Great weekend ends 100th Ephrata Fair on a high note

By on October 3, 2018
After the storms cleared town by Friday, the 100th Ephrata Fair midway was packed throughout the weekend. Here is a view from the top of East Main Street Saturday night. Photo by Kirk Neidermyer

After the storms cleared town by Friday, the 100th Ephrata Fair midway was packed throughout the weekend. Here is a view from the top of East Main Street Saturday night. Photo by Kirk Neidermyer

Seemingly rising out of the macadam on Monday night, the 100th Ephrata Fair took shape downtown in and around a chaos convoy of trucks, cars trailers, and determined wrench-wielding workers raising trailers and arranging tanks, stoves, grills, coolers and cash registers near the intersection of State and Main streets.

By early Tuesday morning, guests traversed a small city of food tents, food trucks, rides, games, a game-show rat, hundreds of goldfish, oyster and salmon sandwiches, brisket, lemonade, ice cream waffles, wings, root beer floats, tempura shrimp, burgers, buñuelos, empanadas, eggs and egg rolls, pulled pork, BBQ and assorted deep-fried cookies and sweets.

Of course, the barn-animal assembly of pigs, horses, cows, sheep, rabbits, chickens, and more ambled uptown along the grounds at Tent City surrounded by tractors, farm equipment and even more food as an homage to the Ephrata Fair’s roots as a farm show beginning 100 years ago.

Prizes had already been awarded to the tons of baked goods, models, needlecraft, photographs, artworks and more. Not long after, blue ribbons adorned a vast array of tomatoes, flowers, foliage houseplants, giant pumpkins and more gardening items.

However, the first casualty of the horrible rainy weather — even well before the first bingo ball had dropped Tuesday afternoon — was the opening Sunday Welcome Home celebration that officials moved from the Winters Leadership Memorial to inside the Pioneer Fire Company building.

The anxiously anticipated Tuesday-night concert kick-off featuring Mountain Road was moved indoor as well just before the bad news dropped that Wednesday’s three-mile, 120-plus unit, Fair parade was officially canceled.

It was a gut punch to many fans and, even more so, to organizers whose special planning began two years ago, said Beth Quickel, 100th Fair committee chairperson and Ephrata Farmers Day Association board member.

“It was a heart-wrenching but necessary decision,” she said.

Quickel said many people stopped her Wednesday afternoon while working Senior Citizens Day. Most actually expressed gratitude and empathy for the 100th-year committee and the fair board, and how they “recognized this was a really unfortunate circumstance.”

“I watched the bad weather approach on radar, so I knew it was coming,” she said. “I felt good knowing no one was out on the street waiting for a parade with lightening in the area.”

Elaine Sensenig, the new president of the Ephrata Farmers Day Association, said it was obviously a difficult decision to cancel since it was the 85th parade and the 100th fair.

“We as the fair organizers were planning to have a float in the parade and people walking, so we were also very disappointed,” she said. “We had to look beyond ourselves and look at the big picture.”

Sensenig, a member of the safety committee headed by Ephrata Police Chief William ‘Bill’ Harvey, learned of the storm system on Monday “at our first daily meeting” (the safety committee met every day of the fair).

“We continued tracking the system and Tuesday afternoon due to concerns I called a special meeting of the EFDA board,” she said. “As a board we discussed what the steps were if a cancellation was needed and the time involved to make notifications to all those participating in the parade.”

With so many out-of-town participants and the long distances being traveled by some, the committee came to the conclusion it had to allow all the participants as much notice of cancellation as possible.

“Over 100 parties had to be notified — and that did not include all the individuals of the different parties,” she said. “We also had a concern for larger crowds than in previous years if we had to move or disperse the crowds on short notice due to weather issues.”

Chief Harvey and Lt. Chris McKim, police liaison to the fair, said the model in previous years — of waiting until 3 p.m. on the day of the parade to decide whether to cancel — is no longer viable. Harvey has developed a safety plan, built over a decade for the Ephrata Fair that is actually used by fair organizations in other municipalities.

“We’ve learned from these early notifications that is was better for participants — some of them would have trouble getting the word out to participants on time to people coming from out of town,” McKim said.

Another reason for the 24-hour parade cancellation notice is to eliminate undue financial hardships on participants and the fair itself, Harvey said.

“Some people must take the day off, require road travel and hotel stays,” Harvey said. “Some expenses are incumbent on the groups, some are incumbent on the fair because the fair has contracts with them.”

While rain had disrupted turnout early in the week, crowds doubled up on Friday and Saturday evening and on kiddies day Thursday afternoon, McKim said.

Traffic on Friday was busiest, he said, as cars backed up from Fulton and State streets down to South Oak Street.

Police incidents were nominal – actually, there were less than a handful of incidents and only two charged, McKim said.

This may be of interest since this year’s 100-year benchmark fair included additional activities (that were not hampered by the weather), Sensenig noted.

To beef up the 100th Fair, organizers added Sunday’s Welcome Home Ceremony, Tuesday’s Community Celebration with Opening Ceremonies, special 100th classes in the exhibits, Cow Milking Contest, When Pigs Fly, Entertainment on Thursday and Saturday evenings uptown, and the Merchant Window Display Contest.

“All these activities and events were in addition to an already full schedule of yearly fair activities,” she said. “There were also more volunteers involved, which meant more coordination and communication to be sure all the details were being taken care of.”

Barry Straub, who brought his Dynamic Wings truck from Selinsgrove to the Ephrata Fair for the first time due a late vendor cancellation, was impressed by the turnout, even in the rain.

“I couldn’t believe it,” he said Friday from his truck on State Street across from Sugar Alley. “My business was great even in the rain. People were walking around like it wasn’t raining at all.”

Straub said perhaps the violent thunderstorms, which forced fair organizers to cancel the beefed-up Fair Parade on Wednesday “left people feeling short-changed and trying to squeeze in as much as they could in as little time as possible.”

Patrick Burns is news editor and social media editor for The Ephrata Review. He welcomes your questions and comments and can be reached at pburns.eph@lnpnews.com or at 717-721-4455

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