Crews finishing prep on Appalachian Fair

David Floyd • Aug 17, 2019 at 7:24 PM

In total, it takes about six weeks for workers to put together the Appalachian Fair, a regional festival in Gray that draws about 200,000 visitors.

The fair is one of the largest events of its kind in Tennessee.

“We’re definitely the largest in this area,” said Phil Booher, the fair’s manager.

In its 93rd year, the fair will run from Monday to next Saturday, and with the opening only two days away, crews were putting the finishing touches Saturday on stands and rides set up along the fair’s midway. Booher said James H. Drew Exposition’s midway has been involved in the fair for about 60 years.

Clifford Barnett was one of the workers stocking the carnival booths on Saturday, lining the bar at the top of a tent with an army of stuffed animals. He’s been helping set up the fair for about a week now.

“It takes a long time sometimes,” Barnett said. “That’s why we came a week before so we can get everything set up because we have a few more games to put up than we had at the last spot.”

Tony Brown, who operates the Himalaya ride, watched as crews put the finishing touches on another ride on the midway at around noon on Saturday.

The Himalaya, which rotates riders up-and-down slopes and through a tunnel, is already ready to go. It took about nine workers two-and-a-half days to put together the attraction, Brown said, which has 3,000 individual parts.

“I have five on payroll, and so I hire local guys,” Brown said, “and when these local guys come out and help me set up or tear down that ride, they always tell me every single time, ‘We have a new respect for what you guys do. This is hard work.’”

The ride only goes up six times a year, he said, because many events don’t need a ride that big. It also requires a large payroll and three trailers to move.

“It’s a workhorse,” he said. It’s also one of the most popular attractions on the midway on any given week, Brown said.

Blake Barding from Hawkins County has been showing Hereford cattle at the fair for 52 years. He was in one of the empty livestock buildings early Saturday afternoon getting ready for the event.

“This place in my opinion is the best fair in the state of Tennessee,” he said. “I think so, and I think most people would agree with me. It’s clean. The people that operate it are A-No. 1, so that’s the reason everybody keeps coming back.”

The competition at the Appalachian Fair, Barding said, is also better than many of the other fairs he’s attended in the past.

Barnett said working and setting up fairs is the most fun job he’s ever had.

“This is a good time, man,” he said. “You give people Teddy bears, and it warms their heart up.”

Aside from the midway, the fair will also feature numerous exhibits, musical performances and a demolition derby on Friday and Saturday. You can find a full schedule of events on the Appalachian Fair website at appalachianfair.com.

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