Ed Griesel said it the only way it could be said Sunday afternoon at the conclusion of the annual Independence Day weekend car show. "It was a looming disaster turned into a shining success."
He was speaking of the consequences facing the organizers of the event when it became apparent Friday evening that soaking rains had rendered the Elkins City Park unfit to use for parking the hundreds of cars that had shown up for the annual event - the largest car show in West Virginia, according to Elkins-Randolph County Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Ellen Spears -making it necessary to move them to downtown streets.
After consulting with Mayor Judy Guye, Mountain State Street Machines President Jim Knicely made the decision that the park would not be used for fear of causing irreparable damage. This created a logistics nightmare that only he, with 23 years of experience planning the event, was capable of supervising. After being assured by Guye that city officials would do all in their power to make parking on the streets available, Knicely's next prime concern became the vendors, many of whom had driven hundreds of miles and many hours to attend the show. Finding space for them around the Town Square brought out the best in Knicely's negotiating abilities and the worst in those unwilling to compromise in helping to make the best of a nearly impossible situation.
The demands of the change also brought out the willingness of the volunteer corps to go beyond what was expected of them to get the job done. Many, if not all, worked hours in excess of the time they had budgeted of their weekend and worked at many tasks other than what they had originally agreed.
The jury is still out on what the downtown merchants think about having the show moved downtown. Some who were open on Saturday were ecstatic; others considered the show a nuisance. Lodging facilities surely were happy since, from all reports, they were full or nearly so.
Car owners were, of course, happy to have their prized possessions on solid pavement rather than in mud up to the hubcaps. Many said they would not have participated had they been required to put their machine in the park. If there was a disparaging remark from any one of them, it was not heard. Some said they hoped that future shows would be held in town; others said they would rather be in the park - if the weather is good. They reasoned that it is cooler on the grass and in the shade. Who can argue with that? Those who preferred being downtown liked the convenience of being able to shop and still be relatively close to their car.
While the weather rendered the park unusable, it did cooperate, if that might be said. Rain did little more than threaten most of the day Saturday, and held off until the very end on Sunday. The crowd stood patiently as Spears thanked them for coming to Elkins, their patience with the logistical complications resultant in the move and invited each of them back.
Something must be said, too, for the patience and human interaction skills of Knicely, Spears and Chamber President Kathy Leombruno. Their resolve and steadfastness in finding solutions to difficult situations were such to be envied by all who worked with them and by those who presented the challenges.
From a personal point of view, if that's allowed, it was exhilarating to look out over the crowd from the public announcer's platform onto a sea of humanity flowing in every direction on Third Street and Railroad Avenue. It is good to live, work and play in the greatest little city in the world.
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Organizers believe that the Elkins Depot will see more activity today than on any other single day during its 100-year history. The city of Elkins, Randolph County Development Authority, West Virginia Railroad Museum and the Durbin and Greenbrier Valley Railroad have all joined forces to make the Centennial Celebration the most gala rail fest in the depot's history.
The celebration will get under way today at 9 a.m. featuring the painting "Fireballs Converge in Elkins" by railroad historian and artist Larry Fisher. Fisher's rendition depicts the depot in the fall of 1951 on a busier-than-normal day when service men and women of the area have been notified that their furloughs have been canceled because of the situation in far-off Korea and are ordered to return to their duty stations. Their principal means of returning is by railroad and the Western Maryland assembled a "passenger extra" to accommodate the military rush. The painting also features both steam and diesel locomotives, and since Elkins was known for its hopper rebuilding facilities, hoppers are the featured freight cars.
Around 160 passengers/railfans arrived Thursday evening for the celebration behind the rare Western Maryland Big 6 Shay engine after a nearly 12-hour, 67-mile trek from Cass through some of the most rugged and photogenic mountain railroading in the east. The trip was the inaugural passenger run along that route. The inaugural passenger run between Elkins and Cass will occur Sunday, leaving Elkins at around 7:30 a.m. While here, it will power five daily short excursions to the Kelly Mountain Tunnel. According to John Smith, president of the D&GVRR, this is the same six-mile round trip originally made by the Cass Scenic Railroad Shay- and Heisler-geared locomotives in annual visits to the Mountain State Forest Festival more than 30 years ago.
"If a full day of steam train rides doesn't fit into your schedule, conventional passenger excursions pulled by vintage diesel locomotives are also offered," Smith said. "The New Tygart Flyer is scheduled for regular trips to the High Falls of the Cheat at 11:20 a.m. daily, featuring a comfortable ride in a heavyweight passenger car with all the amenities on board the four-hour round trip."
Other activities during the day include drawings for prizes and tours of the historic depot at 10 a.m., noon and 4 p.m. During this time, visitors may purchase their copy of the limited prints of "Fireballs Converge in Elkins" of which only 50 artist's proofs, 50 publisher's proofs and 500 standard prints have been run. The plates from which the prints were made have been destroyed ensuring that no more will ever be printed. Artists' renditions depicting what the joint home of the Mountain State Forest Festival and West Virginia Railroad Museum will look like when finished will also be on display.
This promises to be one of the most exciting events ever hosted at the depot in its 100-year history. Come join the celebration.
According to Bud Byrd, a member of Brother's of the Wheel, a "Freedom Fest Motorcycle Rally" is scheduled for July 16-20 at Snowshoe. Organizers of the event are planning to feature a bike ride to Elkins on the afternoon of July 18 as part of the activities. This is the eighth annual event, which has featured a ride to Marlinton each year. Byrd said he doesn't know how many bikes will be in the ride, but in the past, as many as 300 have made the trip to Marlinton.
"There could be that many, or more, come to Elkins," he said. "It depends a lot on the weather and whether we can make arrangements for the town to handle so many bikes at one time."
The event is also featuring a $10,000 poker run. Byrd said that participants do not need to be a bike owner to enter. Poker hands can be purchased when registering at Snowshoe. The pre-registration fee is $49 and registration at Snowshoe on the day of the run is $69. Registration includes one poker hand, a T-shirt and a $2 glass of beer. To pre-register for the poker run, call 1-877-441-4FUN (877-441-4386) or 1-866-282-1022.
For more information, call Byrd at 572-6754 or 940-2319.