HANNIBAL, Mo. -- Hannibal's Bicentennial Parade came close to being washed out Saturday morning by threatening weather.
At the last moment, however, the raindrops eased up, and a tiny window of opportunity appeared to open. So organizers hastily got the parade moving about 15 minutes before its scheduled 11 a.m. start time in hopes of beating the next downpour.
It worked out perfectly.
Leading off the parade were the Budweiser Clydesdales -- an eight-horse hitch of 2,000-pound animals pulling the Anheuser-Busch company's red beer wagon.
The Clydesdales -- the star attraction of Saturday's parade -- ordinarily won't march in a parade during a heavy rainfall. So the threat of rain Saturday "was very much a consideration," explained Rudy Helmuth, a Clydesdale handler who is on the team that brought the Clydesdales to Hannibal from their home base in St. Louis.
"It was a minute-by-minute decision, but we were very happy and excited that we were able to get them going," Helmuth said. "I mean, it was like a gift from God. It was amazing. It was awesome. It's been like 12 years since they've been to Hannibal."
The Clydesdales were the main reason the Bicentennial Parade was scheduled this weekend. Organizers were initially hoping to bring the Clydesdales to town for Hannibal's annual Fourth of July Parade in conjunction with National Tom Sawyer Days, but the horses were already booked for that date. So a separate parade was scheduled for Saturday.
A large number of people showed up for the parade despite the threat of rain. Many of those who expected an 11 a.m. start time arrived on the parade route along Broadway only to find the parade had already passed by, so they scrambled over to Main Street to catch the parade as it circled back around to Lyon Street, where three big semi trucks were waiting to load up the Clydesdales.
Richard and Carla Hughes of Paris, Mo., drove to Hannibal through a torrential downpour -- and even a little bit of hail -- just to see the Clydesdales.
"It was amazing," Carla Hughes said while standing at the corner of Main and Broadway just as the Clydesdales went by.
"We missed them up on that block," she said, pointing down Broadway. "Then we got here just as they were coming back down Main Street. It was phenomenal. That made the trip worthwhile."
Nathan and Heather Overfield of Hannibal and their 6-year-old daughter, Gwen, also missed the beginning of the parade when it started early along Broadway, so they "booked it" over to Main Street to watch as the parade circled back around, Nathan said.
"We made it," he said. "We're from Hannibal, and we just wanted to be part of the celebration of the bicentennial and everything."
"We had to run all the way down here," Heather said. "But I thought it was a good parade, and the Clydesdales were really neat."
Gwen agreed. "I liked them," she said.
Also thrilled to see the giant horses was Lori Hirner of Palmyra.
"I love them," she said. "It's been about 40-45 years since I've seen them anywhere. It was a good thing to come out for."
The Clydesdales were brought to Hannibal through the joint efforts of Golden Eagle Distributing and the Bicentennial Committee. The Clydesdales not only led off the Bicentennial Parade in style, but they also made about 15 stops along the parade route delivering a case of beer to every business that sells Budweiser products.
"They got a hand-delivered case of Budweiser right from the Budweiser Clydesdales -- right off the back of the wagon," Helmuth said.
Helmuth said the St. Louis-based Clydesdales are one of three teams that make appearances around the country. The two other teams are based on the East and West coasts.
A half-dozen team members are in charge of every aspect of the Clydesdales.
"We do it all," Helmuth said. "We drive the semis. We drive the horses. We shovel poop. We polish brass. The job never gets boring."