01/01/09 — Mount Olive Pickle Drop celebrates New Year

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Mount Olive Pickle Drop celebrates New Year

By Steve Herring
Published in News on January 1, 2009 1:46 PM

MOUNT OLIVE -- Three-year-old William Howard didn't seem to mind the cold as he ran around in front of his parents, pausing from time to time to blow into the horn he was clutching.

"The pickle fall down. Yeah. In there," he said indicating a large wooden pickle tank.

William wasn't the only person excited by the prospect of watching a lighted, 3-foot-long pickle make its descent down the Mt. Olive Pickle Co. flagpole to signal the start, granted an early one, to the new year.

A crowd estimated at close to 1,700 people packed the parking lot at the corner of Cucumber and Vine for the 10th annual New Year's Eve Pickle Drop.

William and his parents, James and Lynn Howard, journeyed from their home in Florence, S.C., for the event. Howard said he had learned of the pickle drop from his parents, Bill and Jane Howard of Goldsboro, who also attended the event.

Not only was the crowd there to get an early start to the new year, many also brought canned food items for the Food Bank of Central and Eastern North Carolina.

And by the time the event was over, more than 1,500 pounds of food had been donated.

The Harmony Boys of Mount Olive provided the pre-pickle drop entertainment. People bundled up against the cold also sported the traditional paper hats and made an assortment of noises on horns, whistles and other noisemakers.

Before the drop began, Mt. Olive Pickle Co. President Emeritus Johnny Walker, was making the rounds talking to people in the crowd.

"I can't say it's the biggest crowd, but it sure looks a good size and maybe the biggest," he said. "I think it is the biggest. The weather is OK, just a little nippy, but that just makes it a chilly dilly."

The pickle drop was actually Walker's idea.

It traces its origin to World War II when pilots would practice precision bombing and said they could drop a bomb into a pickle vat.

The first drop was held in the plant's tank yard with just a handful of people in attendance. Family members were invited to the second drop and during the third year, it was open to the public.

Teresa Carter was at pickle drop with her husband, Andy, and their two children, Justin and Taylor.

The family had driven down from Raleigh

"This is a whole lot earlier," Mrs. Carter said. "We saw it on TV last night (Tuesday). We didn't even know they had it. We decided to come while it was early and not be around a bunch of drunks. Something has got to fall, and it might as well be a pickle."

Mrs. Carter said that after watching the drop they planned to go home and go to bed.

Justin said he thought he was going to like the pickle.

He said he would tell his friends, "I went to Mount Olive and the pickle took a bath."

"These kids eat enough of these pickle so we might as well come down here to where they are made and see what it is all about and enjoy it," Andy Carter said.

Allen Reep, vice president of development with the food bank, said the group's partnership with Mt. Olive Pickle has helped many families.

"The pickle partnership is one that we tout to the entire corporate world because it shows how much they care and how much emphasis they put on the community," Reep said. "We are feeding about a quarter of a million people a day, and with this economic crisis, we are working with about 900 agencies and our agencies are seeing about a 40 to 60 percent increase."

Last year the food bank gave away 35 million pounds of food, he said.

"A large part of that was Mt. Olive Pickle," he said.

People who brought canned foods were tickets for pickle door prizes awarded after the pickle drop.

Mt. Olive Pickle Co. President Bill Bryan led the crowd in making the countdown to the 7 p.m. pickle drop.

Just as the pickle dipped from sight, a pair of hands appeared from inside the tank and clutching a bucket and threw water over the side for the "splash" of the pickle.

Moments later balloons took to the air from inside the tank and rapidly were lost to sight after being caught in a stiff easterly breeze.

Dr. Alan Armstrong then led a bagpipe rendition of "Auld Lang Syne."

The program closed with the hoisting of the U.S. flag and the singing of "God Bless America."

Plant electrician Ray Joyner was a member of the tank crew that included Pete Evrard, Larry Kearns, Warren Jones and Immanuel Fenton.

Access to the inside of the tank is through a door in the back of the tank. Inside was a computer that controls the descent of the pickle.

"It is computerized and the clock is synchronized with Greenwich Mean Time so when it said 7 o'clock here in eastern North Carolina it was midnight in England," Joyner said.

Fenton threw the water over the side of the tank.

"We put in some side effects in it and threw the bucket of water when the pickle clears the tank," Joyner said. "Sometimes we have a timing issue. A couple of years ago he got excited and threw the water before the pickle got inside the tank.

"It is a lot of fun and it is Mt. Olive Pickle's way of giving back to the community. It is family oriented and we have a lot of people here with small children. They can celebrate the New Year go home and be in bed at a good hour."