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Wineka column – How can anyone resist Elephant Ears or the allure of Gorilla Girl?

I started having Rowan County Fair fever Sunday about the time I saw the setup for “Gabora the Gorilla Girl.”
Or it might have been when I saw Tyler Overcash washing down the “Elephant Ears” concession.
It could have been while talking to the folks at Circle D Farms about the heifers they would be bringing to the fair this afternoon.
I definitely sensed the fair’s arrival when I saw Zane Robertson of Faith ordering a hamburger from the Millbridge Ruritan booth, which had opened early to serve all the people working.
The Ruritans will be selling their chicken and dumplings again, by the way.
Sunday was setup day at the County Fairgrounds off Julian Road. The fair started today and runs through Saturday.
Maybe the busiest man Sunday was Corky Powers, president and owner of Powers Great American Midway.
Deep down, Powers is a mechanic who loves to be around big equipment.
So he’s hands-on, and Sunday afternoon he orchestrated the placement of rides, food booths and entertainment venues that make up the midway.
“It’s like a complete city moving overnight,” he says.
Powers speaks the truth. Most of the rides arriving and being assembled Sunday at the County Fairgrounds were torn down early Sunday morning at the close of the Cabarrus County Fair in Concord and trucked by tractor-trailer to Salisbury.
In terms of distance and the amount of equipment being moved, it was “like kindergarten to us,” says Powers, who often is the carnival provider for much bigger fairs, including the N.C. State Fair for four years running.
The Powers company also is used to traveling a lot farther between venues. Before Concord, for example, it had provided the midway attractions in Allentown, Pa. Workers tore down that midway on a Monday, traveled almost 600 miles with 100 loads of equipment and were up and running in Concord on a Friday.
Like pieces of a giant jigsaw puzzle, more than 30 rides and attractions were being squeezed Sunday into spots Powers had mapped out a week earlier. He sprayed paint on the ground to mark exactly where each piece had to go.
He’s an artist.
Just the names of the rides can spark a feeling of excitement.
Who can resist rides such as the Freak Out, Wiggle Wurm, Ring of Fire, the Sizzler, the Zipper, the Spider, the Quad Runner, the Vertigo, the Vortex, Jalopy Junction, the Super Shot, the Gravitron Starship or Swing Buggy?
Corky Powers represents the fourth generation of his family in the carnival business. His great-grandfather started in the food and game end of it, and Corky’s wife (Deborah), daughter and son-in-law are heavily involved in the business.
In fact, 19 family members are part of the operation, which employs 300 to 350 people directly or indirectly at its busiest times of the season.
Deborah Powers oversees the food trucks, 95 percent of which are run by family members.
The more you talk to Corky Powers and others connected to the carnival, the more they don’t fit into the stereotypes ó something he’s always battling.
“It’s a real business, like any other business, like Tractor Supply down the street,” Powers says. “… You either love it or you hate it. You jump into this business with two feet, or you don’t make it.”
Powers insists on certain standards for people who work his carnival. They wear uniform shirts. They pass criminal background and drug screenings. He doesn’t allow dangling earrings or smoking or eating in the carnival itself.
He has a traveling laundromat. He strongly supports the academy that provides schooling for the children who travel with the carnival, including some of his own grandchildren.
His midway offers an ATM machine and rest stations to change diapers and wash hands.
Powers’ on-site office is plush and would be the envy of any executive. He brags on the talented pool of people who work for him, including six certified welders, a couple of electricians and several inspectors.
The operation travels with five fully equipped shop trailers, much like NASCAR teams would use.
The Powers Midway relies on 16 generators for power, supplying eight million watts of electricity.
“We could run a small city,” Powers says.
As you might expect, carnival operators face a lot of government regulation, especially for safety. Every state, county and city seems to have different policies, Powers says, and he finds himself answering to labor, health and fire departments, while the Department of Transportation considers his operation a trucking company because of all the stuff he moves.
Powers goes to 20 fairs each season up and down the East Coast, from the home base state of New York to North Carolina, places where he also has shops for winter repairs and refurbishing.
Every year, he tries to add three or four new rides. This year’s Rowan County Fair has nine rides that haven’t been here before.
Besides watching some of the rides going up Sunday, I walked through the exhibit halls, which were in various stages of preparation.
Anne Zaffino was working hard at the “food preserve” section where pickles, beets, green beans, jams, tomato sauce and other sealed jars were lining the shelves for today’s judging.
In another hall, Rowan Republicans and Democrats already had set up their booths, as had the Good Neighbors of Rowan County, the group which successfully fought being annexed by the city of Salisbury.
Overcash, who was washing the Elephant Ears concession, said owner Elsie Beaver has had this particular spot at the Rowan County Fair for 30 years.
The stand also goes to a fair in Macon, Ga., the Cabarrus County Fair, the Dixie Classic in Winston-Salem and the State Fair in Raleigh.
Out in the show barn, I ran into the Deals, who operate Circle D Farms off Saw Road in China Grove.
Sheri Lee Deal teaches agriculture at Northwest Cabarrus High, and she has been supervising some of her students on a special summertime project leading up to the fair.
The kids, who have visited Circle D twice a week since July, have been responsible for keeping project books and monitoring the training, feeding and grooming of seven heifers ó a program giving them a total picture of what it takes to raise cattle, Deal says.
The heifers have grown to 800 pounds, eight times bigger than some of the girl students who are 90 pounds dripping wet. So it’s important for them to learn how to handle the heifers when it comes to judging early Tuesday evening.
“It’s a beauty pageant for cattle,” Deal explains.
She and her husband, Eric, and father-in-law, Oscho, are raising the heifers as breeders for their hormone-free, family-raised beef.
The trio were in the fair barn Sunday afternoon scoping out the stalls where their yearlings would reside until Wednesday morning, when the dairy cattle start moving in.
Because none of the animals had arrived yet Sunday, the barn didn’t quite have the good smells it will have the rest of the week, starting today.
Nor could I smell the fried dough of funnel cakes and elephant ears or the wholesome goodness of chicken and dumplings. There weren’t any screams coming from the Vortex.
But fair time is here. Just ask the Gorilla Girl.

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