Pioneers take the cake

By on September 28, 2011

By: MICHELLE REIFF Review Staff, Staff Writer

Volunteers at the Ephrata Pioneer Fire Company trailer prepare to award cakes to those who tried their luck at the well-known game. (Photo by Preston Whitcraft)Volunteers at the Ephrata Pioneer Fire Company trailer prepare to award cakes to those who tried their luck at the well-known game. (Photo by Preston Whitcraft)

There are certain things that one thinks of when hearing the words "Ephrata Fair." An Akron Lions toasted cheeseburger, the Fat Albert game, Sweigart’s cheesesteak… all are long-time fixtures. Another that comes to mind has been delighting fairgoers for decades with the chance to win mouth-watering desserts with just a coin and a spin of the wheel.

The Ephrata Pioneer Fire Company’s presence at the fair is one of the longest in existence, dating all the way back to the year 1947. In those days the company had multiple stands: one with fruit baskets, another with blankets, a novelty stand and, as time went on, the cake and candy spin. All stands were wooden stationary units.

Paul Wise, who has been around longer than many others in the fire company, was labeled the "historian" by his fellow members. He related how the fire company shifted from the wooden stand to eventually using a trailer.

"My brother Leroy and I built the trailer in 1974," said Wise. The unit, handmade by the two brothers, made it’s debut at that year’s fair.

The cake and candy spin stand is a fairgoers favorite, but its presence at the yearly event has not been due to merely a lucky spin. Back in 1996, many visitors to the fair arrived surprised to see that the fire company’s trailer was missing from its traditional spot outside the railroad station parking lot on Main Street. After years of delighting visitors both young and old, the firefighters, who manned the stand, found themselves unable to acquire the volunteers to keep it going.

"They couldn’t get enough help to run it so they decided not to do it," said Auxiliary President Peggy Croft. "It’s hard for the firefighters, because when they’re on call at the fire station they’re not allowed to leave."

It was only a few years later that the fire company’s auxiliary, seeing how the public missed the stand, stepped in to help the firefighters — an act which they still appreciate to this day. At a meeting discussing fund-raisers in 2001, one of the members suggested trying to bring back the trailer.

After given the go-ahead from the fire company, the auxiliary brought the trailer back, but with some changes. The public was no longer permitted to donate cakes due to a policy of the Department of Agriculture. Since the cakes now had to be purchased, the cost of a spin had to be raised from 10 to 25 cents.

"Some people brought their dimes; they saved their dimes all year," chuckled Croft, "but no one really complained after that. The public was really glad to have it back.

After almost a decade of things running smoothly, Pioneer’s absence was almost felt again. The fire company’s trailer had "seen its better days." Rather than give up the spot (which they may not get back) the men scurried around, and this time they were the ones who saved the day.

At that time the Ephrata Rescue was disbanding, and their trailer became available. The fire company bought it for the auxiliary so they wouldn’t be missed come September. But the challenges continue.

The old trailer had three windows: one for the cake spin, one for a candy spin and the other to purchase raffle tickets. The new trailer is smaller, has one window only and the cake and candy spin had to be combined, along with the raffle.

"I miss the old trailer," expressed Croft. "The first year that we were back people didn’t see us. Then we got signs made to put on it." She added that it still doesn’t stand out even though it’s in the same spot.

Not only is the trailer smaller, but now, it too will need to be replaced. The fire company also uses it for other functions such as Highland Elementary School PTA events. The Department of Agriculture, when doing an inspection, said that if the trailer is going to continue to be used, it needs a three-compartment washing sink to come up to standards. The firefighters and auxiliary members agreed it would cost to much to fix; therefore, they have applied for two grants to try to once again get a new trailer.

"We figured if we want to keep doing it we’re going to try to do it the right way in the beginning and then we won’t have to worry about it anymore," said Croft. "Once it’s inspected we can use it at any event."

In preparation for this and other initiatives in the community, the auxiliary extends the invitation of membership to anyone who is at least 14 years old, male or female. (The organization’s name was changed years ago omitting the word "ladies" when some of the firemen who no longer run calls started helping out.) They meet on the first Tuesday of each month at 7:30 p.m. at the fire hall. Anyone who is interested can contact any auxiliary member.

Having come this far, the group is pleased with the community’s support and remains hopeful for the future with the fair, which comprises almost half of its fund-raising income, profiting between $2,000 and $3,000 in a good year.

The raffle continues to be a success, with tickets now becoming available in June by members and firefighters; if there are any left, they are also sold at the fair trailer. This year so many were sold early on that they ran out before the fair. The winner was announced Saturday night of fair week.

"It’s nice to hear the public say they enjoy coming back each year to support a local organization," said Croft. More PIONEERS, page A18

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