County fairs more than fun and games

August 18, 2003|by DON AINES

WILLIAMSON, Pa. - The Franklin County Fair is more than funnel cakes, carnival rides and livestock judging. It's also a business through which the organizers have less than a week to bring in enough paying customers to balance out the more than $100,000 the fair costs to produce.

"It all has to be made and recouped in six days' business," said Robert Eckstine, president of the fair. If the event runs in the red, the fair has to take out a loan to pay off its creditors, he said.

In the past few years, the fair has run up a deficit totaling more than $30,000, according to Gerald W. Reichard of Waynesboro, Pa., the fair's secretary. This year some changes and additions were made to the fair, but some of the more costly attractions will not be returning, he said.


Eckstine said the fair cut costs by approximately $17,000. About $5,000 of that was saved on midway entertainment and about $8,000 by not booking a rodeo.

"We've never had any real good success in someone coming forward to sponsor that," Reichard said of the rodeos.

The days of paying a $3 admission per car are over, but prices are unchanged from last year, Reichard said. At $4 per person for Monday through Thursday nights and $6 for Friday and Saturday, he said the fair still is a bargain.

"Where can you go to a tractor pull for $6?" he asked.

The fair also earns money for space rental to vendors, a commission on some food sales and entry fees for some contests. The Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture kicked in about $25,000 last year in reimbursements for eligible expenditures, such as building and grounds maintenance, insurance, wages, planning, cleanup, and prizes and ribbons given to the mostly youthful contestants from 4-H and Future Farmers of America.

The weather has as much to do with breaking even as the cost of a ticket, according to Eckstine. "If you have a $10,000 event and it gets rained out, you still have a contract to pay off," he said.

Liability insurance is another major cost, at about $11,000 for the week, Eckstine said.

Cleaning up after more than 200 dairy cows, heifers and steers, not to mention the goats, horses, rabbits and other animals, is no small job. Last year more than six tons of peanut shells were used as bedding. Combining them with manure made excellent compost for mushroom growers, who hauled the mixture away.

"It's back to sawdust and straw this year," primarily because peanut production was hurt by last year's drought, Reichard said. The fair found a local farmer willing to cart away this year's bovine byproduct for fertilizer.

Since the Chambersburg Rod and Gun Club, where the fair is held, is not connected to a sewage system, the fair also must pay for the disposal of the waste and trash generated by 25,000 humans, Reichard said.

Volunteers from the rod and gun club and other groups make the fair possible, Eckstine said.

Lining up contestants is not as easy as it used to be, said Reichard. For example, there are 178 needlework classifications, but only 73 have entries and in more than a few cases, only one person entered.

Reichard's involvement in the fair goes back almost 40 years, when it evolved from a series of countywide agricultural competitions.

"In 1965, I think I was chairman of the poultry competition," he said. From 1971 until the late 1980s, he was fair manager or president, but got out of it for a few years before being drawn back.

"It gets in your blood," he said. "You definitely aren't in it for the money."

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