Editor’s Note: The Festival Flashback series continues to take a look at the historical aspects of Utah County city celebrations. While the majority of celebrations have been canceled this summer due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Steel Days is currently in session despite the elimination of some hallmark aspects of the event.
With the amount of celebrating the residents of American Fork appear to do each year, it is obvious that not even a worldwide pandemic can stop them from holding the annual Steel Days event this week.
“After much discussion, research and collaboration with the Utah County Health Department, we are excited to be able to celebrate the 75th year since the very first Steel Day,” said a statement from the Steel Days committee.
The events started with a golf tournament and concert in the park Monday with hardly a hitch. Of course, some things have had to be canceled, like the carnival and youth dance, but overall 29 other events are on schedule.
Other favorite events that were canceled include the baby contest, Steel Days Fair, quilt show, marching band breakfast, and the Miss American Fork Pageant.
Perhaps the biggest change to this year’s celebration, thanks to COVID-19, is the Steel Days Parade, according to Josh Walker, president of the American Fork Chamber of Commerce and co-chairman of Steel Days.
This year instead of people gathering to watch the annual parade, the parade is coming to them, Walker said.
The Steel Days Neighborhood Parade will begin at about 8 a.m. at American Fork Junior High School and then meander for 22 miles through American Fork neighborhoods before ending at Rotary Park around 11 a.m.
The parade will not feature floats and marching bands, although one is trying to see if it can stage on flatbed trucks. Instead, about half of the parade will be classic cars from the car show, according to Walker.
“It’s similar to the teacher parades they had this year,” Walker said. “We will have emergency vehicles and other things, but no one will be walking.”
When other cities were canceling their events because of COVID-19, the committee took it to the people.
“We’ve had a few express concern,” Walker said. “We put the question online and overnight we had 10,000 responses and not one negative.”
Walker said the city is doing all it can to promote social distancing and the wearing of face masks. There will be hand sanitizers throughout each event.
“We’re not nearly as huge (this year) as we’re used to being,” Walker added.
American Fork was founded in 1853.
According to Kristina Wesermann, Steel Days historian, the celebrating began officially in 1865 with an all-day picnic, games, music and entertainment.
In all of its celebrations, residents branded the events by what they saw as the major iconic representation of the city. According to Wesermann, in 1865 that would be trees. That post-Civil War event was called Timber Days.
“It began around 1865 and was held in a grove of trees known as The Timbers,” Wesermann said in her history of Steel Days. “Families brought food prepared especially for the occasion, laid it out, and shared it with each other.”
She noted there were horseshoe competitions, foot races, ball games, and other activities for the young and old alike.
Timber Days was observed until about 1904.
While it’s not completely clear when Liberty Day started, it appeared to share dates. One year it was on July 4 and the next year July 24. Wesermann said it was to mark the nation’s birthdate along with the residents’ pioneer heritage.
The event continued with the picnic tradition held at Robinson Park, then known as Central Park.
According to Wesermann, the city had an organized parade, with decorated flatbed horse-drawn wagons.
“When the automobiles were introduced, they were decorated and driven from one end of Main Street to the other,” Wesermann said in her history. “Until 1910, the city’s roads were dirt and gravel, increasing the challenges of such travels.”
One of the traditions, according to Wesermann was shooting off a cannon from the cemetery hill early in the morning marking the beginning of the celebration. That tradition continued long after Liberty Day was gone.
While it appears Liberty Day lasted only to 1925 or 1926, the city celebration took on a new name in 1927.
In July 1927, Poultry Day began with a modest celebration, according to Wesermann.
One of the big changes was the town decided to have a banquet instead of a picnic. Like other events it carried on with a parade, ball games, races, a carnival and dance.
A favorite story told of the first event was about the hot chocolate mishap.
“Mary Pulley was the first Poultry Day Queen. During the banquet a server spilled a pot of hot chocolate in Mary’s lap,” Wesermann said. “She simply wiped it up and went on with the day.”
The events also included a free lunch where 10,000 chicken sandwiches were served.
“There were no celebrations held during the years of the (Great) Depression,” Wesermann said. “Poultry Day was held in July, 1941, but with the attack on Pearl Harbor in December, all American Fork celebrations were eliminated during the war, with the exception of a small neighborhood party in 1944.”
The building of steel mills not only changed the view for American Fork residents but the economy as well.
“Since 1945, Steel Days has been American Fork’s traditional celebration,” Wesermann said. “Then-Mayor O. De Vere Wootton decided Poultry Day no longer reflected the city’s economy. The newly constructed Columbia Steel mill brought many newcomers, who made an impact on housing, utilities, traffic and commerce. The mill became the largest employer in Utah Valley.”
Two individuals suggested Steel Days after a request for ideas for a name for the celebration. Steel Days was selected and was celebrated on Labor Day.
“Initially it was small, but the next year, 1946, it was a full day of events, similar to Poultry Day,” Wesermann said. “The parade featured numerous floats decorated for and by local businesses. Bands came from Tooele, Salt Lake City, Nephi, Payson, Lehi, Pleasant Grove and Provo.”
Since then Steel Days has grown and become one of the iconic symbols of American Fork.
If you need more information or changes on the Steel Days events, visit http://steeldaysaf.com.