TR: Van Wert County Fair

Van Wert, OH

September 3, 2011

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So, to catch those up who forgot about the Cedar Point TR. Eric and I had just spent two days up at Cedar Point. Eric was in the area for his high school reunion, which was Saturrday night in Van Wert. So we got up from our Sandusky, Milan actually, area Motel 6, after pushing check out time to the limit, then headed, well, not directly to Van Wert. We needed a couple diversions to kill some time. First we topped past Hermes Vineyard for some wine tastings. Their visitor center is in a rustic looking building that you access via a stone walkway from a gravel parking lot. Once inside, the tasting bar is one one side, and some comfortable furniture on the other. Big picture windows provide a view of the vineyard itself. It's a very relaxed atmosphere, and you can sample anything from the sample menu for $1 each. The $1 fee is a formality due to state law forbidding free samples of alcoholic drinks. The samples are 1 ounce each, and though I am not a big wine drinker, the wines I tasted were not bad. They had a red that was real sweet, and I also tried a honey wine, which to my surprise was not as sickly sweet as the one I had in Ireland at the Bunratty Castle Medevil dinner. Once you find out what you want, you just order it from the tasting bar, and, if you order enough of it, they will load it into your trunk for you. 

After having spent some time there, we next drove around Sandusky for a bit, particularly along the lake front. Next we stopped in Phantom Fireworks. The fireworks busiess is a curious one, you are legally allowed to purchase, but you can't use the product in Ohio. I am used to seeing fireworks stores along state lines, particularly when you enter states that have no such restrictions. The best example is when you enter Tenesee from the dry counties of Kentucky, where at the first exit you will see a combination fireworks/liquor/tobacco/souvenir/gas station. Yeah, sounds like a great combination to me too. Let's get drunk, light a cigarette, get it too close to the fireworks, then ignite the fuel storage tanks below. Great!

Anyway, Phantom Fireworks is a stand alone fireworks only store. Upon entering you are advised to leave electronic devices, namely mobile phones, in your car. Or, at the the very least, to turn them off. I'll admit I haven't been in this serious a fireworks store before, and the problem is, to the total novice, its just row after row of shells of all different shapes and sizes, with no real idea to now what does what. It would be the perfect product to have those little tiny flat panel monitors showing demonstrations, but then we are back to that whole minimizing the use of electronics thing. In fairness, they do point that you can go to their website and watch product videos there, and then go to their store and pick out what you like. 

While we were riding around, we noticed the proliferation of indoor water parks, just like most tourist areas and I'm sure they are even more important in northern tourist areas as they give people a reason to go to Sandusky when Cedar Point is closed. We have everything from Kalahari, which looks to the be big player in town, all the way down to a funky place called "Rain". "Rain" must be so named as that is what they are hoping happens, because I doubt anybody would choose that indoor water park otherwise. It looks tiny from the outside, with one slide tower poking up in the middle of a motel, sports bar, and off track betting parlor complex, I think they may even have a bowling alley in there somewhere. Just a strange complex all around. On the way out of town, I noted the Holiday In Holidome in town looked to have tried to add some waters lides, and they must have failed, as that hotel is out of business. Shame, really in that I think Holiday Inn may have premiered the concept way before its time with the Holidome. I remember the Holidome being a big selling point when we were hotel shopping in my youth. What they essentially did was build their hotel around a big central courtyard, which they put a massive skylight over. Under the domed skylight, you had a pool, hot tub, cocktail lounge, mini golf, putting greens, shuffleboard, pool hall, and arcade games. 

Anyway, figuring we had killed enough time, we started heading down to Van Wert, with a stop at Five Guys for lunch. Upon entering Van Wert, Eric gave me the tour of the city, then we checked into our hotel, the Comfort Inn, so that he could rest up and get ready for the reunion. I, of course, would not be going to the reunion, but we discovered that the Van Wert County Fair is in town, and it will be open until 11pm tonight. Perfect. So after showing me more of the city, Eric dropped me off at the fairground, and he went to his reunion.

Eric had told me I was going to THE big event in Van Wert. He dropped me off just outside the parking lot, so I walked onto the fair grounds. General admission is $6 per person, paid to a guy sitting at a card table uder a tiny canopy. No wristband, no ticket, no audit trail Having paid the $6, I walked onto the grounds, and a short distance in I realized I was entering right next to the rides midway. This is certainly convenient. 

I walked past the first section of rides, and spotted a Chance Zipper, Darton Hurricane, Maestic Skooter, a kiddie coaster, and an ARM Screamer. Then a pathway cut through the grass lot, and I spotted the ride ticket booth. Let's see, rides are by Kissel Bros, this is ironic, that I have to go this far from Cincinnati to experience Kissel Bros. when they are based in Cincinnati, OH. Anyway, onto more impotant matters, I learn ride tickets are $1 each, and most adult rides take 3 tickets, or I can go with the ride all day special for $14. Hmm, I'm here for five hours, so give me the ride all day special. I'm sure it's merely coincidence that the $6 gate admission, and the $14 rides wristband come out to $20. 

I head from the ride ticket booth to a Musik Express located nearby. Unlike Musik Express rides at Oktoberfest in Munich, not only could you not stand right along the edge of the ride while it was in motion, you had to "take two giant steps back from the trailer" while the ride was running. It was a one cycle wait, and while I'm not good at identifying make and model of Musik Express rides (it sees like every self respecting carnival ride company makes one), this is the model where the lap bar release is two knobs in the center of the lap bar that you squeeze togther, instead of the various forms out locing mechanisms on the outboard side of the car seen on other models. What this model lacks in scenery details, it gains back in ride performance. They were giving a long ride time, in both directions, at a fairly good rate of speed, with good music. What more could you want from a Musik Express operation? $3 down, $11 more to go to make good on the rides bracelet. I walk past a Video Funhouse trailer, and like they seem to be, this one was not included in the ride wristband. Neither were the extreme zone things like the EuroBungee or rock wall located opposite the fun house. Coming to the other end of midway, scattered amongst some kiddie rides were a Pharaohs Phury, Big Eli (and Little Eli) Wheels, a merry go round and more. The Pharohs Phury was currently closed for repairs, and the Big Eli wheel didn't allow single riders I walked past some carnival games and found myself in the fair part of the fair. 

I looked through some exhibition halls, and found the fine arts, arts and crafts, baking and cooking competition areas. You know, somebody realy ought to set up a bake sale in this area. Looking at all these cakes and pies makes one hungry. There was the building with various antiques, the building where organiztions like FFA, 4-H, Boy Scouts and more have booths. At the other end of this row of buildings was a gourmet old time soft drink vendor. His trailer looked like a beer wagon, with what looked like rows of old fashioned style wood kegs each sporting a tap handle. Knowing fais in Ohio to be dry, I checked this out, and noted selections like Root Beer, Sasparilla, Orange Sode, Grape Soda, Cream Soda, Birch Beer,, Ginger Beer, and more. Wait, did that just say Birch Beer? We have a winner! Birch Beer, while common in New England and parts of PA, is not that commonly found here in Ohio. You can buy a tin stein for $15 and that gets you unlimited drinks from this booth for the run of the fair. That's great, but I don't want to lug that around, and all that. Luckily you can buy single drinks in $2 plastic cups. I had a nice red birch beer, just avoid the bees swarming around the taps. 

From there I went up the hill, whih took me past the agricultural parts of the fair, with the animal barns and so forth. Back towards the center of the grounds, past a mini golf course, and I spotted a bake sale. And they had Rhubarb Pie. Well, there goes another $2. I find myself on what muset be Food Road. Trailer after tailer of food. I look around but nothing jumps out at me yet. At the end of food road, I come upon the grandstand. They were having tractor pulls tonight. The noise should have told you. I caught a sampling looking through the fence, then moved on. Passing some more food stands I came back to the midway. Ok, now I can say I have seen the fair. 

I took another ride on the Musik Express ($6 in, $8 to go), then headed across the pathway to the Hurricane. The crowds were starting to pick up, and with it the ride lines. Kissel Bros. has signs up warnng that the ride all day special does not give refunds due to weather or crowd conditions. I also like the signs that Kissel has posted at each ride stating "Scared Riders and Young Children should never be forced to ride this ride"

Hurricane is one ride that I think I am done with. Sure, I say that every time, don't I? It's that ride where a cluter of cars spin around a center powl, and then swing out, and continue to spin at a high rate of speed, what makes it interesting is the cars periodically swoop in towards the center pole, then fly back out. (Accompanied by the trademaked noises mae by the blasts of air from the air tanks that perform said dives). The spin rate, though, is so high that it pins you uncomfortably to the outboard side of the car. Like the Musik Express, I also recieved a long ride on this ride. ($9 in, $5 to go)

I walk across the midway and take a ride on the ARM Screamer. It's very similar to the Kamikazee, except that it only has one car. Another difference, is when you get inside the car, the lap bar is not there. You may recall on a Kamikazee, you first lower a shoulder bar, which is double locked by means of a safety bar that lowers down, much like a lap bar, and prevents the shoulder bar from opening, the end of the safety bar fits into a slot on the cage door, so the bar can't release if the cage door is closed. That safety bar does not exist in this model, instead the shoulder bars are fitted with a seatbelt that attaches to the front center of the seat, like on most newer OTSR designs. The ride itself is a modern take on the Loop-O-Plane, where the car goes around in vertical loops, and it just wouldn't be a proper ride if you didn't have ride operators that liked to hold you upside down for extended period of time at the top. ($12 in, $2 to go)

I next start to head to Pharoah's Phury, but I have to walk right past the Musik Express to do that, and I'm really liking the ride the Musik Express is giving tonight. Sure, it was a 20 minute wait, but it was worth it. ($15 in, rides band covered, now just $5 left to work off the gate admission) . I next headed to Pharoah's Phury and found myself in the second row from the top, so it has that going for it. Phury may not be the biggest pirate ship ride out there, but it does swing a bit higher than some of the other models. ($18 in, $2 to work off gate admission)

I take another walk around, looking at the other side of Food Road, and look in the merchandise areas and the main exhibiiton hall. There is a Dave's Dawgs. I can't convince them I should get a free Dawg since i'm Dave. There is a Deep Fried Butter stand, uhm, wouldn't that melt the butter? Buttered funnel cake batter I presume. I finally settle on a Gyro from the guy near the Grandstand. It's sort of the Chipotle of Gyro building, you order, and then a Gyro is made right in front of you to your specifications. It was getting to be around 9-9:30 and the Gyro guy looks at me and as he is about to fix my Gyro says "You hungry?" I say Yes, and I think I got the world's largest Gyro. I mean that pita shell was about to explode it was so full, and stuff was overflowing into the foil wrapper. 

I take that over to a bench,and with as much sas what stuffed ino it, tried and failed to eat it without making a mess. Man, it was good though. I washed that all down with a homeade root beer out of wooden keg that was nearby. I then headed towards the Zipper, but the Man held me down with his no single riders rule. I thought I almost had it a couple times, but no such luck. I do take a ride on the Skooters. I'm not a huge fan of the trailer model Skooter becuase I often find the floor has too many dead spots where you somehow lose a good power connection, and get stuck until somebody bumps you out of the dead spot. Since most modern bumper cars don't hit that hard, that can take some work. This is not one of those Skooter rides, this one has cars that work. They are of the lap bar variety which makes the cars even better. ($21 in, now $1 up on admission and rides)

From there it is another Musik Express ride, where the operators were sulking over having just been informed their music selections must have been a bit too edgy for the fairs comfort. They were also having to deal with fair patrons that can't read or understand spoken English, I know this is a common problem at parks. Evidently the new ride safety rules, as interpreted by Kissel Bros state that the companion of a rider who does not meet the qualifications to ride alone mut be at least 18 years of age. Depsite numerous signs and operator warnings during the pre loading spiels to this effect, they had to deal with enforcing this rule many times during loading. All in all, another great ride. ($24 in rides now!)

I then head back to the Screamer. As a single rider, I am placed in the end seat. Why? becuase the other seat in this end pair s already festooned with yellow warning tape. So, it's the perffect place to stick the first single rider who boards. All goes well, until the first time we start to go upside down. At which point the shoulder bar opens up until it is, thankully, held in place by the seatbelt. So, not totally dangrous, as long as the belt holds, but a little more play to bounc around in the seat than I would like. When the ride does stop, and the operator has stepped away from the controls, I unfasten the seatbelt, and raise the bar all the way up, before he can unlock the cage and the bars. I then mention it to the operator upon exiting who already has the scared look in his face. ($27 in)

I don't want to look like I am vulturing around the ride, but I observe the operator checking out my seat as I wait in line for the Musik Express. (Which, was fine, as always) ($30 in). I then notice the Screamer go down for repairs. I next duck into the restrooms in the main exhibition hall. The exhibition hall is closed, but the restrooms are setup so they can still be accessed. I mention this becuase it was pefectly clear skies when I went into the restroom an pouring down rain when I came out. I waited in the restrooom until the skies let up a little, then dashed over to an entertainment tent. It was disused, but it had lots of folding chiars under a big tent. As you might expect this was a popular gathering spot. The wind, the rain, it was nasty. I saw the midway and the food and game booth operators very quickly stowing their stuff. They would't need to worry about closing on time tonight. I stick around in the tent as long as I could before heading back to the same street where Eric dropped me off. We reunited, shared stories, made a McDonalds run, and went back to the hotel.

Sunday, we actually got out of the hotel early, after partaking in the hotel courtesy breakfast, becuase Eic did not get Labor Day off work, and he lives in Georgia now. So it was a no nonsense trip from Van Wert to Cincinati, where he dropped me off before heading home.

Thanks for the great coaster weekend, Eric!


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