A lot of feverish activity was centered at the new Belmont County Fairgrounds last week and none of it had to do with preparing for the annual fair in September.
It was geared toward helping the thousands of Belmont and surrounding county residents who were victims of the vicious storm that hit the area and entire state causing widespread electrical disruptions and depriving many of the comforts of home due to the extreme summer heat.
Under a pre-arranged agreement, the American Electric Power Co. had the permission of the Belmont County Fair Board to set up a staging area for repair crews from around the country that came to Belmont County to assist the local utility work crews in restoring service following what has been described by AEP officials as a storm that caused "damage beyond belief."
A week ago Saturday, when the extensive damage was evident, utility repair trucks by the dozens from all over the country started rolling into the fairgrounds to set up shop and begin long work days to restore service to more than 7,000 Belmont County customers and more than 600,000 served by the AEP system.
"I couldn't believe it when I saw all those trucks coming in," commented Melissa Campbell, treasurer of the Belmont County Fair Board, who was at the fairgrounds throughout the moving-in operation to offer assistance with the facilities there. "The trucks covered the whole fairway area." They came from Michigan, Alabama, Pennsylvania, New York and other states.
But the utility trucks weren't the only huge vehicles moving into the fairgrounds. Kings Food Service, a division of Food Services LLC out of Alabama, moved in refrigerated tractor trailer trucks filled with food; at least a half dozen trailers filled with bunk beds, one with shower facilities, at least one filled with ice, a U.S. Foods truck and others containing necessities to feed and keep workers in comfort.
Fairground officials were informed the huge work force could be stationed there for as long as a week considering the huge service restoration project facing them.
Last Sunday a big dining tent was put up and also a kitchen tent. They didn't last long. When I went there on Monday, Jacob Dunmyer, an employee of King Food Service, was happy to tell me, "We fed 250 workers there last (Sunday) night." But when they awoke Monday morning they found the dining tent had collapsed under pressure from the storm and high winds that hit the fairgrounds Sunday night.
As I talked to Dunmyer, two representatives from United Pole Technologies Inc. of Willow Grove, Pa., showed up. Ronny Montgomery, a UPT supervisor, informed Dunmyer they brought 56 workers from the California, Pa., area ready to join the work crews. He asked about box lunches to take out to the workers for lunch and Dunmyer told him "We have beef, ham and turkey."
Dunmyer said the hundreds of men involved in the electrical restoration project are well taken care of. "They have cold lunches at noon but we feed them a hot breakfast and a hot dinner every day."
Dunmyer added, "You know the old saying - a happy worker is a productive worker. We're feeding them well to keep them happy and productive." Because of the long hours the men work, the facilities are open 24 hours a day and the Belmont County Sheriff Fred Thompson has one or two deputies stationed there throughout the day and night.
Without a dining tent, a quick decision had to be made on how and where to serve the next meal. Fair officials quickly solved that problem by making available the nearby Wise Building where the kitchen and dining room were set up. The Wise Building is used for horticulture exhibits during the fair.
By Friday morning the number of the big trailers in the staging area had thinned out some but the Kings Food Service trailer and two U.S. Food trucks were still there, and the kitchen and dining room in the Wise Building were set up for another meal. The work crews were still intact and out on the road. A fairgrounds employee noted, "Come back here about 7 o'clock and this place will be filled with trucks."
Campbell explained that use of the fairgrounds by the AEP was not a spur of the moment decision. She said her brother-in-law Jerry Campbell, president of the Belmont County Fair Board, had met with AEP officials some time ago with regard to the company using the expansive fairgrounds space in the event of an emergency. That first emergency occurred a week ago Friday and there was no hesitation on the part of either party to open the fairgrounds.
Ten days after the warmest winter in many years came to an end, Jerry and Lova Ebbert of St. Clairsville took advantage of near summer-like temperatures that followed to carry out his earliest corn-planting ever. That was on March 31. In the weeks that followed he had 28 acres of corn planted.
After that everything came earlier than usual. Last week he picked ripe corn before the Fourth of July holiday, the earliest that ever happened. As a result, two days after the holiday, the couple hurried and got their Farm Market on National Road prepared for its earliest ever opening on July 6.
"Usually we open the market around the middle of July," Lova Ebbert noted. "Last year it was on July 16. So we're really early this year." And her husband credited the unusually warm spring weather for the fast production of the corn crop. He said the recent lack of rain had only a slight effect on the crop.
For me there are not too any things better than a mouth-watering, fresh ear of corn covered with butter. On the day before the market opened, I had the opportunity to taste test the corn. It was as expected - a tasty treat that's hard to beat.
The Oscar Mayer "Weinermobile" will roll into St. Clairsville in less than two weeks and park at the Riesbeck's Food Market for a day of fun that will include free hot dogs and refreshments with simply a donation to the United Way of the Upper Ohio Valley.
For the 16th year the "Plaza West Fest" will be co-sponsored by Riesbeck's and The Citizens Bank as a fund raising effort that each year has produced more than $2,000 to benefit the United Way. Starting at 5:30 p.m. on Wednesday, July 18, free hot dogs, ice cream and chips can be obtained with a donation to the United Way.
From 7-9:45 p.m. the anticipated huge crowd will be entertained by the band "Easy Street." Concluding the festivities will be a spectacular fireworks display offered by Pyrotechnics by Presutti. Contributors to the event in addition to the co-sponsors include the United Dairy and Nickles Bakery of Martins Ferry, NAPA auto parts, Our Family brand foods and the Health Plan of the Upper Ohio Valley.
Martins Ferry Mayor Paul Riethmiller and Police Chief John McFarland have solved the major headache and days of extra work they endured as a result of the "gas war" staged by two gasoline stations at the southern tip of the city about two weeks ago.
Signs warning "No Impeding Traffic or You Will Be Ticketed" have been erected on the streets bordering the stations where motorists lined up to wait their turn to buy gasoline. Huge traffic jams were created and police had their hands full keeping the streets open.
More than 25 motorists were ticketed during the "war" period.
I had a very happy and excited daughter call from Akron on the Fourth of July to tell me about a once-in-a-lifetime event she had just experienced. She got to see up close the huge Goodyear blimp and was taken on a tour inside the craft. Best of all, she was allowed to sit in the pilot's seat. No, they didn't let her take off. A friend of hers from college has the job of "babysitting" the helium-filled blimp while it is moored in a hangar.
Have a U.S. flag that has become tattered and unfit to display? The Belmont County Council of the American Legion will hold a flag retirement ceremony on Tuesday, July 17, at the Flushing Legion Post.
The Sons of The American Legion will perform the ceremony which is open to the public as well as Legionnaires. Anyone having an unserviceable U.S. flag can bring it to the ceremony or drop it off in advance at any Legion Post.
Al Molnar can be reached via email at: email@example.com.