Summerfest memories: The great cow debacle of 2001

It’s the cows: respected businessmen and civic leaders Larry Eberhard and Terry Furlong saw gallons of comic potential in reminding 2001 paradegoers of that year’s media “get” for Oakdale. As a group of escaped beef cattle roamed the suburb the previous winter, with residents and officials alike wondering where they’d turn up next, media coverage of the roundup became so intense it actually hampered efforts to corral the cows. (submitted photo)
It’s the cows: respected businessmen and civic leaders Larry Eberhard and Terry Furlong saw gallons of comic potential in reminding 2001 paradegoers of that year’s media “get” for Oakdale. As a group of escaped beef cattle roamed the suburb the previous winter, with residents and officials alike wondering where they’d turn up next, media coverage of the roundup became so intense it actually hampered efforts to corral the cows. (submitted photo)
2001 Oakdale Summerfest parade watchers check their cameras to make sure they got a shot of Larry Eberhard and Terry Furlong reenacting the past winter’s great bovine escape with their parade unit, “Who Let the Cows Out?” (submitted photo)
2001 Oakdale Summerfest parade watchers check their cameras to make sure they got a shot of Larry Eberhard and Terry Furlong reenacting the past winter’s great bovine escape with their parade unit, “Who Let the Cows Out?” (submitted photo)

Event organizers and dozens of vendors are gearing up to take over Richard Walton Park in the coming days for Oakdale's Summerfest. The sounds of laughter, wailing of amplified guitars, and exploding fireworks will fill the air, along with the return of the tempting smells of sizzling bratwurst, gooey cheese curds and freshly fried mini doughnuts being carried with the wind.

The city's popular summertime festival draws an average annual crowd of 20,000 when the weather cooperates, and countless cherished memories have been made for many of them over its 31-year history.

Festival-goers of a certain age remember going to the celebration in the early days when they were young, and have since returned with their own children and grandchildren.

Washington County District 2 Commissioner Ted Bearth has been attending Summerfest every year from its very beginning. The annual Summerfest parade was named in the former Oakdale mayor's honor, and while he no longer chairs the event, he still looks forward to it every year and has many fond Summerfest memories

A highlight for Bearth every year is seeing all the residents during the family-friendly event he describes as a great community builder.

"I still look forward to it every year," he says. "A lot of them were really a lot of fun, but some year's were really wet. It was always fun to still see people there at the end of a rain-soaked day trekking through the mud with wet shoes on," he says with a laugh.

Former mayor Carmen Sarrack also recalls some bad weather during certain years, like the time - "about 20 years ago" — when it was so cold the folks judging the parade floats had to bundle up to keep from shivering.

He says he's always enjoyed the boxing matches, softball and baseball tournaments, live music, beer garden, taking his kids and grandkids on the carnival rides and the fireworks finale.

"It's a fun event that brings a lot of people in the community together. That's what's great about it."

Some of Sarrack's favorite memories are from the years he served as mayor and would ride in the parade with his wife Louanne, both wearing T-shirts made by their kids and grandkids with the words

"Mayor Carmen Sarrack" printed on the front, and handing out candy to kids along the route.  

Who let the cows out?

There is one distinct Summerfest memory that stands out as being a favorite for lifelong Oakdale resident Larry Eberhard. It was in 2001, when he and a group of friends decided to pull a fast one on city officials by ambushing the Ted Bearth Grande Parade.

The idea was spawned from an arduous and rather embarrassing incident that occurred the previous January that many longtime Oakdale residents will likely recall.

During the afternoon hours of Jan. 30, 2001, farmer Mark Thompson was transporting some of his Charolais cattle in a trailer hitched to his pickup truck. When the trailer hit a large pothole on Interstate 694 near 15th Street in Oakdale, the door was jolted loose.

It wasn't long before three pregnant cows escaped, leading a team of law enforcement officers on a wild chase down the freeway and continuing onto the residential streets of Oakdale.

At one point a group of police officers attempted to capture them by surrounding the trio with orange fencing, but the determined bovines quickly broke through and continued their unwelcomed tour of a wooded Oakdale neighborhood.

A group of residents later joined in the cattle roundup, but the behemoth cows managed to evade their captors for more than 24 hours.

The incident was not only frustrating for the city of Oakdale, but costly and time consuming. It reportedly took over a dozen police officers, a volunteer search-and-rescue squad and several residents more than a day to capture the cattle.

The madcap roundup turned into a media frenzy, with reporters and photographers from multiple newspapers and TV stations at the scene covering the ordeal.   

No ordinary cow

While the chase had the group of cattle wranglers feeling defeated for hours, the team could at least take some comfort knowing what they were chasing were no ordinary cows.

Charolais cattle are raised for beef and are much larger and more muscular than the black-and-white dairy cows most Minnesotans are familiar with locally. For example, the Holstein Breeder's Association bills the Holstein as the world's largest dairy cow, with a typical cow weighing in at around 1,200 pounds. The mighty Charolais on the other hand ranges in size from about 2,000 pounds for females to around 2,400 pounds for adult bulls.

The breed also has somewhat of a reputation for poor temperament.

"Its personality can run the gamut from skittish to aggressive," one rancher notes in his online breed recommendations.

The Summerfest spoof

Although months had passed since the great Oakdale cow chase of 2001, Eberhard says his wife Vickey was in charge of the Summerfest parade that year, and he decided he wanted to pull a funny and a tad mischievous prank during the parade.

"I said, 'Wouldn't it be fun to a do a little spoof on that cattle debacle?'''

Eberhard was determined to make it happen and soon recruited a group of volunteers to help him pull it off.

The cast for the prank included Eberhard and friends Terry Furlong (a current North St. Paul City Council member) and Mike Gentner playing cows. Dennis Unger wore a fake press pass and played the role of a pushy news reporter who would shout out questions to city officials and take photos, while Phil Wawra drove a tractor.  The rest of the group played roles as city workers and volunteers who would attempt to corral the three men wearing cow costumes.

Eberhard recalls the parade started at Transfiguration Catholic Church that year, near the corner of 15th Street and Highway 120, and ended at City Hall. Once the parade had begun the group stealthily sneaked inside City Hall to change into costumes and prepare for their surprise attack. They started heading west down 15th Street (some of them on rollerblades) toward the parade procession.

"The crowd, at first, thought it was odd to see us all coming the wrong way down the parade route," Eberhard remembers. "Then people started to put it all together and there was laughter and applause."

Furlong says that although it had been nearly half a year since the cow wrangling took place, it was covered so heavily in the media it was still fresh in people's minds.

The group ran around attempting to roundup the three men in cow costumes with orange fencing only to have them barrel through.

The shenanigans continued as the group approached the front of the parade procession, where Mayor Sarrack and city council members were unaware of what was going on and confused by the commotion.

Unger, the group's "reporter," was busy snapping photos, while the rest of the group chanted, "Who let the cows out? Moo, moo, moo, moo?"

Furlong recalls it as being a hit with the parade-goers, many of whom were cheering and laughing at what they were seeing

"It was a fun spoof on [the cows' escape] that was done in jest," Eberhard says. "Hopefully, it was as fun for them on the receiving end as it was for us."

Sarrack remembers the ill-tempered cows roaming around Oakdale was a big incident that required blocking off an entire neighborhood.

"It was a mess. I went out there to calm everybody down."

The city at first wanted to bill the farmer for the large cost associated with catching the cattle, but eventually wound up taking it as a loss.

"It was an embarrassment because people could not catch these cows," Eberhard recalls.

While Sarrack says it was a stressful debacle for Oakdale, he admits he was a bit tickled by the parody during the parade that day.

"I probably didn't want to remember [the incident] at first, but everybody got a kick out of [the spoof]," he says with a chuckle.

The 2015 Ted Bearth Grande Parade will take place Thursday, June 25, at 6 p.m. and will follow its usual route, traveling east on 15th Street between Geneva Avenue (Highway 120) and concluding at City Hall.

The stars of this year’s Summerfest parade are retired Oakdale firefighters, who have been selected as its grand marshalls.

Joshua Nielsen can be reached at jnielsen@lillienews.com or 651-748-7822.

 

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