Fall is festival season on the Central Coast and this weekend Pismo Beach hosts the 66th annual edition of the Clam Festival. Even though there are few of the bivalves under the sand today the title Clamless Festival does not have the same appeal.
Telegram-Tribune reporter Mark Buchman wrote about some of the event’s history in this article from Nov. 6, 1986:
Pismo fest: It’s not the clams, it’s the people
Forty years ago when clam festivals were held in Pismo Beach, there were clams in Pismo Beach.
The clams, however, are not important, said Ural Foresee. Foresee has been involved with clam festivals since 1946 and said its efforts of local people that make the difference.
“Lompoc has their flower festival; Paso Robles has their Pioneer Day; Arroyo Grande has their Harvest Festival. Every city has something. Pismo has a clam festival,” he said.
This year the festival starts Nov. 7 and ends Nov. 9. The theme is “The Year of the Pier” honoring completion of the Pismo Pier.
Festivals in the past featured different events. Some have become traditional, while others have been stopped.
Dune buggy racing, said Foresee, was once a major part of the clam festival but is not on the schedule anymore.
“We Used to send a bulldozer down on the beach to build sand dunes,” he said.
The dune buggy races have stopped along with the dragster races, motorcycle races and soapbox derbies.
“The soapbox derbies were sponsored by Chevrolet and drew 150,000,” Foresee said.
Crowds that large scared the City Council. They were afraid a fire truck would be delayed by tourists.
The derbies died in a City Council vote.
Another company-sponsored event is gone from the beach. The makers of Aunt Jemima products paid for a pancake race.
Women, dressed in skirts and aprons cooked a pancake. Then with the flapjack in the skillet they would race down the beach. Every 100 yards or so a line was stretched across the beach and the women had to flip the pancake over the line, catch it in the skillet and proceed.
Yet another race attracted lifeguards and rowing enthusiasts. The dory races started on the beach. Racers had to launch their boats and return to the beach.
One event from the past was recently revived. Local quick-draw enthusiasts used to come to Pismo to compete. Now the event is international, Foresee said.
Last year the quick-draw competition included participants from Japan.
Other events that continue this year as they have for many years include: The queen contest, clam dig and the parade.
“Our queen contest has always been a popularity contest, not a measurement contest,” he said.
The queen in 1958 was 65 years old, he said. Anyone can go out and raise money.
The money form the queen contest helps pay the festival’s bills today as well.
One revived event doesn’t use up the queen contest money — a dig of r numbered clams. Contestants win prizes by matching their clam’s number to a prize.
Prizes for the clam dig are still donated by local businesses as they were in the past.
“We used to give away pressure cookers and little things like salt and pepper shakers,” Foresee said.
This year KKAL radio is handling the clam dig. Among the 100 prizes will be a weekend for two at a luxury hotel.
While the value of the prizes has grown, so has the clam festival parade.
Foresee, who is in charge of the parade, said some of the parade exhibits have appeared in the Rose Bowl Parade. “We are looking at Rose Bowl-type entry forms,” he said.
Foresee is trying to confirm that the U.S. Navy will be entering a half-block long float.
The festival, he said, started out as a little local festival. It was a way for merchants to thank their customers.
“The only way the clam festival will get bigger is through the work of local people,” he said.
“You can’t hire some million dollar guy. You can’t get off the ground without local people.”