10/07/10 — Slow start, big finish

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Slow start, big finish

By Steve Herring
Published in News on October 7, 2010 1:46 PM

Anna West of Spring Creek Elementary was one of the many children who participated in the fair talent competitions this year. For a roundup of the acts and the winners as well as photos from the events Wednesday, click on NewsArgus.com.

DUDLEY -- Wayne Regional Agricultural Fair attendance is down by some 5,000 paid customers over the same period last year, but you couldn't tell it Wednesday night by the crush of people and the upbeat mood of fair officials and local vendors.

They agree the heavy rains that greeted last Thursday's abbreviated opening hurt and a smaller-than-expected Sunday crowd added to the pain. However, all it will take to offset that are few days of good weather, they say.

A missing ingredient, not the weather, was on the minds of members of the Church of God at Pinkney as they prepared to begin their 24th year cooking up homemade applejacks. One quick trip to the store later and the cooking grease was in hand and a disaster averted as people hovered around the big tent wanting to know when the applejacks would be ready.

Jay Barnett mixed up the dough in a large metal bowl as Jean Smith, James Smith, Harry Hinson and others, with rolling pins in hand, waited to grabs the balls of dough to flatten them out. Others piled on the fruit while another crew deep-fried the applejacks.

"We make everything right here," church member Darlene Williford said. "We cook the apples at the church. We have an assembly line. We make them so we say they are just like grandma's. We were off to a bad start Friday, Saturday and Monday, but last night was probably one of our best nights. It is really picking up, and we are expecting tonight to be better and the rest of the week is going to be better.

"There is a lot of excitement at the fair and people like to have a county fair and to be here. They seem to be enjoying themselves. I think everybody is enjoying it and are glad the weather is good. It's fair weather. It's been cool so it has been perfect fair weather."

Fair manager Milton Ingram was glad to see milder and drier weather. Just a week ago, he sat in his office looking at a weather radar on his computer screen that showed a large area of heavy rain drenching the eastern part of the state.

"The weather has finally turned in our favor," he said. "Because of the weather in total we are down about 5,000 paid attendance from last year, but with this weather being as pretty as it is, we feel like we will probably make that up between now and Saturday night. We are really hoping so anyway."

In fact, Ingram said, now the area is so dry, officials are dealing with flying dust.

"This is sandy land, and it dries quickly," he said.

Ingram said he is pleased with the turnout for one of the newest attractions at the fair and has already signed a contract to bring back the bull riding next year.

"We have already started on next year's fair," he said.

The demolition derby is a popular attraction and will be held again this Saturday.

"There was a good crowd (for the first demolition derby)," he said. "This coming Saturday we will have our major derby with the big cars and we will have huge crowd for that."

So, for now, Ingram said he is optimistic that the early weather issues will not end up being too much of a burden on the fair.

"Everybody I have talked to they are like me, they feel like we are going to end up on a positive note even though we got started a little slow. They are real happy with the customers they are having now, the number of customers because Monday and Tuesday were both up. Of course, last year on Monday night we had rain -- that makes a big difference."

Attendance was up about 1,836 paid people Monday over the same time last year and 1,000 Tuesday over last year.

"We were way down (over the weekend)," Ingram said. "The most disappointing thing was Sunday. We were down about 5,000 people. I don't know why they didn't come out on Sunday other than it was cloudy. We just didn't have the attendance this year.

"Even though we had the derby we still didn't have the people. That was an oddity. I can understand Friday night they still thought it was wet out here. But we got open and it was not that wet out here."

There was a "huge, but not record crowd" Saturday, Ingram said.

"About 8 o'clock the people just sort of swarmed in," he said. "About 8 o'clock Saturday night we had gridlock out here on the roads on account of everybody trying to get into the parking lot."

The livestock portion of the fair ends tonight with the horse, pony and mule shows.

Ingram said he is pleased with the participation in the shows and that they continue to draw entrants from across the region.

Shonda and Billie Wynn of Goldsboro were operating the Disabled American Veterans booth that is known for its bags of peanuts.

Mrs. Wynn said traffic at the booth had been "come and go," but overall had been good.

"Last year was my first year out here selling," said Wynn, an Army veteran of Operation Desert Storm. "I think we have pretty much been going on track. We have pretty loyal customers every year though who come and get their peanuts every year at the fair. Even before I was selling I would come by and get me some. They are good. It is for a good cause, our veterans, and we try to support them any way that we can."

Brenda Robinson was one of several volunteers working in the Wayne County Relay for Life booth.

"I think the crowd has been really good," she said. "We have sold a lot of stuff here. We have given out a lot of information. I just think it has been a really good crowd, probably about the same as last year."

Her hope is to sell everything in the booth and for a big crowd every day until the end of the fair on Saturday.

"These cool nights have really boosted our sweatshirts and jackets sales," Ms. Robinson said. "T-shirts have been going OK, but it has mainly been the sweatshirts and jackets and the 'Flight like a Girl' shirt. They have really been selling."

Food booths lining the walk to the midway were busy.

"I think we are a little ahead of last year," said Mar Mac Fire Chief Bill Harrell who was working at the department's booth. "We are holding our own. The next three days, if we wind up with a good Thursday, Friday, Saturday, you will never know that it rained the first part of the fair.

"It has been great. People have been nice to us. You serve some good food and they will come out. I really believe they will come out the weekend the Lord has blessed us with good weather."