CLEARFIELD - Parents pushing strollers and teenage girls in cowboy boots are among the 115,000 people who attend the Clearfield County Fair each year, which wrapped up Saturday night.
Between restaurant stops, turnpike tolls and trips to a local electrical store, the fair generates $1.6 million in revenue for the area and $3.2 million for the state annually, said manager Greg Hallstrom, making it the No. 1 attraction in Clearfield.
"We're giving people something that they don't have to travel out of state, or hundreds of miles, to attend," he said.
Amber Carns and her husband, Jim Carns, fry up a few orders of Pappy’s Dippy Pizza for customers. The Carns are just one of many vendors to work around the clock at the Clearfield County Fair.
Hallstrom said last Sunday's attendance was a record: 25,000 to 27,000 people. But for the handful of remaining local vendors, many of whom take a week's vacation from their full-time jobs for it, the fair also means 15-hour workdays, late nights and early mornings.
Some said they do it purely to make extra money, but many said they do it because the fair feels like home.
Working at Pappy's Dippy Pizza, Amber Carns of Grampian plates a pile of deep-fried dough wedges and dusts them in Parmesan cheese, as her husband, Jim, ladles ranch and marinara sauce onto plastic foam plates. Johanna Sedgwick works a register up front and hands the purchase to the first of many in a long line of hungry customers. The pizza cart is only 10 years old, but Carns said her family has been selling food at the Clearfield County Fair for 45 years.
It started as a beef sandwich cart run by her grandparents, Tilt and Pat Haversack of Hyde, she said. The sandwich stop no longer exists - although people still ask about it, according to Carns' aunt, Theresa Welch. The family's Candy Wagon fudge stand remains and now stands side-by-side with Pappy's.
Although the extra income helps, Amber Carns said they do it because people love how happy the food makes their customers.
"It's that good," she said. "It's definitely different than any other kind of pizza. They can't get it anywhere else."
Another fair staple is Mabel's Potato Swirls, which has been around since 1968.
When owner Mabel Rossman put the stand up for sale in 1999, Lewis Rowles of Curwensville jumped at the chance to buy it and has been running it ever since, going through roughly 2,000 pounds of potatoes each year. He doesn't know why he bought it, he said, and he certainly doesn't do it to churn out a huge profit, because Clearfield is the only fair he attends.
"We're fair people," he said of himself and other local vendors, and they do it because they like what the fair stands for: friends, family and community.
It's even worth the long days and the hard labor that go into cleaning out the fryers every night, Rowles said.
DuBois couple Tom Hewitt and his wife, Polly, sell Kountry Kitchen Kettle Korn at about three dozen other local events, starting with Groundhog Day in Punxsutawney and ending with Indiana's holiday light-up night the Friday before Thanksgiving, but Clearfield's is the only county fair on their list.
They went into business in 2001, Hewitt said, in the hopes of earning extra money after both retired, and he realized his state pension wouldn't be enough. He blamed Harrisburg, saying he's gone years without a cost of living increase.
"We needed additional income," Hewitt said, "so this is what we do."
His wife also makes candles that they sell as a side business when traveling. They have gone as far as Kentucky.
He likes to keep statistics for people to see when they buy the kettle corn, he said. A sign posted on his stand said he's popped more than 125 million corn kernels in close to 14 years in business. Welch said although the supplemental income is nice, all locals keep coming back to spend time together and do something for their friends, neighbors and all fairgoers. Even the money they make gets reinvested in the area, she said.
Out-of-town vendors who sell food or clothing take the money with them when they leave, she said, but she and her family members live here, and the money "comes back to the community."
Welch said she was just a child when her parents started selling the sandwiches and fudge, watching as her mother, Pat, poured a batch of peanut butter fudge on a cookie sheet to cool.
Over the years, they've run a handful of food carts at the fair, including a cotton candy stand, and it's a way to bring the family together and get them involved. Nearby, a group of her great-nieces and great-nephews stand outside the fudge cart to talk to their great-grandmother, making them the fourth generation of food vendors.
Most are children, and a few barely teenagers, but one day they'll all help run the carts, too, she said.