If the Fourth of July itself wasn’t a uniting factor Friday, the screaming engines certainly were.
Forsyth County residents young and old, newcomers and natives, seemed at home in Cumming as the 51st annual Thomas Masburn Steam Engine Parade rolled through town.
Thousands of people clad in patriotic apparel lined both sides of Castleberry Road as the procession chugged from Tribble Gap Road to the Cumming Fairgrounds.
Engine operators had satisfied smiles while blowing the whistles and surveying the crowd, half of which sported earplugs and the other half, grimaces. The engines could wail.
Arslan Munir, a computer scientist from Pakistan, watched the sound waves from the engines vibrate the water inside the water bottle he steadied in his hand.
“You can feel the energy coming from the trains,” he said.
His wife, Shamila, and two daughters, Sheza and Meuneeza, joined him at the celebration, catching candy thrown from the floats. The family has lived in the area for four years, though it was their first steam engine parade.
Many of those celebrating American independence Friday were immigrants.
"We all have red blood, right,” said Munir, adding that parade-goers’ differences were fewer than their similarities. "I’m thinking this is part of my culture also.”
Forsyth native Tia Tucker wouldn’t have missed the engines for the world.
“I’ve been going since I was like, 5,” she said.
The 19-year-old sat in a parking lot with her two children, trying to give her mother directions to their spot over the phone. Tucker’s favorite part wasn’t actually the candy, though.
“I like to see that girl play piano,” she said of Van LeBlanc, who has played the calliope for years in the parade.
In addition to engines and tractors, beauty queens passed by, waving from convertible sports cars. Many marchers, including Boy Scout troops and baseball teams, tossed candy to the crowd.
Much to the delight of a couple of brothers, classic sports cars and Civil War re-enactors picked up the tail end of the procession.
When a tangerine Pontiac GTO rolled by, 8-year-old twins Levi and Travis Bennett hollered, “You should make it number (01) to make it Dukes of Hazard.”
In between scooping up fistfuls of candy, Levi Bennett would call to the re-enactors, “Army people.” Travis Bennett, half out of breath, said he liked it "whenever they throw the candy."
Nearly every local office-seeker had a promotional float. Other floats independent political messages, such as the Forsyth County Democratic and Republican parties.
Dave Horton, director of Cumming Fairgrounds, said the parade turned out well.
“I thought it was great weather,” Horton said. “It wasn’t quite as hot as it usually is … had a nice breeze going through. The sidewalks were full, all the way down to the end."
Joyce Shadburn of Cumming sat in her lawn chair, waiting for her son-in-law, Russ Hubbard, and her grandchildren, Jake and Sarah Hubbard, to appear. The three were driving one of the steam engines.
"Of course, you've got to celebrate our country's freedom," Shadburn said of the parade. "It's just a day of celebration."
Forsyth County residents Tim Moulder and his daughter, Hannah, agreed.
Hannah, 7, sat on the tailgate of her father's white pickup truck, eating a blue snow cone. She proclaimed "the floats" and "choo choo" the best part.
First time parade-goer Beth Franchini stood watching the festivities, balancing 20-month-old son Luke on one hip and waving an American flag with her other hand.
"It's a great way to come celebrate the Fourth of July with your family and friends," Franchini said.
Michael Evans recalled coming to the parade as a child.
"I've been here every year they've had it," said Evans, 49, a Dawsonville resident who grew up in Forsyth County. "It's good to see all these people still participating."
Katherine and David Christman brought their two children, Mallary, 3, and Harrison, 5, who disagreed on the best part of the parade.
"I like the baby train," Mallory said of a passing miniature train.
Countered her brother: "I like the tractors."
Darron Wright, who came with wife Tonya and their children, Trent and Ashley, said the best part of the day was the community’s patriotism and involvement.
“It makes you proud to be a member of Cumming and Forsyth County,” he said.
Katie Dunn of the FCN staff contributed to this report.