According to the program, the Mother Lode Roundup Parade begins at 10 a.m. Saturday.

But Kim Earll, who with husband Jim has organized the 2002 procession for the Tuolumne County Sheriff's Posse, knows better.

"It really started before Christmas of last year," said Kim. "That's when we drafted the new entry forms and got them to the printer."

And in the mid-February chill, forms were sent out to everyone who marched in the 2001 parade. And the April 17 entry deadline began several frantic weeks of organization.

Stacks of forms were transformed into a five-section, 10-band, 188-entry street show that is almost universally acknowledged as the highlight of the big Roundup weekend.

The parade, as spontaneous as it might seem it times, is not some free-form "be-in" whose entries head up Washington when the spirit moves them.

Instead it is a tightly scripted variety show in which every entry has its place.

"Parade Central" the posse's traditional staging area in the parking lot in front of Kragen's Auto Parts and Grocery Outlet comes alive at 6:30 a.m. Saturday. By 9 a.m., it is a chaotic mob of horses, riders, musicians, twirlers, antique cars, floats, scouts and more.

The odds that a parade can somehow snake free of such confusion seem remote.

But snake free it does: At the stroke of 10, Pearl Opie widow of longtime parade chairman Jim Opie will send the posse color guard up Washington Street.

The on-time start continues a tradition begun by posse founder Bill West and maintained by Jim Opie for the better part of three decades. Then, minute by minute, entries are sent northward.

"We work for months organizing this parade," laughed Kim Earll. "Then all we see is everybody leaving."

But the streetside throngs lucky enough to get a closer look at Jim and Kim Earll's handiwork will reckon their months of work was time well spent.