10/02/08 — In the still of the night...

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In the still of the night...

By Winkie Lee
Published in News on October 2, 2008 1:48 PM

Barb Williamson and Edwin Gurkins have been working at the Wayne Regional Agricultural Fair since 7 a.m.

Now it's 11:15 on Wednesday night. The twirling, colorful lights on the carnival rides have been turned off and the public has left.

What was earlier a place of conversation, music and people calling to others to come play carnival games is now quiet.

It seems like it should be time to call it a night and go to bed.

But, when the fair closes for the evening, it's time for Williamson and Gurkins to go on a fair ride of their own -- one that, at times, resembles a maze.

One that will move them from the illumination of the grounds' lighting into


And, because of the rain that fell earlier that day, one that will include a bit of slipping in the mud.

As their friend and fellow fair employee Wayne Benton checks on the animals in the exhibit hall, Williamson and Gurkins are traveling the fairgrounds' nearly 50 acres, turning off lights, locking gates and making sure buildings are secure.

They don't know how many lights there are, but they know that it will take more than an hour to turn them all off.

Bundled in coats to ward off the chill of the breeze that flows through the open golf cart as it glides along, the men go from one destination to another -- the grounds becoming darker with each stop they make.

Occasionally a person can be seen walking across the grounds, a tag hanging around his neck -- identification worn by those who work with the carnival. It lets the men and other over night fair employees know who should be there ... and who shouldn't.

The carnival personnel will walk across the grounds off and on throughout the night, the men say.

There is one gate they leave open for them, making it easier for the employees to travel to convenience stores and other locations.

At one point, Williamson and Gurkins notice some people who are not wearing tags. Unsure of who they are or why they are still on the grounds, the men follow them.

The people in question eventually leave through an open gate, and all is fine.

If there was a need to call for assistance, the men could contact the fairgrounds' security, which consists of off-duty employees of the Wayne County Sheriff's Office.

But that is not necessary right now, and Williamson and Gurkins are again traveling the grounds.

As their cart drives by the campers lived in by Powers employees, ponies can be seen grazing in a fenced-in area. Not far away, a few of the employees sit at a table, quietly visiting.

When the men arrive at the main exit, Gurkins says that, once the lights there go out, the area will become a "black hole." They wait for some people who had been working at the granges to drive away, then they hit the switch.


Laughing, they pass by what they jokingly call "the mud hole." It's the spot where the demolition derby and other activities had been held and where the cheerleading competition was to take place. Earlier that day, it had rained, and the top layer of dirt became wet and slick. The two had to move the mud and cover the ground with plastic. Next, they placed mats on top of the plastic so the competition would not have to be postponed.

At 12:34 a.m., Williamson and Gurkins complete their rounds. They drive to the office, where Benton is outside, talking with Lts. Shawn Harris and Steve Mozingo.

Williamson, Gurkins and Benton live on the grounds during the fair season. Once they retire to their quarters for a few hours of rest, the responsibility of checking on the animals and patrolling the property will go to Harris and Mozingo.

Within a few hours, the three men will be outside again, surrounded by the sounds and activities of the fair.