“Last year, a lot of people recognized there was no Ferris wheel,” said Columbia County Merchants Association President Dennis Hobbs. “The Ferris wheel is back.”
The 47th annual fair, put on by the Merchants, opens Thursday, Nov. 1, and runs through Nov. 10 at the Columbia County Fairgrounds on Columbia Road near Patriots Park.
The uniquely-designed Ferris wheel is the only replica of the original Seattle Wheel built for the 1962 World’s Fair, said Jim Drew, the owner of Drew Expositions, which provides the fair midway. It is featured in the Elvis Presley film It Happened at the World’s Fair.
Drew’s Seattle Wheel was set up for the first time in 1965 and was purchased by Drew Expositions in 1971.
“It’s a pretty machine and there’s only one around,” Drew said, adding the Ferris wheel is always a popular fair attraction.
“It’s not just a regular old Ferris wheel. It’s got a lot of history behind it and it’s a unique design.”
But in May 2011, a maintenance worker took the wheel apart and reconnected a cable incorrectly. The cable came loose, knocked the worker off scaffolding and damaged the ride.
“It tore the ride up pretty good,” Drew said. “It bent some pieces up.”
After nearly a year of repairs and lots of custom-made parts, Drew’s Seattle Wheel took center stage at the fairs again in the spring. It is always popular, Drew said.
When assembled, the wheel stands more than 90 feet high and doesn’t include the bulky structure of traditional Ferris wheels.
“Unlike most (Ferris wheels), this one, when you’re riding it, there’s not a lot of structure around you,” Drew said. “You’re kind of just hanging out there. It doesn’t have as many pieces around you. You don’t feel as boxed in.”
Hobbs said the fair features many popular attractions as well as some new ones.
“We’ve had some neat things we’ve used and brought back year after year,” Hobbs said, adding that chain saw carver Brian Ruth is returning to create nightly carvings that will be auctioned off on Nov. 10.
The Amazing Rainforest Experience, a nightly show featuring exotic rainforest animals, and Live Shark Encounter, the Ultimate Attraction, give up-close views of animals.
“It’s my understanding that’s the only traveling live-shark show in the U.S.,” Hobbs said.
Stoney Roberts’ Big Demolition Derby will crash into the fair again Monday at 7:30 p.m.
“We really had a big turnout last year,” Hobbs said of the derby. “It’s a pretty fun thing to watch.”
The fair midway also includes traditional rides, food and games.
Hobbs said fairgoers will notice some upgrades to the fairgrounds, including a new front entrance, a paved road to the handicap parking areas and more paving throughout the midway.
For information, visit www.columbiacountyfair.net.