EBENSBURG- The Fairgrounds revenue was diminished by last year's low ticket sales for a fair week plagued by steady rain. But preserving a people's way of life is a familiar task for soldier-turned-fairgrounds president Philip Rice and members of the 11 Cambria County Legion Recreation Association posts that have owned the Cambria County fairgrounds since the 1930s.
Children's hair flapped away from their smiling faces on Monday as amusement rides spun them around, and people filled the grandstand for Top-40 hit country music artist Jason Michael Carroll. And food vendors- most of them fixtures of the fair for decades- served a constant stream of customers.
"How many years have you been here?," Rice asked Bob Miller of Miller and Shank's Sugar Waffles, who sells Rice's childhood-favorite fair treat.
Mirror photos by Patrick Waksmunski
Garett Disong, 11, of Mineral Point competes atop his 11-year-old pony, Shooter, in the straight barrel event.
"Since I was a little puppy helping my grandfather," said Miller, 60.
The carefree mood at the 121st Cambria County Fair on Monday didn't reflect the behind-the-scenes concerns that Rice had prior to opening day on Sunday. Rice and fair volunteers are hoping to orchestrate a comeback from last year's fair that was washed out by seven continuous days of rain.
"Revenue at the gate last year was one-third of what we anticipated. That's what we had to operate this year" Rice said.
"Without substantial donations from our sponsors, we wouldn't have made it to opening day this year," he said.
There's been not much more than a drizzle since opening day on Sunday, Rice said.
"The fair has been our life," said Martha Miller, who volunteers to set up the fair's agricultural events with her sister Marie Perez. "We grew up with the fair and we want to share it with the community."
Much of the 73-acre fairgrounds are dedicated especially to showing children's livestock and agriculture exhibits.
"[The children] work all year to come to fair week," Horseback riding games announcer Jerry Wicks said.
Agriculture is an industry with a $306 million annual impact to Cambria County, according to the county commissioners.
"Agriculture helps fuel our economy. It is an important asset to the overall diversity of our county," County Commissioners Chief of Staff Dave Knepper said at the fair.
Ebensburg Borough police escorted a parade of 50 antique tractors dated as far back as 1937 through downtown Ebensburg on Monday. The parade turned heads of residents who watched from their porches and sidewalks.
"I was born and raised on these things," said tractor owner Ray Fenchak of Colver.
During his youth, Rice and his friends would gaze at the Cambria County Fair amusement rides through windows of the Central Cambria Middle School and count the hours to the end of school.
As a soldier returning home from Iraq in 2003, Rice ran into his childhood friends at the fair.
"It was a great way for me to come back," said Rice. "I had so many fond memories."
This year's Cambria County fair continues through Saturday at 883 North Julian Street, Ebensburg.
Mirror Staff Writer Russ O'Reilly is at 946-7435.