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Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Barack Obama and a plunger: He might not want to remember this photo

Obama and the Arcola Lawn Rangers

Before he was even a senator, let alone president-elect, then-unknown Barack Obama was, at a 2003 St. Patrick's Day parade, a plunger wrangler. (Photo courtesy Mats Selen)

Take that, Joe the Plumber: Here's evidence that the soon-to-be leader of the free world knows his way around a plunger.

This very unpresidential photo of Barack Obama, blown up to poster size, will be rolling down Pennsylvania Avenue on Tuesday along with the most unorthodox participants of the inaugural parade: the World Famous Lawn Rangers, a 28-year-old Central Illinois-based precision lawn mower drill team.

"We are the whoopee cushion of the parade," declared Ranger veteran Tom Bruno, a member of the Champaign City Council.

Obama met the Rangers in 2003 at Chicago's St. Patrick's Day Parade when he was just launching his bid for the U.S. Senate. As they joked around, the little-known candidate grabbed one of the plungers that Ranger leaders use in lieu of batons. Ranger Mats Selen, a University of Illinois physics professor, snapped a picture, which everybody promptly forgot about until Obama was elected plunger-carrier-in-chief.

Then, on a lark, Ranger founder Pat Monahan of Arcola applied to march in the inaugural parade, and somebody on the parade committee apparently had a sense of whimsy.

The 48-mower contingent will include one topped with a 5-foot replica of the Washington Monument, another with a well-endowed mannequin wearing a T-shirt declaring "D.C. or bust," and another called "Obama the self-starter." It features two hands emerging from the mower and grabbing the starter rope.

The group, which calls the new president "Mow-Bama," is selling the photo on T-shirts, aprons and the like at

/tombruno. Also available is kitsch with the Ranger inaugural credo: "Bringing dignity back to Washington."

—Bob Secter