Of the three major homecoming traditions, traffic-stopping, crowd-gathering, competitive as they are, this one probably was birthed as the most competitive of them all. Yet, despite that - or, more accurately, because of that - it has become the one most different from its origins. The Ramblin’ Wreck Parade, the last of the trio that also includes the Mini 500 and the Freshman Cake Race, today is a dignified procession from the doors of the McCamish Pavilion south down Fowler Street. But it wasn’t always like that.
According to Tech’s Football Information Guide, records for calling specific weekends homecoming weekend only goes back to the year 1949. However, we know homecoming dates back farther than that for two reasons - documented evidence of football related to homecoming from earlier than that date and documented evidence of traditions related to homecoming from before that date. In the year 1929, however, we can’t say for sure if there was a homecoming game, though we know definitively there was no parade. You see, it didn’t exist.
At the time, what did exist, though, was a highly suspect drag race down country roads between the Flats and Athens called the “Old Ford Race,” or, more fun, the “Flying Flivver Race.” First started in the spring of 1929, the race was certainly unsafe, and definitely a rush. It was sponsored by The Technique, which is truly incredible when one stops to think at what ridiculous kinds of strings the school newspaper would have to pull to get anything remotely close to that back on the docket. Yeah, that isn’t coming back. One of the race’s biggest proponents was the dean Floyd Field. His 1916 Model T, which was beloved by students, is widely considered to be the forerunner of having a school Ramblin’ Reck.
A sidenote on the Reck vs. Wreck debate: students are wrecks, the car, and by association, the club, is Reck.
Anyways, the race was run a grand total of twice before Field conceded to the fact that, indeed, the race was dangerous, extravagant, and irresponsible in a time of dire economic straits. Though Field was indeed an enthusiast and participant, there were probably better things to be doing than having an illegal road race to Clarke County every spring.
It took until 1932 for the idea of the Wreck Parade to be born. Field was the leader of the first parade, and Phi Gamma Delta was the winning entry. In 1933, the parade was a part of the pregame pep rally for a football game, where they paraded around the field for a crowd the next day. In 1936, the event was synchronized with the annual homecoming festivities. Similarly, they still circled the field on the track during the pregame pep rally, and the finalists were able to make an encore performance the next day for the spectators in the stands. Due to the pressures of war, the parade was cancelled for 1942 and 1943 as both gas and supplies were severely limited. The parade was reborn in 1944, but was only allowed to consist of human-propelled creations. By the end of the war, though, the parade was back to its former glory, though the venue had shifted. Since then, the parade has followed various street routes, but reliably open with a jaunt down Fowler towards the heart of campus. In the late 1950s, the event became worryingly close to becoming a float parade, but, as ever, the students and ingenious engineers of Georgia Tech prevented that from happen.
I research these articles from several sources, and it is here that the author of Dress Her in White and Gold, Robert Wallace, takes an interesting turn into berating the Ramblin’ Reck Club for allowing the parade to turn into a float parade. Seeing as that still has not happened, I’d say the parade has stayed remarkably consisted over the last five or six decades, regardless of what the changing trends have been.
As an aside, it’s interesting to see the contrasting views of the same events from different sources at different times. Wallace, writing in the 1960s, would have you believe that everything that happened at Tech between about 1930 and 1940 was the ideal and nothing should ever be changed, whereas the authors of Engineering the New South, written in the 1980s, shone a much harsher light on Tech as a whole and focused much less on the fun, spirited, and sporty things on campus in favor of the political drama and administrative back-and-forth of Tech’s first century. However, that topic, in and of itself will probably be a future history column so I’ll save that for the future.
Nowadays, three different classes of cars run the parade. These consist of classic cars, all of which must be older than a specified age, and of course are led down the route by the Ramblin’ Reck. The other categories of entries are fixed body vehicles and contraptions. The fixed body cars are interesting - they are not floats - while the contraptions are just bizarre. Watching the strange bowling ball powered beast entered yearly by some crafty engineers is a sight to behold, indeed. The entries are scored by three judges and the winners receive points in the homecoming competition as well as some hardware.
For those coming to the homecoming game, be sure to check out the Wreck Parade and all of the eclectic entries starting at 8:00am Saturday morning along Fowler Street. Fittingly, the course runs right past the front stoop of its first winners, the Phi Gamma Beta house. a great spot to watch is at the stoplight at Fowler and Ferst, so find a spot, relax, and get ready for an exciting day on the Flats.
This Week on the Flats - Homecoming Edition
5:00 PM, Peters Parking Deck
Freshman Cake Race
EARLY EARLY EARLY, East Campus
8:00 AM, Fowler Street between Eighth and Ferst
And with that, that concludes our look at the three biggest Homecoming events to hit campus this week. Though the week may be short around here on the Flats, thanks to Fall Break and whatnot, the buildup to the game, and the pomp and circumstances surrounding it, are nonetheless ecstatic as always. If you want to learn more about these traditions, or any of the history of Tech, leave a comment below, or, if you’re on the Flats this weekend, in person at any of the homecoming events, Yellow Jacket Alley, or at the game. For more information on the Ramblin’ Reck Club and what we do, the link is below, and so are several ways for you to see or read more about the storied history of our fair Institute.
A special thanks to my esteemed colleagues and friends here at From the Rumble Seat and in the Ramblin’ Reck Club, including the T-Book staff, as well as Dress Her in White and Goldand the Georgia Tech Archives for the background information and images used in writing this column. These columns are truly the aggregate of all the things we as Tech fans hold dear. Week in and week out, being able to learn new things and explore things already known, with the help of the staff of FTRS and other historical Tech buffs outside the staff is something I look forward to every Wednesday afternoon.
If you have any events or ideas you would like to see investigated, leave a comment below. Happy homecoming season, and go Jackets!