“Real cowboys don’t wear ties,” said the waitress in a matter of fact tone, as I gazed up at the ceiling of Sneaky Pete’s Restaurant in LeClaire, Iowa. Rafter after rafter featured rows of clipped ties. There were hundreds of ties, maybe even thousands. Every pattern and color imaginable was present in this collection of ties from Mickey Mouse to Paisley to dancing cows to the standard blue striped tie.
“When a man comes in wearing a tie we cut the end right off and nail it to the ceiling,” exclaimed the waitress. I imagined all the businessmen who passed through Sneaky Pete’s walking around with remnants of their ties pondering their cowboynesss. Were they on the way to becoming more of a cowboy? Or did they just fill up on beer and wings and proceeded to buy another paisley tie and head back to their cubicle?
I thought about all of this as I peered out the window of Sneaky Pete’s at the riverfront where a carnival was being constructed in anticipation of Tug Fest. Everywhere you walk in LeClaire you would see announcements of Tug Fest.
When Emily and I first pulled into the city dock we a saw a hand painted sign with “Tug Fest” in all caps. I thought it was a lewd joke and laughed as the 15 year old me mentally high-fived the angsty teen who likely executed this in the middle of the night.
In town there was music blaring from a row of trees lining the street. Each tree had a speaker so the whole town had music spilling into the streets. I saw things like “Get your Tug Fest t-shirts here” and eventually a poster with burly men and women dressed in black with their arms crossed with stern looks “Tug Fest Augusts 10th -12th Port Byron, IL vs LeClaire, IA”. It was then that I realized tug fest was not a questionable internet site put up by a teen, but actually a celebrated piece of americana and a good old competition between rival towns.
Tug Fest started in the mid 80’s as a tug-a-war contest between these two towns across the river from one another using a rope that is over 2500 feet long. Over 35,000 people come each year to watch this rope extend across the river between Port Byron and LeClaire. Everyone participates and at the end one of the towns is crowned the champion.
“What would you like to eat,” the waitress brought me back to the booth in Sneaky Petes.
“May I please have the buffalo wings, thank you,” I mumbled as I continued to search the crowd for any sign of that incredibly long rope.