TROY — On the Fourth of July in the small town of Troy, there’s no red or blue.
Instead, it’s all red, white and blue here.
Politics takes a back seat for a day when the town’s Old Fashioned Fourth of July celebration swells the town’s population of roughly 1,000 people five or six times, with visitors traveling long distances for a chance to take a step back to a simpler time.
It’s a tradition that stretches back more than a century to when the town was filled with loggers, miners and railroad men and their families.
“It’s got that small-town kind of feel,” said Dallas Carr, one of this year’s organizers. “This is our biggest day of the year.”
While much of the country feels divided along political lines these days, Carr said there’s not much talk of any of that when people come together to enjoy a patriotic parade and a park filled with all sorts of things to see and do.
“You can sit down and start a conversation about mining or logging, you’ll get a response,” Carr said. “It’s still an industrial town with people who have connections that go back a long way to those industries. But that’s not what people are focused on this day.”
Or, really, any day when Troy natives have a chance to gather again and talk about old times when bonfires were built out of stolen outhouses.
“We had 14 stacked up one time,” Carr said. “That was quite a fire.”
Just last week, Carr said, the town hosted a 100-year high school celebration that brought people back to the their hometown from all over the country. It included a bonfire, but sadly didn’t include any outhouses.
Carr said he and his sisters don’t see eye to eye on the current administration, but they chose not to let that get in the way of the homecoming.
“We just decided we wouldn’t talk about it. It’s not red or blue,” Carr said. “It’s Troy. You’re home. That’s what’s important.”
A bigger worry to those who have chosen to stay is the aging of the town’s population as good-paying work is hard to find. While the older generation hangs on to the life they’ve always known, many of their children have been forced to move away to make a living.
That’s creates a challenge to keeping traditions — like the Old Fashioned Fourth of July — alive.
“Volunteers are what make this happen,” Carr said. “It’s tough to get people to volunteer. We’ve lost a lot of people.”
For fellow volunteer organizer Jodi Peterson, that’s exactly why the town needs its Old Fashioned Fourth of July event.
“It shows us all just how wonderful people can be,” Peterson said. “And, maybe most importantly, it raises the energy level for our community. There’s a lot of excitement that comes along with 5,000 to 6,000 people.”
“I think this is really the way the Fourth of July should be celebrated,” she said. “We all have our own ideas on which way this country is headed, but for a day we’re all one. … It brings in people from all over. I love that.”
Dick and Nancy Wiss of Olympia, Washington, found a spot of shade to wipe off the coat of dust covering their vintage 1940 Buick. The couple plan to join maybe 100 others in a car show that will take up large piece of Roosevelt Park.
“We came over last year and liked it so well that we decided we needed to come back,” said Dick Wiss in between puffs on his cigar. “The people were so friendly. It felt like an old fashioned Fourth of July. We felt like we were part of a big family.”
The event really took off about four or five years ago when it was moved from the football fields behind the school to the park that now covers the ground one of the town’s timber mills used to occupy.
The move allowed space for the vintage car show and room for a massive water ball park and bungee swings.
“That’s when it really started booming,” said Ella Atchely, staffing the town’s museum and visitor’s center. “But it took a lot of people working together to make it happen. So many of the local people now are getting older. It’s harder to get people involved.”
Age hasn’t slowed down Willy B, Troy’s famous balloon man.
On Monday, Lloyd Wagner, more commonly know as the Willy B, was hooking up the row of flags around his small canopy where he’ll tie hundreds of balloons into animal shapes on the Fourth of July after spending some time tossing water balloons from his float during the parade.
Willy B takes his clown’s name after a small figurine that accompanied him through a tough bit of surgery years ago.
“I had a doctor on one side and a priest on the other,” Wagner said. “God threw in a rope and pulled me back. … When someone asked me what my clown’s name was going to be later, I said Willy was already taken. So I became Willy B.”
Wagner has been in Troy for 20 years. He said Troy’s fireworks show rivals anything he saw when he lived in Seattle.
“It just goes on and on,” he said. “You don’t want to miss it.”