10/04/06 — It's still all about the 'dogs' ... fun

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It's still all about the 'dogs' ... fun

By Matthew Whittle
Published in News on October 4, 2006 1:50 PM

It's all about the hot dogs -- and community pride -- for the volunteer firefighters and grange members who ply their wares at the Wayne Regional Agricultural Fair each year.

The friendly competition for the fairgoer's dollar has been going on for 58 years.

But there is one fact on which all the firefighters, their families and other volunteers who man the booths near the front of the midway agree.

There is only one hot dog worth fixing -- Carolina Packers Bright Leafs.

Not Ballparks. Not Hebrew Nationals. Not the big, fat, brown frankfurters, but the little, skinny, red dogs.

For more than 50 years, it's what people have come to the fairgrounds to eat.

"If you're gonna sell a hot dog, it better be a Bright Leaf," Mar-Mac volunteer firefighter Dale Gainey said.

"I think they tried another brand one year and nobody bought them so they went back. Around here if you get a good hot dog it's going to be a Carolina Packer," said James Ray Johnson, a former Nahunta Grange volunteer.

For some people, there's nothing better.

"Last year we had a guy from New York come by. He said he'd just moved back and he wanted a red hot dog," Nahunta volunteer firefighter Terry Aycock said. "I couldn't tell you what makes them better, but you can ask anybody out here and they'll tell you Carolina Packers are the best. That's why we've got the sign. People ask what kind of hot dogs we got, we say Bright Leaf, and they say OK and sit down.

"It's just the flavor."

But where's the best place to get them at the Wayne Regional Agricultural Fair?

Now, that's the question, and it's been one for nearly six decades.

Since the fair began in 1948, six booths have sold Bright Leafs.

Originally, the players included Nahunta, New Hope, Grantham, Belfast, Brogden and Oakland granges. They rotated spaces in the hangars on Seymour Johnson Air Force Base.

Then, in 1953, when the fair moved to its current location, Johnson was asked to design and build permanent booths for each organization, which drew straws for their locations.

A few changes have occurred -- most notably the involvement of the fire departments as the granges have declined.

"The buildings are a little bit bigger than they were, and they're selling french fries and canned drinks now. We didn't do that," Johnson said. "But not a whole lot's changed."

It's still a competition, and it's still a community event.

This year and for more than a few years before, the booths are run by the Nahunta Fire Department, the Grantham Grange and Fire Department, the Oakland Fire Department and Grange, the Mar-Mac Fire Department, Emmaus Baptist Church and New Hope Methodist Church.

The idea is to attract a customer -- and keep him or her.

"Everybody tries to cook the best hot dog so you'll come back for another one," Irene Johnson, James' wife, said.

But they don't undercut one another.

"We all basically sell the same thing, so we don't want to hurt each other. We don't want to cut each others' throats," said Bobby Crawford, president of the Grantham Grange.

The differences in the $1 boiled hot dogs are small.

"Everybody likes our chili," Gainey said. "And our booth comes as near meeting restaurant standards as you can."

At Grantham, it's the freshness of the food that counts.

"We cook them as we get orders," Crawford said.

Oakland Grange volunteer Billy Oliver countered, "We make ours with more love."

But really, Aycock said, they're all the same.

"They're all good. It's a competition, but it isn't.

"People eat with their communities. It depends on who you know and who your friends are. These are community-oriented booths, and there's a lot of history behind them.

"Ever since I was old enough to come to the fair this is where I ate. It's the Nahunta community."

And on Friday, almost everybody was eating where they had a community connection.

"My husband grew up in the Nahunta area, and we've always just eaten with the Nahunta. Even when we lived in the Mar-Mac area, we'd come to Nahunta to eat," said Michelle Evans of Fayetteville.

For the Johnsons, it's the only reason to come to the fair anymore.

"The only reason we go to the fair is to get a hot dog. That's the thing to do, go get a hot dog and come home," she said.

And where do you think they go?

That's right. To the Nahunta Fire Department and Grange booth.