SALISBURY — Sunday, the fleet of trucks rolled in from Interstate 85 … trailers bearing favorite carnival rides and amusements, concession stands, generators, tools.
And a small army of workers, who by midmorning were painting lines on the empty midway, stretching out cords, unpacking and setting up the rides.
Some of the animals also arrived early, including some sheep shorn Saturday and scheduled to be shown today.
By dusk, lights were already on, flags were flying, stuffed toys were hanging from the eaves by the games.
You could tell the county fair had arrived.
The 62nd annual Rowan County Agricultural & Industrial Fair opens today at 4 p.m. and runs through Saturday.
For opening day, adult admission is free with a donation of four cans of food to Rowan Helping Ministries.
This year’s fair will feature a lamb dress-up show Tuesday, a truck pull Friday, a medieval tournament on Saturday and more.
A brand-new website, www.rowancountyfair.net, has full details on this year’s fair.
Johnny Love, manager with the Rowan County Fair Association, said that this year’s fair is set to be one of the best ever, so long as the weather cooperates.
“It’s gonna be not really hot during the day and cool at night,” Love said.
The fair offers what Love called “a link to a lifestyle that’s come and gone, for the most part.”
“The agricultural fair is the only experience some kids have with the agricultural side of Rowan County,” Love said.
“Some kids don’t know eggs come from chickens,” Love went on, “and they think corn comes from a can, and beans come pre-seasoned.”
That’s a sentiment many fair exhibitors are likely to share.
Henry Hampton, owner of Lazy 5 Ranch, was on hand Sunday morning waiting for animals from his zoo to be delivered.
It’s a sentimental experience, he said, because it’s been “almost 50 years” since his family showed animals at the fair, Hampton said.
“There’ll be llama, oxen, Sicilian donkeys, horses, sheep and goats,” Hampton said, alongside a display of antique farm equipment.
Hampton said the fair provides a positive experience that not a lot of kids get today.
Years ago, Hampton said, “there was just about no one who didn’t have a relative who had a farm.”
Today, Hampton said, it’s the other way around, with “just a small percentage of the population that has any experience with agriculture.”
He said that leads to misunderstandings, such as a confrontation with People for the Ethical Treatment for Animals.
In June, PETA named Lazy 5 alongside other animal attractions in a lawsuit against the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, alleging that the government wasn’t doing enough to protect wounded birds.
Hampton said that lawsuit has since been dismissed.
“Farming is not evil,” Hampton said, and said he hopes that seeing farm animals up close and personal will dispel the misinformation that he said is prevalent on the Internet.
At the same time, Hampton said, people do need to realize what goes on in farms, and where food comes from.
And the emotions that people feel for animals, Hampton said, “make them more in touch with the real world.”
Inside the livestock barn, Olivia Horning, a senior at Carson High, tended to ewes that the school’s Future Farmers of America chapter will show today.
It’s her third year showing sheep, Horning said.
She said she enjoys not only the showmanship — working with the animals, gaining their trust and developing a relationship with them — but also, “getting to show the public” those skills.
“And, a lot of people just don’t know where their food comes from,” Horning said.
Her mother, Judy Horning, said she appreciates the livestock shows for “the responsibility that it teaches.”
How someone treats animals, she said, often reflects that person’s relationship with people.
Down the way, the concessionaires were ready to start cooking.
“We sell blooming onions, ribbon fries, chicken hoagies or chicken cheesesteak, whatever you’d like to call it,” said Kay Corriher, who owns Kay’s concession stand along with husband, Robert.
“I love this business,” Kay said. “You make a lot of good friends, you get to meet a lot of different people,” she said.
And cook a whole lot of food, too.
“I’m going to start off with about 250 pounds of potatoes,” Corriher said, “about 15 bags of onions, about 50 pounds of chicken and a box of lemons.”
A box of 150, that is.
Chad Ritchie, of Beaver Food Service of China Grove, said the Rowan County Fair is one of a number of events they work from here to West Virginia.
Their newest offering, according to the sign: “Sweet & Savory Bacon Funnel Cake, Drizzled with Chocolate.”
“Well, we’d been noticing bacon had become popular,” Ritchie said. “We put our heads together and came up with that.”
“Our signature is the red velvet (funnel cake), with cream cheese icing,” Ritchie said.
Out at the exhibit halls, first-time exhibitor Cathy Eller looked over her African violet, which she’s entered in competition.
She said she also entered a crocheted blanket and ruffle scarves. “I’ve been doing it for years, and my husband said, why don’t you try it for once?” Eller said.
Her son, Michael Mathis, 20, entered an anime-style drawing of a character he created, named Ember.
“It kind of just popped up in my head,” Mathis said of the drawing, which he said took 36 hours to complete.
No matter what draws patrons out to the fair, the thrill of seeing something new, or trying something new, is sure to keep them coming back.
But Eller also said she hopes visitors, especially kids, learn something while they’re out there having fun.
Otherwise, she said, if knowledge of our agricultural past is lost, “we’re in trouble.”
Contact Hugh Fisher via the editor’s desk at 704-797-4244.