At the end of the Road to Oz Highway sits the small town of Wamego, Kansas. In many ways, it’s your everyday Midwestern town with a vibrant downtown, city parks and it takes its connection to the Wizard of Oz very seriously. but one day each year, Wamego transforms from a community of around 4,000 to “Boom Town.”
So how does a city like this swell from a few thousand to nearly 70,000 on the Fourth of July? By putting on a fireworks display that rivals that of the big cities. It’s been touted the “grand finale that never ends,” but what makes this off-the-charts pyrotechnic display so amazing is that it is done by a group of volunteers.
“And that’s the thing that makes it special is we’ve got so many people who are willing to volunteer their time, treasure and talent to make this an awesome place to live,” says Neil Ebert of the Wamego Pyro Crew.
“You know in the 36 years I’ve been here, the mantra of Wamego has been think big, plan well and call the volunteers,” adds Mark Portell.
And it takes volunteers by the dozens to pull off a show like this city puts on each year.
“It’s become what it is now because we built on the quality that was there before we all arrived, but over the last seventeen years just an amazing group of individuals from the community have given just selflessly year in and year out to try to make this better. The neat thing about it is that they don’t do this for any acknowledgment for themselves, they just do it because they know the power of this event and it brings people together.”
And it doesn’t just bring in a few, it brings them in by the droves. It all starts in Chris Hupe’s garage where a team picks out the songs, builds the launching mechanisms, programs the auto-firing systems and uses computer projections to simulate the best experience they can bring.
The night of the fireworks, there are portions of the show that are still hand-fired, meaning they have a team of volunteers who are literally underneath the canopy of the fireworks, lighting them in precise timing to bring you the fireworks display that may just be one of the best anywhere around. When it’s all ready to go, sit back, relax and enjoy the show, but don’t forget your radio. It’s a highly choreographed show that is set to music and you’ll need to have the music to experience the true magic of Boom Town.