Originally created 11/05/99

Thrills, chills mark annual county fair



If your idea of a good time is swinging and twisting upside-down while high in the air, the Inverter is for you.

The stomach-churning ride is the latest addition to the 76th annual Augusta Exchange Club Agricultural Fair, which opens today.

The Inverter lifts riders 50 feet into the air and inverts them in a 360-degree counterclockwise rotation. The brightly lighted ride has 24 seats that are outfitted with over-the-shoulder restraints.

"It's a new ride to titillate the senses and destroy the equilibrium," joked Joe Taylor Jr., fair manager.

The Great James H. Drew Exposition handles all of the rides -- there are about 41 for all ages this year. Perennial favorites such as the Himalaya, the Alpine Bobs and the Pirate Ship are back.

Opening ceremonies at 4:30 p.m. today will feature the Fort Gordon band. There will be a fireworks display at 9 tonight.

It's the culmination of months of planning.

"It's a year-round project," Mr. Taylor said.

"Our first major planning session for the fair is in January each year. In August, the six-member board leaves and holes up for 2 1/2 days of strategic planning."

Mr. Taylor, owner of Taylor Insurance Agency, has been a member of the club since 1962. He was president last year and assumed the role of fair manager this year after the club's board developed the position. Rick Allen is the current president.

In previous years the president of the club also headed up the fair.

Each of the 130 members of the Exchange Club works at the fair, Mr. Taylor said.

"The average member puts in about 30 hours during the whole fair run, but some put in more," he said.

Last year's event drew about 160,000 people.

Proceeds from the event go to capital improvements to the fairgrounds, which the Exchange Club owns and maintains year-round. The club also distributes prizes worth $30,000 during the fair.

After these expenses are met, the club makes a donation to the Exchange Club Foundation, which supports charities that combat child abuse. It also contributes to local organizations.

Another new attraction this year is live entertainment with the Wild West Follies, starring Pecos Patti and Durango. The production is a family-oriented show with a Western spin that includes rope tricks, music and comedy.

Animals are always a big part of the fair. This year, Randall's High Diving Racers return with hogs diving from platforms and racing around a track. There's also the Baboon Lagoon, a stage show featuring primates.

For those who didn't get enough of Halloween last weekend, Hale Street Horrors will be open today for $5. The price drops to $3 Saturday and for the rest of the fair.

Among community events, there's the Miss Exchange Club Fair Pageant on Saturday, with the finals from 8 to 9:30 p.m. An amateur talent contest will run throughout the week, with finals on Saturday, Nov. 13. The junior talent (ages 12-15) finalists will perform at 6 p.m., and seniors (ages 16-23) go on at 8 p.m.

Families and children will enjoy performances of Ben and Keeter's Puppets during the week.

In the exhibit hall, lawn and garden experts, arts and crafts creations, commercial vendors and livestock will be on display.

Culinary artists can whip up creations in two cook-off contests. The Spam Cook-off is Thursday, and the Rudy's Sausage contest is Friday.

For registration information, call the fair hot line at 722-0202.

The 76th Annual Augusta Exchange Club Agricultural Fair

When: Today through Sunday, Nov. 14. Hours are 5-11 p.m. Monday-Thursday; 5 p.m. to midnight Fridays; 10 a.m. to midnight Saturdays; and 1-10 p.m. Sundays. Rides stay open one hour later.

Where: Exchange Club Fairgrounds, Fourth Street and Laney-Walker Boulevard

How much: $15 for entry and unlimited rides; $5 entry only

Fair hot line: 722-0202

Admission specials:

Saturdays: Free admission for children and students

Sundays: Free admission with any church bulletin, seniors age 55 and older and students

Monday: All women and teachers (with ID) admitted free

Tuesday: Free admission with coupon from The Augusta Chronicle

Wednesday: Free admission to military personnel with ID

Thursday: Georgia Lottery Night; free admission for age 18 and older with any non-winning Georgia Lottery ticket

Monday through Thursday: Student admission free 5-7 p.m. ($10 rides)

Schedule of events at Augusta Exchange Club Fairgrounds Community Building

Today: 6-9 p.m.: IMPS/Georgialina Scale Model Club

Monday: 6:30-8 p.m.: Fire-safety demonstrations by Augusta-Richmond County Fire Department

Wednesday: 6:30-8:30 p.m.: Professional photographers explain judging procedure for exhibits

Thursday: 6:30-8 p.m.: Spam Cook-off Contest

Friday: 6:30-8 p.m.: Rudy's Sausage Cook-off Contest

Reach Margaret Weston at (706) 823-3340.