ZEBULON — Vic Pace and four other eastern Wake County men were just trying to make some extra cash around the holidays in the late 1950s.
Their pursuit of work led to the first full-fledged Christmas parade in the Town of Zebulon, in 1961.
Pace, his brother Bobby Pace and friends Elmo Finch, Allen Mitchell and Julius Murray, became acquaintances with the late A.L. Hamm of Durham, where the eastern Wake farmers sold their tobacco at the time. Hamm, who was into advertising and parade floats and stored his floats in the Durham tobacco warehouse, gave the five a new source of income in the off season from farming.
“Starting at Thanksgiving, the next two weeks were spent traveling from Durham to the western part of the state, pulling floats with pickup trucks,” Vic Pace said. “It was some Christmas money.”
In the second year of the gig of supplying parades across the state, Pace said Hamm posed a question that has reshaped Zebulon Christmas parades ever since.
“He asked us if we had a parade in our little town,” Pace said. “We said no, and he said, ‘If you want to borrow these floats I’ll let you so you can hold your own little parade for free.’ ”
The men took Hamm up on his offer and helped organize and hold the parade, all within a week’s time. The 1961 Zebulon Record estimated 5,000 spectators made it out to see the greatest holiday display ever to pass through the town’s streets.
“It was a festive occasion,” recalled lifelong Zebulon resident Barrie Davis, who turns 90 years old this month. “We felt like we were almost a city with the parade having professional floats. We were real proud of that, and I don’t think we ever went back to not having a parade. We had to have one after that.”
Pace, now 76, is the only of the five original parade boosters still living. He’s participated in Zebulon’s parade several times over the years, navigating a wagon tugged by a team of work horses.
Horses have been a fixture in Pace’s life since his childhood on a Zebulon farm. He took up wagon trains after buying a pair of Belgian draft horses, Tom and Jerry, in the mid-1970s. He now keeps a pair of Percherons named Dick and Dan on his farm outside Wendell, where he occasionally uses the horses to turn land, “just to be hobby-like.”
Sunday marked the first time in seven years Pace had a part in the Zebulon parade, and the circumstances were particularly auspicious. Along for the ride were his three children and four of his grandchildren. Pace sat high and proud.
Family members said honoring Pace’s request to ride with him in the parade was a privilege.
“He said all he wanted for Christmas was for his family to be in the parade with him this year,” Pace’s granddaughter Ashley Pace, 25, said. “It was very special to see how excited and happy he was to do it.”
Pace said Sunday’s parade was a sight different than the 1961 event, namely because of the increase in parade entrants, but said the feeling was the same.
“You get that charge, I guess, doing something you haven’t done in a while,” he said. “It brought back memories. You feel like you’re participating in the community, involved in a part of it.
“I reckon it’s special because I was one of the ones that helped do the first (parade), too.”
Moody: 919-829-4806; Twitter: @easternwakenews