Despite the tragedy in Medina County, a tractor enthusiast said steam engines are welcome at the fair, although there are none there this year.
By NANCY TULLIS
VINDICATOR SALEM BUREAU
LISBON -- Dawson Irey says this is his last year as a Columbiana County Fair volunteer.
This year, he says he means it.
Irey, 84, of Salem, is one of about a dozen volunteers who work the fair driving the tractor shuttles between the main area of the fair and the parking lot on the north side.
"Next year I'll be 85, so it will be time to let someone else have a turn," he said.
That socializing, keeping up with news in the agriculture world, keeps him coming back.
"I just enjoy doing it," Irey said. "I meet a lot of nice people."
Monday morning, the men gathered outside the fair office after receiving their instructions from fair Manager Terri Hunter.
"Hi, Dawson!" a fair worker on a golf cart shouts and waves as Irey drives by on a familiar green and yellow John Deere tractor, a metal flatbed trailer with benches in tow.
Irey has volunteered for 10 years, and each year, his wife, Evelyn, tells him it should be his last.
Gearing up: "Today is just a dry run," Irey said as he filled the tractor with diesel fuel. "There's not many people here yet. Tomorrow's when it will get busy."
He recalled times when he worked as late as 1 a.m. "The people are having a good time and just don't know when to go home," he said, laughing. Now he limits service to the daytime shift, finishing at 3 p.m.
Irey operated a dairy farm in the Guilford Lake area for more than 30 years, milking about 40 head of Jersey cows. He never brought animals to the fair back then, but enjoyed socializing with other farmers.
Monday was Exhibitor's Day, with no admission charge. Carnival and food vendors set up tents, exhibitors organized booths, and fair entries arrived by trailer, pickup truck and the family car.
Antique tractors: On top of the hill at the northwest side of the fair, tractor enthusiasts were setting up an exhibit of antique tractors and other farm equipment, continuing a tradition that began in 1995, the 150th anniversary of the fair.
Tractor enthusiast Jim Powell of Salem said the display usually has about 75 to 80 tractors, some from the 1920s. Some are still in use on area farms, he noted.
Bill Rudibaugh of Lisbon said his 1948 lawn tractor, a Quaker Mule, was handmade in Salem by Earl Grate. He said Grate made a number of the tractors from a garage on the city's south side during the 1940s and '50s.
He said the tractor is powered by a 3-horsepower engine and includes a plow, discs and cultivators, all also handmade by Grate. The tractors were also used to pull mowers and used to mow golf courses, he said.
Powell said some of the antique tractors are used to smooth the grandstand track between harness races, and others are used to run the thrashing and baling machines.
The group will demonstrate the antique thrashing machines and hay baler daily between 5 and 6 p.m., Powell said.
Reaction to accident: They lamented the explosion Sunday of a steam engine on a vintage tractor at the Medina County Fair that killed four people and injured about 50 others.
"We don't have any steam engines here, but we would welcome them," said Jim Powell of Salem. "That was a tragedy, a very unfortunate accident."