The Annual Fourth of July Rubber Duckie Race in Colusa is set to take place today at 2 PM.
This year, the event was renamed the ‘Jim Davison Memorial Rubber Duckie Race,’ in honor of the event’s co-founder, who passed away late last year.
“The Davisons were the ones that started this whole thing, and that’s why I decided to make this year the Jim Davison Memorial,” said Lions Club member and event chair Jim Pingrey.
The tradition of casting numbered rubber ducks into the Sacramento River stretches back to 1988, when husband and wife Jim and Marilyn Davison brought the fundraising idea to the now-defunct Colusa Downtown Association. At the time, Marilyn Davison was the president of the group. She said that she and Jim got the idea from their bookkeeper, who had told them of a similar event in another city.
In that first year, she located a toy company that made rubber duckies and purchased 2,500 ducks “at a very good price as the company was clearing out the old style, turning the head and changing the eye color,” Davison wrote, recounting the event’s history.
It was a family effort: Their daughter, Alice Davison, marked each duck in batches of 100, from 0001 to 2500.
Tickets with those same numbers were sold at several businesses in town, offering ticket buyers a chance to win a cash prize. Messick’s provided garbage containers to store the ducks, and to dump them from a houseboat on the day of the race.
In its first years, the event was quite the affair – the Colusa Downtown Association also sold hats and t-shirts to make additional money. Arthur Helicker – a former music teacher at the Colusa Unified School District and a professional jazz musician – arranged to have a piano moved to the levee, and gathered a group to play live music for the crowd. Mike Marquardt, who at the time had a radio station in Colusa, did the announcing for the event, Davison recounted. At a precise moment, a gun shot gave the signal for the crew on the houseboat to dump the ducks. While Marilyn took the lead on promoting the event and selling tickets, Jim Davison was in charge of the round-up. He arranged for an armada of boats, armed with fishing nets, to line up at the Colusa Bridge to catch the ducks. The winning numbers were then relayed via walkie talkie to Marquardt, who announced the winners’ names to the crowd gathered on the levee.
In the second year, there was a rubber duckie decorating contest accompanied the race, and new t-shirts that read, “First Annual Rubber Duckie Race” were ordered for the event. Davison recounts that there were too many ordered, so organizers sent them back to the printer in Arbuckle the next year to have them line out ‘First Annual’ and have them put ‘Second Annual’ on top in red.
“Those sold even better,” Davison wrote.
In 1992, organizers had a large paper mache duck made, and put it on display in a parking lot to advertise the upcoming event. Colusa resident Howard Foster loaned his antique car to pull it in the Colusa County Fair Parade, and Davies Oil volunteered space to store it.
“We did enjoy it,” Marilyn Davison said of the Downtown Business Associations’s time running Colusa’s rubber duckie race. “We had a good crew.”
Over time, the association dissolved and merged with the Colusa County Chamber of Commerce, which briefly ran the rubber duckie race before the Colusa Lions Club eventually took it over. They are still running it today. While the Lions Club took it over, the Davison family has continued to be involved with the rubber duckie race they started: Jim Davison was a regular on the round-up crew every year until 2016, Marilyn Davison said – and was referred to as ‘The Captain of the Fleet.’ When Marilyn was no longer responsible for organizing the event, she spent many Fourth of July afternoons on the boat with Jim. Over the years, Jim continued to muster up the round-up fleet, recruiting kids – and often paying them – to help with collecting rogue ducks, his son Frank Davison said.
Since Frank returned home to Colusa in 1997, he – like his father – has been a fixture under the Colusa Bridge on the Fourth of July. So has his own son, Lucas Davison, who is now 19 years old.
“Lucas has been out there helping out since he’s been able to hold a net – he’s definitely been out there with grandpa and dad doing this, probably for 12 to 13 years,” Frank said.
Under the Lions Club, the rubber duckie race has become a fundraiser to help send Egling Middle School students to Shady Creek – formerly known as Woodleaf. Tom Reische chaired the event for the Lions Club until Pingrey took it over about four years ago. This year, a total of 2,000 ducks will make their way down the river.
“Basically, it’s to help Colusa kids go to Shady Creek,” Pingrey said. “In addition to Lions Club members, the kids at Egling sell tickets as well. This year, they sold $2,400 in tickets this year, which is by far the most they’ve ever sold. This year, it’s looking like we’ll have at least $5,000 worth of tickets sold. Whatever class sells the most tickets, we’ve either given them pizza or ice cream for being the top-selling class.”