By Rebecca Sloan
One resident said the event was the biggest thing to ever happen in this rural community.
GUSTAVUS — Although morning mist shrouded the cornfields and a full moon glowed in the pre-dawn sky, rural Gustavus was wide awake and ready to party.
At 6 a.m. at the Double L Ranch on Barclay North Road, about 1,000 people were packed into a rodeo arena watching live TV on a big screen and waiting for their own chance to appear live on television.
Soon the crowd would disperse and walk about a quarter-mile up the road to the farm of Henry and Linda Lipps for the much-anticipated live broadcast of ABC’s “Good Morning America.”
Most folks were pretty darned excited.
“This is the biggest thing that’s ever happened in Gustavus,” declared Gustavus resident Norma Burns. “I’m thrilled to be here experiencing it. I spent a lot of time at the Lipps’ farm when I was growing up, and this is just wonderful.”
The excitement mounted when the crowd left the Double L and trekked toward the Lipps’ farm.
The scene was surreal as the typically quiet and desolate Barclay North Road became a busy thoroughfare, buzzing with law enforcement, news media and, of course, eager Brad Paisley fans.
“I’m a huge Brad Paisley fan,” said Darlene Wilson, who had risen at 2 a.m. and driven all the way from Elyria to see Paisley perform as part of “GMA”’s live broadcast. “He’s one of my favorites.”
“It’s pretty amazing that he’s coming here,” added Gloria Lesho of Gustavus. “Of all the places around – what made them choose Gustavus?”
Cheers and screams erupted from the crowd when Paisley himself appeared on Barclay North Road along with “GMA” news anchors Diane Sawyer, Chris Cuomo and Robin Roberts.
Flanked by foggy cornfields and patrolled overhead by hovering helicopters, the four celebrities greeted the ecstatic public and then led the way toward the Lipps farm.
The party had officially begun.
At the Lipps’ farm, a concert stage had been assembled in front of a red bank barn, and ABC camera crews had erected sophisticated-looking sound and camera equipment throughout the grassy yard.
It was nothing short of amazing how this ordinary Trumbull County farm had been transformed into a state-of-the-art television set almost overnight.
ABC’s Kyle Morris said an enormous amount of planning went into the effort.
“We basically built an entire production stage starting from nothing,” Morris said. “It was challenging because we had to account for everything from shelter for people, to phone lines” to portable toilet facilities.
ABC’s Bridgette Maney, director of publicity for “GMA,” said the planning phase took several months.
“We’re the first TV program to broadcast live from a moving train, and we’ve been in planning mode since last spring,” Maney said. “Everything has to be right on time because if we’re off by a couple of minutes, it can ruin the entire schedule. The details behind all of this are unbelievable. To ensure the train is on time, we’ve had to check for railway tunnels and prune trees and all sorts of things. Our staff traveled the planned train route ahead of time first by train, then by car and even by helicopter to look at the landscape and make sure there wouldn’t be tree branches in the way of the train.”
Maney said “GMA” relied on about 90 ABC producers and technicians, as well as people from Amtrak, to coordinate the Gustavus whistle-stop live broadcast.
“GMA” also relied heavily on the cooperation of locals, particularly the Lipps family.
“Keeping things a secret for so long was a really big challenge,” Maney said. “We were fortunate to work with the Lipps family. They did a good job at keeping things quiet.”
The Lipps also did a good job at keeping their cool even when Sunday evening’s windstorm knocked out their electricity.
“We were without power for about 30 hours, but it didn’t really affect what [‘GMA’] was doing,” Henry Lipps said. “They had generators and kept on working. They put up the concert stage Sunday night, but the wind didn’t damage it.”
While crews were working on building a stage and setting up equipment at the Lipps farm, the “GMA” whistle-stop train was traveling from Massachusetts on Monday to Niagara Falls, N.Y., on Tuesday, carrying Sawyer, Cuomo, Roberts and “GMA” meteorologist Sam Champion.
Champion said living on the train has been “a lot more fun than I thought it would be,” and Cuomo called it an “amazing experience.”
“It’s allowed me to spend quality time with my co-workers, and it’s allowed me to meet so many wonderful people,” Cuomo said. “We are on your TV every morning. It’s nice for you to let us come to your hometowns and broadcast in person. Thank you.”
At 9 a.m. sharp Wednesday, at the conclusion of the Paisley concert, the “GMA” news anchors said goodbye to Gustavus and hurried from the Lipps farm toward their specially equipped Amtrak train, which was waiting in the misty distance beyond the Lipps’ soybean field.
“A lot of effort has also gone into equipping the train,” Maney said. “It has eight passenger cars and three locomotives. Two of the cars are antiques owned by a gentleman named Bennett Levin. One is known as the Pennsylvania 120, and the other is known as the Warrior Ridge car. Both of these cars have historical significance.”
Maney said the “GMA” whistle-stop train has two gyroscopic satellite dishes that, with help from hovering helicopters, provide transmission capability even in inclement weather.
“GMA” will be broadcasting live today from Harpers Ferry, W.Va., and Friday from Washington, D.C.
Friday’s live broadcast will end “GMA”’s coverage of ABC’s “50 States in 50 Days” tour.
“Other ABC shows like ‘Nightline’ will continue where ‘GMA’ left off and report from a different state each day until the November election,” Maney explained, adding, “We are pleased with the coverage we’ve gotten here in Ohio. Ohio is such a swing state – such an important state in the election. We really wanted to come here and focus on how farmers have been affected by the economic issues in our country and how they are planning to vote.”
“GMA” news anchors interviewed presidential nominee John McCain and his wife, Cindy, at the Lipps farm Wednesday morning before the arrival of the Paisley concert crowd.
The farm was locked down by Secret Service agents during the interview.
Henry and Linda Lipps said meeting McCain and his wife was thrilling.
“I have great respect for the man,” Linda said.
After Wednesday’s Paisley concert was over and the “GMA” train had moved on, Henry Lipps stood amid ABC crews disassembling sound and stage equipment, shook his head and said, “This has been awesome. That’s the only word for it. Never in a million years did I think anything like this would happen on our farm.”