EBENSBURG - Cambria County Fair organizers are hoping for one of the best years they've had in recent memory with an anticipated turnout of 40,000 people or more for the 122nd annual event.
Inclement weather and a depressed economy kept attendance low over the past few years, said fair board President Philip Rice, including constant torrential rains in 2011 that nearly meant the end of the fair.
"We only got 11,000 that year," he said, and last year crowds only just made it above the 28,000 break-even mark.
Mirror photo by J.D. Cavrich
Brandon Wyman of Mount Pleasant, working for Tropical Amusements, scrubs the deck of the “Dragon Wagon”?Thursday before the Cambria County Fair opens Sunday.
Rice said the fair hasn't hit the 36,500 10-year average for a number of years. But this year will be different.
"We're on the upward swing," Rice said, "and will match or exceed our 10-year-average."
The fair kicks off Sunday just before Labor Day, as always, with the competition and crowning of the Young Miss Cambria County Fair starting at 11 a.m. and a concert at 7 p.m.
If you go
What: Cambria County Fair
Where: Fairgrounds along North Julian Street
When: Gates open by 9 a.m.; rides start at noon Sunday, Monday and Sept. 8, and 4 p.m. Tuesday through Friday
Cost: $8, $5 on Tuesday
This year's double feature is country singers Charlie Worsham and Maggie Rose, who will perform back-to-back sets.
"We have a really great lineup of entertainment this year," Rice said, especially with rising star Dustin Lynch, who is to perform Monday night at the grandstand before a fireworks show closes out the night.
Lynch's hits include "Cowboys and Angels," "Wild in Your Smile" and "She Cranks My Tractor."
And there are some new family-fun features, including First Bites, a catch-and-release experience geared toward helping kids snag their first fish.
First Bites uses barbless hooks to help the kids make their catch and pose in front of a realistic backdrop. Then the fish are put back.
"They can [serve] 100 kids an hour," he said. "It provides a positive learning experience in a controlled environment that promotes conservation, family fun and responsible fishing."
And to draw in big crowds, a Sept. 7 monster truck show hosted by KSR Motorsports will wrap up the fair with its main attraction: the behemoth Bigfoot truck "crushing cars and making mayhem," Rice said.
Rice said organizers always aim to bring back popular events and features, with this year marking the second appearance of No Joe's Clown Circus.
The troupe will be performing shows on the midway throughout the week, he said, including two acrobatic stunt shows each Monday and Sept. 6 and 7.
Also returning is the fair's beer tent, the license for which was secured too late in the season last year to be adequately promoted, Rice said.
Sponsored by Johnstown's Inco Beverage Inc., the tent will be set up in the shade of a large oak tree near the grandstand entrance and serve customers every day except Tuesday.
Local musicians will perform acoustic sets for patrons, and drawings will be held.
Many longtime vendors will be back, as well, having already set up earlier this week to be ready for big crowds.
Jacquie Ritchey, who said her husband and his family have run the Billi Jo's concession stand at the fair for 14 years, is looking forward to the fair.
"We're always anticipating a good week. Last year, we had a great year," she said.
Rice said as residents of Cambria and its surrounding counties continue to keep their belts tight, so too have fair organizers. The $8 admission price was held yet again this year that includes everything except food and beverage purchases, pony rides and a few other carnival shows.
"I think it's a really good entertainment deal for the area, and we're really stuck to our guns to keep it that way," he said. "You can't beat the quality, variety and amount of entertainment we provide for $8."
Looking back on the last few years, Rice said he's pulling for a large turnout and giving people the most for their money.
"It's not going to rain this year," he said, smiling. "I'm pretty confident we're going to have a really good week for the fair."