Springs Village where Pastor Gilmore will use it in his ministry.
But, tonight, it will be used to pull the two trailers loaded with children who want to participate in the Van Buren Christmas parade.
The Van Buren Christmas parade, sponsored by The Old Town Merchants Association, will begin at 6:30 p.m. at 14th and Main streets and continue downtown where it will end at the Crawford County Courthouse.
Parade entries should be in the staging area by 5:15 p.m.
Special guest of the merchants association will be Santa Claus, who will distribute candy to the children as the parade progresses down Main Street.
No other Santa Claus entries or horses will be allowed in the parade. All beauty queens and pageant royalty are welcome but must furnish their own vehicles.
TOTMA is asking all floats be lighted.
Prizes will be awarded for first, second and third place floats and first place winner for 4A and 3A school bands and first place winner for 2A and 1A school bands. The first place float winner will receive the Art Parks Award to display for the coming year.
Donna Young will be the grand marshal for the Van Buren Christmas parade. Young is a certified financial planner, president of Delta Investment Management and Financial Center Inc. and an active volunteer in the community.
Dyer and Mulberry also will hold Christmas parades today.
Dyer’s will begin at 11 a.m., and all floats and groups are encouraged to attend.
Line up for the parade will be at 10:30 a.m. at the Dyer Community Building, and the parade will travel along Washington Street to Line Street, down Main Street and circling back to the starting point.
Prizes will be given to the first, second and third place floats.
Mulberry’s Christmas parade will begin at 1 p.m. at the city complex and travel up Main Street to Kirksey Park. Line up will be at 12:30 and all floats and groups are encouraged to join.
Mountainburg will have its Christmas parade at 11 a.m. Dec. 21 with line-up at 10:30 a.m. at the old truck stop. The route will end at Mountainburg Elementary School. Trophies will be awarded for best float and other categories.
Santa will arrive at the end of the parade and kids can get their picture taken with him, and a Christmas party also will be held at the school after the parade to hand out gifts to local children.