RUBONIA -- Kim Shoulders raises chickens and goats on her farm in Indianapolis, Ind.
She thought she had seen it all when it comes to the clucking birds.
But when a relative brought the vacationing Shoulders and fellow Indianapolis farmer Carl St. Clair to the 34th annual Rubonia-Terra Ceia-Mardi Gras on Sunday, Shoulders saw something she had never seen before.
"I would have to say the chicken train was different," Shoulders said.
The train is a parade float comprised of about a half dozen live chickens in small wire cages.
The chickens were pulled slowly by a tractor.
The chicken train got a rousing welcome from a crowd estimated by Rubonia-Terra Ceia Mardi Gras President Charles Miller Jr. at "between 15,000 and 20,000."
Besides chickens, there were 60 other entries in the Mardi Gras, including belly-dancers, pirates throwing endless beads, people in unusual cartoon-like cars and trucks and even a Canadian float including older men playing street hockey.
"I saw some things I will never forget and some things I wish I had never seen," Shoulders said.
The music and dancing was ubiquitous.
It was also the first Mardi Gras ever where a donation of a dollar or two was requested at five entry points, Miller added.
"We believe donations will secure the future of the Mardi Gras," Miller said. "For years we have had totally free admission and the costs are just huge to put this on. All the money donated will go to pay the bills."
Miller estimated the event took in about $5,000 in donations.
The Manatee County Sheriff's Office had 100 men and women at the event, said Maj. Dennis Dummer.
By 7 p.m., an hour before closing, there had been no major incidents, Miller said.
"The deputies said this was the cleanest Mardi Gras they ever had," Miller added.
Teddy and Audrey Dickerson had placed their folding chairs along the parade route. The Sarasota couple attend every year.
"It's a one of a kind," Audrey Dickerson said.
While her husband, software specialist Julian Thomson, was flying to Nigeria on business, Lisa Thomson texted him that she was sipping a Rubonia smoothie all-fruit drink on the parade route.
"My friends told me I had to come and this is my first time," Thomson said.
Sunday was a big day for Miller, who has just taken the reins of the parade over from his father, Charles Miller.
Charles Miller Jr. remembers being named King of the Mardi Gras at the first event in 1979.
"I had a crown and a little suit," Miller said. "It was totally different back then. It wasn't as big as it is now. It started out as a birthday party for LuAnn Top, one of our residents. The parade still starts in front of her house."
When he took over as president this year, Miller quickly learned that not everyone was a Mardi Gras fan.
"Some point out the inconvenience that we close Bayshore for a day," Miller said. "But we explained that this is only once a year, just one day for fun."
Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be contacted at 941-748-0411, ext. 6686.