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The Peapicker’s pa and other fair tales

Bob Cox • Oct 30, 2017 at 12:00 PM

The Appalachian District Fair has come and gone again this year without my participation. In my younger days, I never missed a visit to it. I have warmhearted memories of my annual visits to the fair.

I chaperoned my grandmother, Ethel Bowman Carroll, and her close friend and relative, Lena Reedy, who were a hoot when they got together. It was worth a trip to the fair just to supervise their antics and listen to their rhetoric. They never met a stranger.

Granny and Lena were always on the lookout for loose change on the fairgrounds. Those were the days when people bent over to pick up a penny. They did right to the end. Finding currency was really hitting the jackpot. One trip rewarded Granny with two 20-dollar bills, which she talked about for years.

Another individual who was a regular at the fair was Tennessee Ernie Ford's father, Clarence Thomas Ford. Although I do not recall seeing his celebrated son there, the elder Mr. Ford drew a crowd because he was so popular and enjoyable to be around, exhibiting his hilarity to all who surrounded him.

Clarence, according to his famous songster son, liked to remind people who exhibited a tendency to be a bit rambunctious in a crowd that, while they all had their liberty, the guys down in the city jail didn't. Mr. Ford graduated from this life in 1970. I still think about him when the upcoming fair is mentioned.

Of all the entertainers that graced the Appalachian Fair stage, without question, I always enjoyed Sonny James and the Southern Gentleman the most. My favorite songs of his were "Young Love," "A World of Our Own," "I'll Never Find Another You" and "Born to Be With You." The entertainer passed away in February 2016.

Another country music performer who regularly brought his show to the fair was Porter Wagner. He died in 2007.

Note the pictured Appalachian District Fair Association Inc. Statement of Operations for the Fiscal Year Ended October 31, 1961. I enrolled in East Tennessee State College (later University) that fall.

Note the names of the officers and directors at the bottom of the report.

I became acquainted with Roy Brown, who put his heart and soul in making sure the fair exhibits were cared for and appropriate for fairgoers. He took his job seriously and was always ready to engage in conversation with fair visitors.

Dallas Snyder drafted me into his Oak Grove Baptist Church choir after I moved to Boones Creek and began attending that church. I recall he switched me from being a bass to a tenor. His advice to me was to "make a joyful noise," regardless what part I sang. To this day, I am a "tenor" in my West Columbia, S.C., church with one major change. Instead of making a "joyful noise," I now just make a "noise."

I recognize the name Niles Gray, who worked at London Hardware Co. He supplied me with model airplanes that came unassembled, and you had to glue the parts together. I also patronized the kits from Humphries Equipment Co. at 304 West Market.

Let me conclude this column with the words from Paul B. Carr (Carr Brothers, Inc., Oak at Millard streets). In 1926, Paul sent in some comments to the Johnson City Chronicle addressing the subject, "What I Think of The District Fair."

In his words: "I want to thank you for your letter of recent date asking me to become a member of the Advisory Board of your Association and wish to say that I shall be glad to act in this capacity.

"I am glad to see you get behind this Fair, as I have always felt that a fair was an institution that would not only benefit city folk, but also do a tremendous lot of good for country people.

"There are a very few of the city people that realize the potential wealth that is wrapped up in the rural sections that could be developed through proper handling. In our section, we can raise a diversity of crops, and we have a very fine grazing section.

"With just a little bit of encouragement, money and the proper part at the head of a farming committee, we could have a canning factory, creamery, packing house, etc. all here in Johnson City, bringing thousands and thousands of dollars outside of Johnson City's trade territory into this territory whereby all of us would reap innumerable benefits.

"The Appalachian Fair will have a tendency to make our farmers raise better stock of all descriptions, finer poultry. and in fact, make this a better community to live in.

"Wishing for you much success for the Appalachian Fair, I am Yours very truly, Paul B. Carr."

Reach Bob Cox at boblcox@bcyesteryear.com or www.bcyesteryear.com.

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