When Reina Scott was a 3-year-old student at God’s Garden Preschool of Ahwatukee, Transportation Day was a new event that she looked forward to attending even after moving on to elementary school.
Now a freshman at Barrett, the Honors College at Arizona State University, Scott still recalls the thrill of climbing aboard the myriad oversized vehicles displayed each Transportation Day.
“It was exciting to get on a school bus for the first time, honking the horn on the garbage truck and sitting in the backseat of a police car,” the 2019 Desert Vista High School grad recalled. “And there’s nothing like seeing a helicopter land in your school yard.”
On Saturday, Feb. 8, other youngsters will make their own life-long memories as thousands gather to celebrate of the 20th year of Transportation Day, held annually on the campus of Horizon Presbyterian Church, 1401 E. Liberty Lane, the home of God’s Garden Preschool of Ahwatukee.
Like Transportation Day itself, God’s Garden is marking its 20th year.
This year the 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. rain-or-shine Transportation Day event is expected to draw more than the 3,500 estimated attendance last year as organizers anticipate the new South Mountain Freeway bringing new attendees from other parts of the Valley.
To the uninitiated, Transportation Day may sound like a bit of a snooze.
But ask any child who’s been there and expect to see a young face brightening in remembrance, and anticipation.
First, there’s the event opener – the landing of the Air Evac Services’ yellow and black helicopter that has all eyes to the sky.
After the AirBus AS-350 sets down at approximately 9:30 a.m., children and their parents line up for an opportunity to be lifted inside the cockpit, don headsets and smile for the ubiquitous cell phone photographs.
And there’s so much more for the children at the four-hour free event. At least 40 unique vehicles are on display – and available for curious youngsters to explore as they’re encouraged to climb in or onto most of them.
Those vehicles include a Phoenix fire truck, a Valley Metro bus, a Kyrene school bus, a Waste Management garbage truck, a Phoenix Police car or SWAT vehicle, construction vehicles and more.
Ahwatukee’s Big O Tires will once again bring a hot rod or two and the Phoenix chapter of The Black Sheep Harley-Davidsons for Christ, in their 15th year of attendance, roar in on their hogs.
Those personal and often custom choppers are for display only but the chapter provides a motorcycle mock-up that kids can clamor upon to pretend they’re heading down the highway.
Another highly-anticipated annual event is the flyover of vintage planes by the Lafayette Escadrille d’Arizona – initiated 20 years ago by the late Col. Roger K. Parrish, who flew his World War II Nieuport 17 aircraft. Parrish passed away last year.
This year the flyover is under the command of Capt. Billy Walker, a former airline pilot with four decades’ tenure, the last 38 as captain. Like some others in his squadron, he flies his vintage Stearman aircraft out of Mesa’s Falcon Field.
Walker and his wife Cheryl have lived in Ahwatukee since 1994.
“We flew the WWI Nieuport 17 replica aircraft for 10 years, and since 2005 we’ve flown the WWII Boeing Model 75 Stearman,” explained Walker.
“Our Lafayette Escadrille d’Arizona Nieuports were based out of the Chandler Airport. However, the Arizona Stearman Squadron is scattered around the Valley of the Sun,” he continued, adding:
“As to our motivation, from the get-go Roger thought our supporting Transportation Days was worthwhile. It fits our mission profile.”
This is the second year the event is chaired by Taylor Joy Ake, a mother of two God’s Garden students – Campbell, 4, and Palmer, 2.
She recalled how construction of the South Mountain Freeway last year brought challenges for Transportation Day.
“It was a huge concern last year with all of Liberty Lane barricaded,” said Ake, a 2005 Desert Vista High grad who works part-time for a nonprofit.
“Up until 11 the night before, we were still working with the City and Connect 202 to remove the barricades so it wouldn’t affect parking. We were in a real pickle.”
Adding to her angst in her first year as chair was the weather.
“It rained on Thursday but Friday was sunny. Then Saturday was overcast and a bit cold but we still had a great turn-out,” she recalled.
“Transportation Day is rain or shine, but it could look a little different in the rain,” Ake added.
There have been years when heat was an issue, but that possibility lessened last year when TD – as it is known among regulars – moved from the end of February to earlier in the month.
Whether adults need shelter from the weather or from the cacophony of simultaneously sounding truck, bus or construction vehicle horns, one favorite respite for them is the church community room – where scores of raffle gift baskets are displayed.
Many offer local business items and gift certificates and larger items include tickets to major sporting events.
This is also the second year of a 50/50 Raffle which promises a hefty payout, said Ake.
“Last year the winner walked away with over $500, and with more than 3,000 attendees, we’re hoping this year will be even bigger,” she said.
The four hours of Transportation Day activities are free other than the popular and expanded Fun Zone that, for a fee, offers unlimited pony rides, train rides, bouncy houses, a petting zoo and a bicycle corral with bikes and helmets provided.
“The Fun Zone package is $20 and includes two tickets that can be used for the pony and the train rides; a wrist band which includes unlimited inflatables and unlimited petting zoo. and one free raffle ticket to be used on any of the raffle items,” explained Ake. “They can also purchase individual wristbands or pony and train rides.”
An option for older kids and teens is the return of East Valley Video Game Truck and their age-appropriate video games ready to play on the latest consoles including XBox One, PlayStation 4, Wii-U and Nintendo Switch.
Live entertainment is also on tap at Transportation Day with music and dancing by the Lil’ Lights from Innerlight Dance Studio and three different dance teams from Dance Studio 111. Both are located in Ahwatukee.
Missing this year after nine years as a crowd favorite is Lolly the Jeep, the tchotchke-covered vehicle owned and driven by Curtis Gruninger. He has moved to the northwest, said Ake.
And yet, there are new arrivals, including the Salt River Scallywags’ Pirate Ship and the Chandler-based Turtleback Trailers – a sure-to-be hit with adults.
Ake said even as Transportation Day means months of hard work for her, her committee and volunteer parents, the joy this second-largest family event in Ahwatukee brings to the community makes it all worthwhile.
“Transportation Day is such a special event, not only is it of course a fundraiser for our amazing preschool but it truly is about our community and about allowing young kiddos to come and create memories with their family and friends,” said Ake, who grew up in Ahwatukee.
“As the coordinator walking around and seeing the kids laughing and smiling as they ride the train or climb in the fire truck is pretty great, and makes all of the planning and preparations worthwhile.
“We are so proud of this event and are excited to celebrate this 20-year tradition with our amazing community. I really love our preschool and this event so much and it’s such a privilege to be able to be a part of it all!”