Freedom Isn’t Free
How to Build a Prize-Winning Float
When You Didn’t Even Know There Was a Contest
Let me take you back to the Summer of 1967. LBJ was President but would soon announce he would not run for a second term; race riots were starting to break out (even in Cincinnati, OH); hippies and flower children were beginning to make the scene; “The Graduate” was one of the top movies playing in the theaters; and the Viet Nam war was starting to heat up.
In the middle of all of this, I was in my second year of playing guitar and helping to run a singing group called Sing Out Wheeling which was part of the world-wide Up With People show. There were three National casts and about 200 local casts from coast-to-coast. We were self contained and on our own, but the music and choreography that we used was the same as the National casts. I was probably the oldest member at 22 with most of the cast being in High School or College. We did have a lot of parental support, however.
The main song that was in our show was our theme song “Up With People”, but our second song we performed was always “Freedom Isn’t Free”, especially with the war in the news every day. This was before most of the country turned against this war and started protesting it.
We found out sometime in June that the City of Weirton was going to have as the theme for their 4th of July parade Freedom Is Not Free. This sounded like too big of a coincidence for us not to take advantage of with our song. We were basically dedicated to go anywhere that would have us so we could perform and relay our message to the masses. The Weirton city leaders welcomed us with open arms, but said nothing about a prize for the best float.
Now, our expertise in building floats was at zero. We did have two fathers who had the experience and the necessary licenses to drive a tractor-trailer. Since we had about 25 members in our group at this time, we needed a good flat-bed trailer. Weir-Cove Trucking was receptive to our needs for a flat-bed tractor trailer and they even gave us a place in their yard on Freedom Way in Weirton to assemble whatever we had to add onto the trailer to make it resemble some kind of float. Sam Steele, the drummer’s dad, took care of all the driving we needed until the parade was done.
My mother, Margaret, came up with the design for the sides of the trailer. We constructed a wooden frame and fastened chicken wire to it. We took colored paper and spelled out FREEDOM ISN’T FREE on both sides of the trailer. We added some bunting and a big badge that we used when we put on shows. We worked late into Monday night to finish up our project, using temporary lighting powered by a gasoline generator that we had borrowed to use as power for our guitar amps and our sound system when we rode on the float.
On Tuesday, July 4th, there was a little bit of a rain storm in the morning. The parade started 35 minutes late and 40 of the 70 units that had signed up for the parade had to cancel. Our float was still intact because we were still under cover at Weir-Cove’s lot.
Eventually Sam drove the float over to Main St. where we could take our place in line. We hurried and hooked up the sound system and our amps to the generator and did some fast sound checks and guitar tuning. Everything was working like it should and we sounded and looked very professional. We had 22 total performers on the float. It was cozy, but not too cramped.
Sam Steele knew how to handle the clutch and we never felt any jerking while we were standing on the float. As soon as we got started, we started singing “Freedom isn’t free! Freedom isn’t free! You got to pay a price, you got to sacrifice, for your li—ber—ty.” ©
We had to go South on Main Street for about 4 blocks after we started to get to the reviewing stand at Main St. & Ferguson Ave. The spectators were very supportive all along the parade route. We slowed down a little bit when we reached the reviewing stand so the 5 judges could get a good look at us and hear our message loud and clear. Of course we thought we were just singing to the 11,000 estimated patriots in attendance. The Grand Marshals for the parade were three Viet War Veterans, so we fit right in with the whole character of the parade.
We went past the reviewing stand and got ready to make the right turn onto Lee Avenue when our generator gave out. In using it the previous night to finish building the float, nobody thought of the need to fill up the gasoline tank. Our voices were young and very robust, so the singers could still be heard. I grabbed an acoustic guitar and hardly missed a beat or a chord.
We then had to get ready to make another right turn to go North on Orchard Street which would take us to the disbanding area. WE NEVER MADE IT!!! The heavens opened up and down came the biggest and wettest cloud-burst you could imagine. We were soaked in seconds.
We grabbed the microphones and took the sound system apart in record time. We unloaded everything right there and found what cover we could find in near-by buildings. Sam took what was left of the float back to the Weir-Cove lot and the rest of us found our cars so we could go home and jump in the showers and into clean and dry clothes. Nobody told us that the award ceremony was going to take place right after the parade at the reviewing stand.
We didn’t have anything going on that night and most of us were going to see the Wheeling 4th of July fireworks down at the Wharf Garage. After I was ready to go out, I turned on the news on Channel 9. I figured they would probably have more information on Weirton’s parade since they were right across the river in Steubenville. They sure did. They even mentioned that the best float in the parade was FREEDOM ISN’T FREE and that the singing group Sing Out Wheeling won the $500.00 grand prize. Actually it was the only cash prize given out that year. We burned up the phone lines that night before we went out. We had to call everybody before we went out because we didn’t have the luxury of a phone in every pocket like we have today.
The next day, we made arrangements with the parade organizers to come up and receive our prize. Then, on the following Sunday, we performed our whole show at the Weir High Stadium to an enthusiastic audience.
© 1965 by Moral Re-Armament, Inc. New York Words by Paul Colwell ASCAP Music by Paul & Ralph Colwell ASCAP