99th Ephrata Fair off to a great start with packed midway and successful new show in Tent City

By on September 27, 2017

A look from the top of the hill down the midway with a beautiful sunset during the opening night of the Ephrata Fair in Ephrata, PA on September 26, 2017. KIRK NEIDERMYER | LCW Correspondent Photographer

The 2017 Ephrata Fair kicked off Tuesday beneath sunny skies and summer-like temperatures rising to the mid 70s as smoke wafted at 10 a.m. from the first batch of J.R.’s brisket grilling in front of the Ephrata Review offices at 1 E. Main St.

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On Monday evening, fire police, stationed at a command center at the intersection of State and Main streets, directed what can only be described as controlled chaos from — if only for a brief moment — a completely closed, calm, and deserted Route 322 at about 6:45 p.m.

Within five minutes, vendor trucks descended from the south, east, and west led by an air-horn blowing, berry-cup-ride carrying, Houghton Carnival 18-wheeler.

The streets quickly filled with drivers after a pair of Akron Lions’ trucks — following a police escort —turned left on Main Street.

As dusk settled in, vendors jockeyed for position with at least two smaller box trucks outmaneuvering tractor-trailers to get a jump-start in setting up food kitchens, ovens, grills, coolers, and game display stands.

The 99th Ephrata Fair, the largest street festival in Pennsylvania, was taking shape by 7:20 as the initial logjam of vehicles dwindled to only four stranded at the intersection of Lake and Main streets. Most vendors, prepared with between four and 15 workers, had settled into specific downtown Ephrata areas they will call home in until Saturday night.

Besides the aforementioned J.R.’s Brisket and famous Akron Lions toasted cheeseburger stands, dozens of kiosks, tents, booths and other counters prepared an overabundance of food options.

Those taking a brief trip up the midway by 1 p.m. Tuesday sweated a bit as temperatures settled in the mid-80s. Hopefully it was a little cooler when the event was launched by a handful of Ephrata businessmen in 1918 to honor World War I veterans.

Kurt Brown, Ephrata Fair food director and advertising chairman, noted the fair has been growing ever since.

A brief inventory list of food offered at the fair on Tuesday found at least five French fry establishments — including local favorite Fink’s —several hamburger, cheese steak, and sausage sandwich choices.

The editorial staff at the Ephrata Review enjoyed Fink’s fries, JR’s brisket and salmon sandwiches, as well as cheeseburgers, oyster and fish sandwiches, and drinks from the East Cocalico Lions Club.

Other food options spotted on the trip east on Main Street included monkey bread, corn dogs, apple dumplings, pirogues, fried vegetables, frozen bananas, Pennsylvania Dutch and pumpkin funnel cakes, soft-serve ice cream, waffles and ice cream, grilled corn-on-the-cob, fried Oreos, gyros, chicken pita, roast beef, pizza, sausage, root beer floats, orange and lemonade, chicken wings, egg rolls, chicken on a stick, fried rice and noodles, chicken teriyaki, potato chip fries, fried scallions, BBQ, chilidogs, cotton candy, popcorn, deep fried onions, boneless Texas ribs, beef basil, candy apples, and traditional comfort food served in The Lord’s Fair dining area set up by Hinkletown Mennonite Church.

Some fair-goers suggested food served at previous Ephrata Fairs were not available this year. Many from the Review’s editorial staff lamented the loss of the traditional rib-eye steak sandwiches from Lily’s, a missing crab cake vendor, and a favorite waffle stand.

“We’re really only missing Lily’s,” Brown said, explaining that Lily’s restaurant closed in July. “We may have lost a few games here and there but when one leaves another takes its place. We just keep on rolling on.”

The annual pork chop dinner and many other food options were also available Tuesday evening at Tent City at Grater Memorial Park, which will be open until Friday night. And for only the second time in 41 years, children attending the Ephrata Fair didn’t dive in the dirt dashing after a greased pig on a lighted baseball field.

Fair organizers this year added an equine trick riding team show inside the crowded bleachers at Tent City. The event featured plenty of trick riding including roman riding — where a horseman stands, kneels, and does fire tricks while steering a pair of horses — fast-paced riding, rosinback circus riding and a whip act.

Ryan Biggs, an 8-year-old from Ephrata, had the pleasure of joining the show in a stick horse race, which he won.

“I’m really fast,” he said. “I knew I would win.”

Adelyn Smith, his second-grade stepsister, said she enjoyed the horse show better than the BMX bicycle stunt team, which replaced the traditional pig chase event last year.

“I won a prize last year at the bicycle show but I like horses better,” she said.

Claire Hemperly, who since 2015 has witnessed the pig chase, BMX show and the equine trick-riding event, said all three had their merits.

“It’s hard to say which was best,” she said. “They were all pretty cool and interesting.”

Patrick Burns is social media editor and staff writer for The Ephrata Review. He welcomes your questions and comments and can be reached at pburns.eph@lnpnews.com or at 721-4455.

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