Winsted-Lester Prairie Journal, July 9, 2001

Comical history surrounds Bratbusters celebration; event set for July 20

By Patrice Waldron

What started out as a city picnic of sorts has become a Winsted tradition.

The Winsted Civic and Commerce Association (C&C) will host its 12th annual Bratbusters celebration Friday, July 20.

The event will take place in Mill Reserve Park, with the traditional fare being served.

Bratwurst, soda, beer, and root beer floats will be available for purchase.

The event, which dates back to the late '80s, has gone through some changes over the years.

The celebration, started in July 1988 when Crazy Days was changed from daytime to an evening event ­ Crazy Evening. Bargains were available from local merchants from 5 to 9 p.m.

The local businesses set up tables on the sidewalks, with especially discounted items for sale within that time frame.

During the Crazy Evening sale hours, members of the C&C served brats, pop, and beer, between the library and Midtown Video. The bratwurst-centered event was born.

A new twist highlighted the event the following year.

The front page headline from the July 24, 1989 Journal issue read: "Bratbusters arrive in style for Winsted's Crazy Days celebration."

The three original bratbusters, arriving in chef's aprons, via a limousine, were Tom Ollig, Floyd Sneer, and Gary Lenz.

The event remained much the same over the years, with the antics of the bratbusters becoming a bit more absurd each year.

Always part of the celebration are sidewalk sale specials for the bargain hunters, grilled bratwurst, soda, beer, and root beer floats.

The Winsted Dairy Promotion Group was selling root beer floats for just 50 cents in 1990.

That year, the McLeod County Water Patrol equipment was on display, and the event had permanently moved to its present location in Mill Reserve Park.

The event was known as Crazy Days and Brat Feed in 1991, with the actual bratbusters being the quartet of Dave Sherman, Ollig, Lenz, and Sneer. Part of the group's activities included a synchronized tongs demonstration.

The bratbusters achieved cult status in 1992. They also made headlines for being seen grilling chicken. It was a federal offense for the bratbusters to grill anything other than bratwurst on an outdoor grill.

Winsted Police Chief Mike Henrich explained the members of the bratbusters gang resisted arrest, pelting the local authorities with chicken breasts and wiener links. The group also tried to escape by feeding tainted wieners to the authorities.

In 1993, the Bratbusters arrived in hospital gowns, with one in a wheelchair. They apparently had fallen while performing a high-wire act in Washington for President Clinton and the first family.

For the seventh anniversary, members of the Winsted Karate Club were called upon to administer a public caning of the bratbusters. It was stated that not even famed attorney Dick Genty could save them from their crime of allegedly spray painting some turkeys and chickens.

Crazy Days 1995 found the McLeod County Dairy Princesses serving the root beer floats. Another new item added was pontoon rides on Winsted Lake.

The events of 1996 were much the same, but in 1997, the bratwurst chefs were the Bratbusters from Mars, who cooked the brats using their little ray guns. The Men in Black were called to the scene.

History was made the following year when the Bratbusters decided to retire.

Grilling for kings, queens, and presidents had gotten too hectic for the chefs.

"After years of grilling, I have developed carpel tunnel in my wrists and can no longer turn the brats in a professional manner," said Bratbuster Sneer.

"I have never been the same since the fall from the high wire, while performing at the White House for the president. Since my accident, one of my legs is shorter than the other, and I find myself grilling brats on only one side," said Sherman of his bratbusters experience.

Bratbuster Lenz said: "I have taken this career as far as I can. Once you've reached the top of your profession, there is nowhere else to go. I want to leave while I'm still on top."

Ollig said: "The four of us have been together for many years. I just can't go on without my friends. It's time to hang up the tongs and put away the charcoal."

In 1999, the Bratbusters event, still sponsored by the Winsted C&C, included the McLeod County Dairy Princess serving root beer floats, a raffle for summer gear, a raffle for $500 conducted by the Martin Krueger American Legion Post 407, crazy days sales, and a hot dog fundraiser for the Winsted Boy Scouts in front of Today's Realty.

The activities for this year's event will be similar, with bargains downtown and good food at Mill Reserve Park.

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