If you’ve attended a local parade during the last 40 years, chances are you’ve seen Leapin’ Lena, the Ridgetown Volunteer Fire Department’s parade vehicle.
What you may not know is that Lena almost wasn’t able to make her first appearance in the Ridgetown Centennial parade.
Mark Evans, a second-generation volunteer firefighter said his father Roy was part of the crew that built Lena.
“They put a lot of work into getting her ready for the centennial parade in 1975 but they popped the clutch the first parade and ended up towing it through the parade,” Evans said.
Since that inauspicious debut, Lena has made hundreds of appearances across the area.
“Dad would go to two parades on a Saturday and one on a Sunday. We’d drag it all over the country side.”
Lena also made her appearances in Algonac and Marine City, Michigan and helped develop a relationship between Ridgetown and Detroit firefighters.
“We have a picture at the fire hall of Lena on the infield at Tiger Stadium during one of the firefighters’ field days,” he said.
Lena is built on a Volkswagen Beetle body and has been modified to ride on two tires, pop wheelies and spin in circles.
To see Lena in action,
Mark, who’s been a volunteer for 26 years, said he kind of “fell into the shoes and the driver’s seat. We’ve got a crew of four or five and we take it where we can.”
He said the idea of dressing up as clowns was to entertain the children and fool the adults.
“It was a lot of fun because people would kind of look at you as if they knew you but they weren’t sure,” he said.
He said parades have changed over the years.
“We used to have a tank of water and we’d sometimes squirt people or we’d throw candy to the crowd but we don’t do that anymore,” he said.
What hasn’t changed has been the reaction to a group of clowns driving a car in circles.
“Everybody loves, it especially the kids,” he said. “The cameras are going and people are taking video everywhere we go. Lena is a star.”