Let Voting Begin; Barnesville Pumpkin Turnout ‘Worst Ever’

Voting in the Nov. 6 general election will begin in Belmont County on Tuesday, with the expectation of a possible record turnout based on the fact that even before the balloting gets underway the board of elections office has been swamped with more than 8,000 absentee ballot applications.

Board of elections director Bill Shubat, an outspoken supporter of absentee voting because of its simplicity, said at least six voting booths will be set up in the lobby of the board office in St. Clairsville for those who want to vote prior to the Nov. 6 election. Three poll workers will be on hand to assist voters with filling out the necessary forms and checking identity before they cast their ballots.

Shubat admitted the sudden surge for absentee ballot application was for the most part the result of the statewide mailing of the applications by the secretary of state’s office. A major disagreement between the Democrats and Republicans as to how long the pre-election voting will last continues unresolved. A decision is still has not been reached on whether voting will be permitted on the last weekend preceding the Nov. 6 election. Shubat said the final word on that is still being awaited.

A record number of absentee ballots – 14,138 – were cast in the 2008 election and with the fast start on the election process this year, Shubat indicates that record could very well be broken. Each year, Shubat noted, it seems more and more people are casting absentee votes because they can do it in the ease and comfort of their homes. “It’s the easiest and best way to vote,” Shubat advised.

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“Worst ever.”

With those two words veteran weigh master for the Barnesville Pumpkin Festival – Darren Miller – summed up what happened Wednesday night during the celebrated weigh-in ceremony for the giant pumpkins coming in for the annual Barnesville Pumpkin Festival.

“Never in the 29 years I’ve been weighing these pumpkins has there been a day like this,” Miller declared. “The hot summer and the bad storms caused all the problems.” Only two growers from Barnesville had entries in the competition.

When the three-hour weigh-in ended at 9 p.m. only 12 pumpkins had been brought in to be weighed. By that time many of the huge crowd on hand to witness the big pumpkins left because they were tired of waiting for more of them to come in. There weren’t any for the last hour.

But earlier in the evening came one huge orange growth that survived the harsh summer weather and the savage winds. It tipped the scale at 1,500.5 pounds – three pounds shy of a record for the festival. It was brought in by Jay Johnston of Kimbolton who said simply that it took “a lot of work” to keep it growing and keep it from being destroyed. For his effort Kimbolton will receive the top prize of $1 per pound or $1,500.50 for his hard work.

One of the crew of men helping at the weigh-in, Todd Skinner of Barnesville, usually has pumpkin entries and has won the “King Pumpkin” title four times in the past 12 years. He didn’t have even one entry this year but it was not because he didn’t try. Mother Nature dealt him a crushing blow when near hurricane-type winds ripped a disastrous trail through Barnesville, destroying his pumpkin patch.

“We lost everything in that July storm. The wind totally destroyed our patch,” Skinner said solemnly as he described how the strong wind gusts tore all the leaves off the pumpkins he had growing next to his home located only a few blocks from where the festival is held in downtown Barnesville.

“The pumpkins were about the size of a beach ball and they were just getting to the point where they would start spreading out when the storm hit.” Skinner had the “King Pumpkin” last year with his entry that tipped the scale at 1,311 pounds. In 2008 his 1,175 pounder was a winner as was his entry of 909 pounds in 2004. His initial winning entry of 1,109 pounds came in 2000. That pumpkin was the first in the history of the festival to go over the 1,000-pound mark.

Usually, Skinner pointed out, he has his pumpkin patch in a little valley close to his home. “This year I moved the patch up the hill next to my home.” That was a mistake, he admits, because “the wind just tore us apart. It also caused a lot of damage to our home and all through Barnesville.”

Next year the festival will be celebrating its 50th year and big plans are in the making. When asked about his plans for that occasion, a sheepish smile crossed his face as he uttered, “I’m thinking about taking next year off.”

His wife, Donna, was at his side and Skinner admitted she has been a tremendous help in his pumpkin growing effort. When she was asked about next year’s plans, she almost laughed and said “I’m thinking about taking next year off, too.”

My guess is they’ll both be there covered and colored in orange.

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It took two tries but a contract has finally been awarded for repairing the crumbling walls and repaving the parking lot behind the Belmont County courthouse. To speed up the project, the Belmont County Commission held a continuation of its regular meeting on Friday and awarded the contract for the project to Lash Paving Inc. of Colerain on its bid of $160,120. The Lash bid was one of two submitted.

Bill Street of Street Engineering and Surveying, project engineer, said the project could begin in about two weeks after the legal paperwork is completed and a “notice to proceed” with the work is issued.

The same two firms submitted bids three weeks ago but the commissioners rejected them because they exceeded the cost estimate for the project. The bids that came in the second time last week likewise exceeded the cost estimate but the Lash bid came within the 10 percent overrun allowed by law.

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Because it is so vitally important that families have a plan for an orderly and quick exit from their homes in the event of a fire, the Cumberland Trail Fire District in St. Clairsville is renewing presentation of a program that will help them in developing one.

“Have Two Ways Out” is the theme of the open house to be staged by the department next Sunday from 2-6 p.m. at the fire station on S. Marietta Street. “We’re holding this open house to educate the residents of St. Clairsville and Richland Township on fire safety,” explained Fire Chief Ken Saffell.

Ten exhibits and demonstrations will be presented during the four-hour program and all will be at the firehouse with the exception of the final exhibit of a STAT Medevac helicopter arriving at 5:30 p.m. and landing on the Christ the King Lutheran Church grounds, where visitors can view the equipment used in treating and air-lifting severely injured patients to hospitals.

Following the opening ceremonies featuring an honor guard and retired Fire Chiefs Greg Reline and Bruce Henderson, the first presentation will involve using a smoke machine simulator to demonstrate the theme “Have Two Ways Out.” It will be repeated every half hour.

Then will come fire extinguisher training with a simulator followed by one-half hour demonstrations on electrical safety, kitchen stove fire, auto extrication, firefighter operations safety and CPR demonstration and training. The final demonstration prior to the arrival of the helicopter will be a 12-lead EKG and stroke care presentation.

Saffell is urging everyone possible to attend all of the program or at least part of it. “We had this same type of program in the past but after a few years the attendance fell off. We’re trying it again,” Saffell stressed, “because it is such a valuable program for all residents. I’m hoping everyone takes advantage of this.”

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Those who missed Bellaire’s “Great Stone Viaduct” charter celebration in August can view a collection of photographs of the festivities at the Bellaire Chamber of Commerce office, located at 3287 Belmont St. Noted American Railroad photographer J.J. Young has provided the chamber with a series of photos to display in their new office.

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It continues to puzzle me how the price of a gallon of gasoline in this area far exceeds what is charged in other areas not too distant. On a trip to Akron last weekend, I found a station there where the price of a gallon of unleaded was $3.612 and another about a mile away at $3.639. At the same time the price in this immediate area ranged from $3.899 to $3.999.

Al Molnar can be reached via email at: amole0420@aol.com.