Empty school buses form untidy lines. Tractors pull train cars of drums and tubas and set pieces—a stained-glass window, a set of giant shark jaws. Teens in feathered hats and glittering leotards stand sorted in groups like Skittles—kilted bagpipers in one pile, 1950s dresses in another.

It was band day at the Indiana State Fair.

One small-town band traveled a bumpy road to the state fair after missing three consecutive years of the statewide competition. The Southmont Royal Mountie band was back at state, looking to place again.

“I hope we get into the finals,” said Caylei Leclercq, a senior alto saxophone player who has been in the band for five years. “I hope we get fifth or something awesome like that!”

Her hopes were realized when the results came in; the Royal Mounties placed comfortably in the Sweet Sixteen at 12th with their show, “The Climb.”

“I love our theme. It’s about working hard,” Leclercq said. “It just feels like, if we’re getting beat down, we just get back up.”

The Mounties have some experience in that area. The band missed the fair in 2011, 2012 and 2013 due to lack of funding.

They marched back in 2014, qualified for finals and placed 13th. Brian Bartlett, director of the Royal Mounties since 1998, said he’s using their past as motivation.

“When we went back, the kids had no idea what the competition was like or what to expect. So as far as competition goes, it didn’t help us [to take the time off],” Bartlett said. “We made finals [in 2014]. We’re hoping to make finals again. We want to climb high.”

The marching band started practicing in early spring, ramping up in the summer. Band camp means six days straight days of marching band practice, taking breaks just for eating and sleeping.

“You come up with the [routine]. Then you spend band camp and all the rehearsals doing the same five minutes over and over again until it’s perfect,” said Nathan Fellerman, the Mounties’ percussion director.

“We’ve improved a lot since band camp in July,” said Aaron Gardner, a senior baritone player. “We’ve improved exponentially since last year.”

Gardner said he loves all things band camp with his favorite part being the bus rides.

Long hours spent in the summer sun is one of Leclercq’s favorite things about marching band, one of the things she said she’ll miss after she graduates.

“Marching band has been a real experience. It’s so much fun, so much hard work. We’re really dedicated,” she said. “Once you’ve performed, it sounds really gross, but all the sweat and nastiness make it worth it.”

Laura is a writer for BSU Journalism at the Fair, a group of 30 students telling Indiana’s stories from a trailer somewhere between the cheese sculpture and the state’s biggest sow. This Ball State University immersive-learning project works for elephant ears.